|644: St Mary's, Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: The Moshing Monk.
The church: St Mary's Parish Church, Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, UK.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: A very interesting mix of old and new. The original building, built in 1858, was destroyed by fire in 1963, and only the tower was left. A (very) 1970s structure has been attached to this, providing a largish meeting hall, overflow room, several small offices and a chapel. The exposed grey brickwork inside is not as cold and utilitarian as it might at first suggest, and as the main meeting hall is fully carpeted this reduces dramatically what would otherwise be a resounding echo. A low platform at the front houses a simple altar and large cross against the back wall, tastefully backlit. However, either side of the platform the upper walls are comprised of hideous concrete airbricks, like a garden wall gone wrong.
The neighbourhood: The immediate neighbourhood is all detached professional housing on one side, decent semis and larger terraced housing on the other. The town itself has been undergoing a much-needed facelift, helped by regeneration grants, and as such the church would seem to be in a pretty middle class area. However a short walk down the hill and you find yourself in a sprawling council estate, and surrounded by industrial units, interspersed with large farm houses. The exquisite Erewash valley is a little under a mile away, DH Lawrence used to play here when he was a boy, and detailed descriptions of the fields, meadows and river can be found in many of his books.
The cast: The Rev. Tony Cardwell, Rector, a pleasant man who seems strangely younger than his years, and Chris Keech, Brown Owl of the local Brownies group, and about 20 Brownies. The service was led by the Brownies, or rather Brown Owl, who does seem to be very adept at organising groups of young girls. One gets the impression she has had several years practice at this game, and probably doesn't take prisoners.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
From where I was initially the building looked to be reasonably full with parents and friends of the Brownies, as well as (I guess) the usual suspects. I suppose there were about 80 people in a room that could hold 140.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Despite the fact my car clock, my watch and my mobile phone all said I was on time, the service had just got underway when I arrived. A overly friendly lady gave me a hymnbook and a bulletin sheet, and said a pleasant "Good morning" loudly enough so that everyone in the church turned to look. Eight out of ten for effort, two out of ten for tact.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were modern and very highly polished. Not comfortable in the traditional sense, but at least they were wide, with decent gaps between rows, so you could try a few different positions until a suitable one was found.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Due to my late arrival, I missed out on this.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
As I was late the very first words I heard were, "You may also have been given, with your other bits of paper..."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Songs of Fellowship Songbook, not sure which print version, from which the hymns were sung. I had my Bible with me, but I think I was the only one with this item. Bible readings were taken from the NIV. Words for the few choruses (and birthday song) were displayed on an OHP.
What musical instruments were played?
Piano, guitar, violin, two flutes and tambourine.
Did anything distract you?
To my left I saw from the corner of my eye the word "mould" written in large letters on the wall. This disconcerted me for a while, until I realised it was part of a series of banners depicting the work of the Holy Spirit mould, teach, guide, etc. Also all the hymns seemed to be played in a key more suited to dogs and bats. This made the men sound like bad 80s pop singers, and the women like good 40s jazz singers.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was restrained, certainly no sign of hands raising or clapping. Mind you, the hymns chosen did not lend themselves to dancing in the aisles. The singing was hearty occasionally, I think possibly the Brownies' families were trying to do their best under difficult circumstances. I hazard a guess that this isn't completely indicative of a normal Sunday service.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
25 minutes, but this was broken by a song and also had a short OHP presentation about water crises in Africa.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 This was by no means a subject the preacher could get his teeth into, but he made some effort to bring to life the reality of the water situation in Africa.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Water, how we take it for granted but many places have very little, and even what they do have is often contaminated. Here's what we can do to help. He referred to one of the readings (about the Samaritan woman at the well) to say that people need the more important and lasting "water" of friendship, hope, love and faith.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The Brownies singing a Harvest samba song. Maybe I'm a sucker for sentimentality (and a rhumba beat), but they had obviously practiced hard, and the appreciation in the room was tangible.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The singing of a cheesy christian version of Happy Birthday to a group of highly embarrassed adults and children. The reinforced concrete pillars seemed to be playing havoc with the tie-clip radio microphones at times.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I deposited my hymnbook at the desk at the back, and tried to look "lost but interesting". It worked, a gentleman with a foreign accent struck up a conversation and we chatted for a while. Amazingly enough he remembered my family from over 12 years ago, after that three or four more people came up and said hello. My idea of being incognito had backfired, I obviously hadn't changed in over a decade. Several people also smiled and said "hello", although for the other visitors there (or the ones I guessed were visitors) I didn't notice queues of people waiting to chat to them.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I don't know, didn't get invited for any, although there were lots of people imbibing, so it can't have been that bad. I think I saw some depressed looking biscuits as well, but I may be wrong.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 Not my style at all, and by the comments of a couple of people any youth scene that was there is dwindling rapidly. The bulk of the congregation seem to be in their upper forties, and the whole place doesn't exactly exude vitality.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not really, although it made me glad to be not part of this church. And I say that with the greatest possible respect to the people there.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Mould on the wall!