|607: St Mary and All Saints, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Hedgehog.
The church: St Mary and All Saints, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: A traditional English church with large grounds. It's seemingly huge from the exterior yet surprisingly medium-sized once inside.
The church: Very much your typical English parish, but with a wide variety of services on offer and a huge number of people in the ministry, including 4 priests. The congregation in this service were predominantly over 60, but the church literature suggests that other services are different.
The neighbourhood: The church is in the old part of town; it's a pretty, very English-looking place of half-timbered building. Some, like the lovely craft shops, are genuine and some are less so. Pizza Express, for example, masquerades as a charming local restaurant.
The cast: The vicar, Rev. John Wynburne, had only just returned from sabbatical and so was not directly involved in the service. The celebrant was Rev. Alison Caw, the non-stipendiary minister.
What was the name of the service?
"A Service for Advent 2002". This was essentially an evening carol service for Advent Sunday.
How full was the building?
It was respectably full but not bursting.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. The vicar himself greeted us and made conversation. He enthused, "We do everything: praise; meditation; traditional..." This particular service was most certainly the latter. He was charming and warm without being patronising, and didn't balk at seeing a teenager despite the older average age of the congregation. This was an excellent start to the service.
Was your pew comfortable?
Very much so: deep padding on the wooden pews.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet but contented, as various old ladies greeted each other and people said how nice it was to see the vicar back.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Hello and welcome to our Service for Advent. Please read the notice sheet, as you will see there are lots of notices today."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A hymnal. The order of service was on a printed handout.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
Yes. The lady next to me persistently hummed the tunes to each hymn during the introductions, as if to say, "I know this one!"
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Musically it was very traditional, with choir and organ, but nevertheless it was not too uptight or overpowering. The prayers were formal but distinctively worded.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There wasn't one. This was a carol service; there were many readings and hymns, but no sermon.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Drinking in the words of an absolutely beautiful liturgy, which I think was written specifically for today's service.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Trying to work out who everyone was. There were several priests dotted around the place and no indication of who was who until I found a sheet explaining it all after the service.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing, unfortunately, not even when I stood by the "if you are a visitor" board. The service was mostly made up of older people who perhaps didn't feel comfortable greeting a teenager. Most people left fairly quickly, however, so it didn't feel like total shunning, and the celebrant said goodbye on our way out.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. For a carol service this was disappointing.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 The congregation of this particular service was rather old, and there appeared to be no 18-30 year olds whatsoever. This would be a problem for me if I were making it my home permanently. However, if I lived in the area I would certainly investigate the wide variety of other services they so proudly offer, some of which appear to attract a broader spectrum of ages.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely. It was a lovely service with fantastic liturgy that made me feel truly glad to be a Christian.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The warm welcome we received from the vicar upon entering.