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513: All Saints, Onslow Village, Guildford, England
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All Saints', Onslow Village, Guildford, UK
Mystery Worshipper: Chapelhead.
The church: All Saints, Onslow Village, Guildford, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: A 1960s brick and glass building with an unusual saddle-shaped roof (rather like a Pringle crisp/chip). The general floor plan is square and the main church interior is aligned along a diagonal, with the chancel area in the north corner of the building. Consequently the pews vary in length depending on how close to the east-west diagonal they are. From where I was sitting the altar seemed crowded with books and papers, leaving me wondering whether this arrangement means there is a lack of space in the chancel area. The interior of the building is painted white and decorated with banners, work by the Sunday school, etc. Signs on the door suggested that a loop system for the hearing-impaired is present but there was no indication of a sound system being used.
The neighbourhood: Originally built by Quakers, Onslow Village is close to Guildford town centre, and is hard by the cathedral. However, the arrangement of roads means that this area of quiet residential streets and small paths joining them retains an identity separate from the rest of the town.
The cast: Fr. Brian Coleman led the service and presided at the communion. Quite a number of the congregation were involved in the dramatized reading of the Passion narrative, including the Reader, Mike Truman.
What was the name of the service?
Parish Communion (Palm Sunday).

How full was the building?
50-55 people in a building that could probably hold 200 at a squeeze.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
There were two welcomers on the door. One of whom (one of the churchwardens, I believe) explained that as it was Palm Sunday, the service would start in the church hall before processing to the church – she then took me down to the hall (which was nice of her, she could just have pointed the way and left me to it). Waiting with the rest of the congregation in the hall, someone else said good morning to me and we fell into conversation.

Was your pew comfortable?
Quite comfortable enough.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
As we were in the church hall it was quite informal, with the congregation chatting generally.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
After saying "Good morning," the vicar explained the order of the procession. We then had a brief period of silent prayer before the service itself started with the acclamation, "Hosanna to the son of David!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The printed order of service contained the entire liturgy; together with Hymns Old and New. The Gospel reading was the Passion narrative with members of the congregation taking the various parts, so quite a few in the congregation had the full Gospel reading in front of them.

What musical instruments were played?
Two pianos – one in the hall and one in the church building itself. There is a pipe organ in the church, but it was not used at this service.

Did anything distract you?
Only momentarily when I was kneeling for communion at one extreme end of the rail and I noticed a curious arrangement of drawing pins holding the altar frontal in place at the side. But this was an effective solution to the problem of keeping it in place.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service was mainly a straightforward "said" communion from Common Worship. Eucharistic prayer D was used with the "this is our song..." responses being continued with "hosanna in the highest" – a very appropriate Palm Sunday use of this sometimes maligned eucharistic prayer – clearly some thought is being given to the liturgy. In a modern building, simply decorated, it was striking to see some splendid vestments. The vicar wore a cope for the procession which he removed for the first part of the service before donning a chasuble for the eucharist. Cope, stole, chasuble, etc. were all in a magnificent red and gold material and looked very fine.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon, partly because the Gospel reading was quite lengthy.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The friendliness of the welcome. This is a congregation who are clearly of the view that no stranger in their midst will go ungreeted. The approach was not gushy, but gave the impression of a group that was genuinely glad to stop and talk to a visitor. If I thought that my home congregation was as good as this at welcoming a stranger I would be very happy with the situation.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It was hot. A combination of time of day, time of year and the design of the building meant that I was sitting in the sun as it shone through one of the south-east windows – and I don't do heat well.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As soon as I looked to be leaving my pew the church warden and another member of the congregation came over to talk to me and invited me to go back to the church hall for coffee. Once there I fell into conversation with yet more members of the church – a very friendly bunch indeed.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Tea, coffee and some of those rather nice Austrian iced biscuits.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I would feel some shock on moving from a parish with a beautiful and traditional building to one with an unusual (and, I suspect, sometimes problematical) design, but if this was my local church I would be very happy in joining this group of people for worship. The church also seems to be part of strong local community – something that is often not easy to achieve where a church is one of many within a larger town.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. It was good to meet a congregation who seem to be doing what they are doing because they are committed to it, not (as I suspect may be the case in other places) because "there has been a church here for 1,000 years and we are keeping it going," while the clockwork winds down, living on former glories.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The way that the vicar (when he wasn't concentrating on the liturgy or the readings) smiled broadly. He really seemed to be enjoying what he was doing, which was lovely to see.
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