|395: St Peter Mancroft, Norwich, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Requiem.
The church: St Peter Mancroft, Norwich, Norfolk, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: A classical Gothic building. From the outside it's a heavy coffin-shaped structure right in the heart of town, frequently mistaken by tourists for the cathedral. Inside it's surprisingly light and airy, with Gothic columns soaring towards the vaulted ceiling. Ornate stained windows dominate and there is a monstrous organ at the back.
The church: I've been told that the church caters for those on the fringes of Christianity. There was no evidence of this at the service, however, with the congregation being the stereotypical middle class at prayer.
The cast: The minister was identified in all the church literature solely as "the vicar".
What was the name of the service?
The eucharist. Common worship order one.
How full was the building?
Pretty empty. The congregation of 50 or so was lost amongst the columns.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was rather impersonally presented with a hymn book and prayer sheet. However, I had popped into the church the day before to find out service times and had been warmly and enthusiastically welcomed by a chap sitting at the back of the church. He had told me how friendly people were, and thus I was a little disappointed by the apathetic welcome the next day.
Was your pew comfortable?
Classic wooden pews. Perfectly comfortable, although all the prayers were recited standing so there wasn't much opportunity for backsides to protest. The bookshelf was barely wide enough, although with only two volumes to fumble this wasn't a huge problem.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I was late.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns old and new, plus a printed service sheet. The directions in the service sheet weren't entirely accurate, which was awkward. There were a couple of embarrassing moments when the whole congregation paused, looked round, and waited for someone else to figure out what we were meant to do next.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
An inconveniently placed column prevented me from seeing the altar. The priest had a microphone and so it seemed as if prayers were being led from somewhere above my right ear. Every now and then the mike would fade, and the disembodied voice would jump to its rightful position. This was disconcerting. I have no objections to microphones in churches, and I think for the sermon they're a positively good idea. However the presence of the mike jarred with the traditional building and liturgical service. It seems unneccessary when all the words are written down in front of you.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Staid and middle-English.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 The preaching was clear and lively. The preacher was not afraid to express the dark side of human emotions.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was closely based on the reading of the prodigal son. We were first identified with the elder brother, baffled and jealous of the love and forgiveness God shows to those on the fringes of society, resentful of the love given to others who we secretly think are less deserving than ourselves. We were then compared to the prodigal. God loves extravagantly, even though we don't deserve it. Salvation, unlike success in the material world, is rewarded on the basis of grace alone.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
A long silence was held after the eucharistic prayer, whilst people were receiving. There was a real sense of presence. The age of the church fostered an air of timelessness and of worshipping in the company of all Christians, living and dead.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The singing! In all fairness the congregation seemed to do their best to fill the vast space. There were just too few of them. And the omniprescent bellow of the organ turned the singing into a drone entirely devoid of tune or lyrics.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We were all invited to the octagon, a modern building alongside the church, for coffee. Few went. I lurked in there for a few minutes. Two or three people looked me up and down before smiling tentatively, but no one attempted to open conversation. One lady tried to walk right through me, and I had to jump back to avoid being run over.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I'm a non-coffee-drinker. It looked freshly brewed and there were china cups. There was no non-coffee-drinker option.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 The preaching was great: clear and thought-provoking. I would value the chance to spend some time talking to the vicar, either alone or in a Bible study setting. The church, however, doesn't seem to offer anything outside the services. I didn't feel particularly welcomed and therefore am unlikely to return.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The final line of the sermon. "God loves you, so join the party and dance until dawn."