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155: St Mary, Rye, Sussex, England
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St Mary, Rye, Sussex
Mystery Worshipper: Corpus Cani.
The church: Parish Church of St Mary, Rye, Sussex, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Very squat conglomeration of styles from medieval onwards. Interesting clock, whose pendulum hangs down into the nave. The nave is broad and flanked by two wide aisles, and there are several large, good quality windows, including a modern one. The whole place feels rather gloomy, though. There are the usual attempts to provide parish information, and one of the east end chapels is set aside for private prayer.
The neighbourhood: Rye is one of the Cinque Ports on the South coast, so it's old, pretty and packed with tourists and antique shops. House prices were lower than I'd expected (boy, this research is thorough!), even in the centre of the town.
The cast: Absolutely no idea. The only robed presence was the lay reader who led the service, and I couldn't find her name published anywhere.
What was the name of the service?

How full was the building?
There were 16 of us, plus organist and lay reader, all sitting in the choir.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Not at the door. I had been in the church earlier in the day and so knew that the service was in the choir, around the corner from the door, and I was able to find myself a seat. As I did, the chap next to me said hello, and then very kindly nipped off to fetch me the books.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes – plain wooden individual choir stalls with a splendidly broad prayer desk. Nice and roomy (i.e. bigger than my flat).

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Organ playing, but not much other noise (mind you, there weren't many people to make a noise and most of those present looked as if they needed to save themselves for making a noise during the service).

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves..."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Ancient and Modern New Standard and Book of Common Prayer (I don't know if it was 1662 or 1928 since I only used it for the Psalm).

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
The lay reader was not always terribly clear in her speech. It was fine in the bits of the service I know by heart, but it made the sermon difficult in parts.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Typical non-cathedral evensong: middle of the road, comforting and, even with a small congregation, spiritually fulfilling.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
Exactly about 8 minutes or so, roughly (forgot my watch!).

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6. There was a bit too much in a short time and subsequently it was rather like leap frog, springing from one idea to another. It was all sound doctrine, but rather lacked structure.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Preparing for Lent, it being Septuagesima; without God we can achieve nothing; wrestling with angels/sin/temptation/whatever. She even managed to fit in the theme of the Old Testament lesson (Balaam's ass – no mean feat!).

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The man who read the Old Testament lesson with real feeling. His vocalisation of Balaam's ass was so sweet I almost rushed out to buy a donkey sanctuary.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The Psalm was recited antiphonally and so badly that it was scarcely a communal act. More like 18 people each saying their own Psalm.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I nipped to the shop to buy my postcards (told you there were lots of tourists around) and was greeted by the lay reader afterwards. She was very friendly and assured me that it was a very old-fashioned service, but this is Rye.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No coffee, but the bar of the hotel at the bottom of the hill did a good pint.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2. I didn't feel that this was really a thriving parish, and the notice boards in the entrance didn't give the impression that anybody was trying to change that.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Hmm. Yes. There were few people there, but they were friendly and the worship worked. This is a church that has been busy in the past and has the potential to be busy again. What better reason is there to be a Christian than the prospect of resurrection?

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Starting the service with one of my favourite hymns – a lovely ending to a nice afternoon as a day-tripper.
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