|416: Norfolk & Norwich Hospital Chapel, Norwich, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Requiem.
The church: Norfolk & Norwich Hospital Chapel, Norwich, England.
Denomination: The church comes under the auspices of the Church of England, but the chaplaincy as a whole is ecumenical.
The building: The building is a classical Victorian small red brick pseudo-Gothic construction. It opens directly off the main hospital. Walking down a fairly scruffy mould-green corridor, you catch a glimpse through the arched wooden doors of this ornate, candlelit space.
The church: The chapel is responsible for the spiritual care and well-being of patients and staff of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. They are also, at least in theory, responsible for the spiritual guidance of those of other faiths, although how that works in practice I don't know. There is space to light candles and always, day or night, a few are burning softly. Communion is celebrated within the chapel and distributed from there to the wards.
The neighbourhood: The hospital is a mixture of run-down Victorian splendour (complete with pink, fake marble pillars) and 1960s scruff (two-tone walls, anyone?). The chapel, although structurally distinct, is entirely enclosed within and only accessible from the hospital, and is visible in brief glimpses from windows on the wards.
The cast: The service was taken by a locum, as one member of the chaplaincy is off sick and the other on a course. He never told us his name.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
There were three of us. The chaplain, a guy in bedclothes in a wheelchair and me. Part-way through the intercessions, a bloke in stripey pyjamas wandered in, sat for a few minutes at the back, then wandered out again. I had the brief, crazy thought of chasing him down the corridor to offer him the peace.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. The priest invited me to help myself to a worship booklet and join him towards the front. I muttered something about being concerned about my bleep going off and he responded "Well, this is a hospital."
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were perfectly comfortable for the length of the service. Wood. Some with long cushions, some without. However, I sometimes tend to perch here in the middle of the night, exhausted, on my way to or from casualty. Then, they feel distinctly less comfy to my tired back.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A slightly distorted tape of choral singing of "Holy, Holy, Holy" was being played. This spilled out into the hospital corridors as I approached. To be honest, I would have preferred quiet, but I can see that might have felt awkward with such small numbers.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Holy, holy, holy."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A printed order of worship was the only book used.
What musical instruments were played?
No musical instruments (apart from the tape) and no singing.
Did anything distract you?
Trying to figure out what was wrong with the wheelchair guy. Spot-diagnosis is a perennial junior doctor game, and it's hard to turn that off.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was simple, plain and heartfelt. The congregation at these services have always had to fight hard to get there, be they hospital staff who've had to squeeze the time out of their day, or patients who've had to organize with the ward to be taken down. That makes the worship seem very real.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
The sermon was short, under five minutes. Given how few of us there were it would have been obvious, and rude, if I had been checking my watch.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 The priest was in a slightly awkward position in having to stand at the front and talk to just the two of us. Perhaps with that small a group a sermon isn't the best way to proceed? He didn't really have any entertaining mannerisms, but I was distracted briefly trying to read the embroidery on the tails of his stole.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was based around the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. In our spiritual life, we sometimes need to have a clear-out to find that which is mislaid and which should be most dear to us.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Lots about this service were like being in heaven. The priest sat down in a pew when he was not actively doing stuff. This gave a real feeling of us all worshipping together, which is sometimes lost in more tat-laden "performance" services. The wheelchair guy gave the intercessions and the reading. For me, it was hugely valuable to hear the sincerity in his voice and realize that, in spite of whatever he was going through, he retained his faith. The normally rigid barriers between doctor and patient were broken down we were just worshippers together. For the first time ever I felt genuine in exchanging the peace.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The constant nagging worry that my bleep might go off.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The service closed with the priest thanking us for coming, saying it would have been awfully lonely if he'd been there on his own. I chatted briefly with the wheelchair guy whilst the priest went to slip off his vestments. He returned, and the three of us spoke for a moment or two. We split up, he to be wheeled up to the ward, and I to head back to work.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No after-service coffee. However, if you're desperate, the hospital canteen is always there ready and willing to nauseate you.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 I only live nearby when I'm on call, but on those weekends I'll certainly be back.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, definitely. Truly, when two or three of us are gathered together...
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The sense of fellowship that can be built up, between complete strangers, who come together to share in the worship of God.