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562: Kentwell Hall, Suffolk, England
Other reports | Comment on this report
Kentwell Hall, Suffolk, UK
Mystery Worshipper: Requiem.
The church: Kentwell Hall, Suffolk, England.
Denomination: None.
The building: Kentwell Hall itself is a magnificant Elizabethan red-brick house, complete with moat. The service was held in the sunken garden – a strip of lush grass edged by a border jammed to overflowing with flowers of all colours. We were sat in shade with the sun shining down on the flowers infront of us. It felt a little like sitting in the cool, dark of a church with the sun illuminating the most glorious of stained-glass windows.
The church: Kentwell Hall is the home of the grand annual recreation of Tudor life – a three week reenactment with up to 400 reenactors on site at any one time. This year we were portraying 1549. This was a service by and for the reenactors, taking place early on the last Sunday morning before the public entered.
The neighbourhood: Only the Hall, the moat (complete with ducks and carp), the replica Tudor ice-house, the sounds of archery in the distance and the smell of woodsmoke and of hay drying. Quite your normal, everyday Sunday morning worship venue, really.
The cast: The ship's very own Thomasina the alchemist lead the service.
What was the name of the service?
Morning worship.

How full was the building?
There were a dozen or so of us.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
After two to three weeks of communal living everyone knew each other, by face if not by name.

Was your pew comfortable?
We sat on the stone steps leading down to the garden. In truth they were a little cold, being deep in the shade of an overhanging tree, but at least they were dry.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet. People smiled welcomingly at each other but there wasn't a great deal of chat. I suspect this was related more to the party the night before than any sense of reverence.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We'll wait a couple of minutes because Nell had to go back to the campsite to get something." or "We might as well start – I'm sure she'll be here in a minute." or "Let us begin by singing hymn number one in the Kentwell hymnbook: 'Dear Lord and Father of Mankind.' "

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Kentwell hymnbook – a bound collection of perhaps a couple of dozen "classic" hymns.

What musical instruments were played?
One recorder.

Did anything distract you?
Some would have found the strange mixture of Tudor costume and the odd 21st century pair of shoes or glasses to be distracting, but after a couple of weeks on-site I was used to it. This is the first service, however, where I have found myself idly coveting the leader's sleeves.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Quiet, restrained and well thought out. Thomasina plays an alchemist at Kentwell and the service had a strong alchemical theme. She followed a fairly classical pattern of two bible readings, sermonette and three hymns. There was a lovely DIY feel – Thomasina concluded by asking us if we wished to sing a final hymn. We decided as a group on "Morning has Broken" in honour of the beautiful gardens.

Thomasina preaching her sermon

Exactly how long was the sermon?
Watches aren't Tudor. I'd estimate about three minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – This was Thomasina's first sermon and she came over as a little hesitant, relying heavily on her notes. However the presentation was clear and the material well thought out. I've seen members of the dignified clergy do worse.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was based heavily around George Herbert's hymn "The Elixir" and discussed the links between alchemy and christianity. All things are interconnected and created by God – each has a spark of God within it. Only through appreciating the whole of creation; good and ill; magnificent and seemingly insignificant can we truly grasp at the nature of God. Christ was compared to the philosophers stone – able to transform our most mundane tasks into something worthy of being offered to God.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The entirety of Psalm 19 was read with great presence and conviction. There was a rightness to the choice of psalm. We listened to "The heavens declare the glory of God" whilst surrounded by the beauty of nature and of creation.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Just a minor gripe – not really hellish at all – but it seemed a little redundant for the entire text of "The Elixir" to be read given that we had it printed out infront of us.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People chatted briefly before departing to get ready for the influx of the public.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. Coffee isn't Tudor either.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – Putting aside that I definately want to go back to Kentwell, this was an interesting and well thought out service with a very different slant. If you get a chance to hear Thomasina speak then I recommend taking it.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, absolutely. There was a real sense of Christianity rejoicing in life in a way that doesn't always come over in church.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The concept of all creation proclaiming the glory of God.

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