|656: St Mary the Virgin, Houghton, Cambridgeshire, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Ruth & Naomi.
The church: St Mary the Virgin, Houghton, Cambridgeshire, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: A smallish parish church, in a fairly traditional style (nave and chancel), the rood screen having been removed. The oldest part of the church dates from the 13th century, the Saxon and Norman buildings before it having been destroyed. There is a 13th century double piscina.
The neighbourhood: The village seemed to be very closely knit and community minded. The mystery worshippers had enjoyed Christmas-lights-turning-on festivities the night before.
The cast: We don't know. A woman priest, whom we presumed was the vicar. She was assisted by a server (unvested) who came up to the altar at the offertory.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
Packed. Your correspondents were most surprised to be offered seats in the choir stalls (there being no choir at this service).
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. We were asked if we wanted to sit in the choir stalls there being very few other spaces. We had come as part of a large group. The attitude seemed quite welcoming even though they were a little flustered by the number of people!
Was your pew comfortable?
The choir stalls were fine (though those in the row in front of us appeared less fortunate owing to the low altitude of the pew!). The kneelers appeared to be wooden kneelers with thick hassocks on top thus making them very high for kneeling, although quite comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Bustling, due to the number of people (and a large proportion of children), though nothing that detracted from what was to follow.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everyone."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Mission Praise, and a booklet entitled "Family Eucharist".
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
Trying to work out what all the symbolism was in the "creed" window opposite.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Basically middle-of-the-road. The priest (vested in alb and stole) used the sign of the cross a lot, although the choice of hymns would suggest something a bit lower.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 She preached very well, in a way which was accessible to all, but still had content for those of us who weren't five.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
We heard about Moses the mouse, who lives under the organ, and appears to be a bit of a regular star of sermons here. The priest explained who he was for the benefit of visitors and proceeded to recount her "conversation" with Moses about the importance of the coming season of Christmas, and about what would happen to the toys that had been brought and put before the altar. (They were to be sent to a centre in Peterborough which sold them on cheaply to parents who would otherwise have trouble giving their children presents at Christmas.) We were told that showing love to others was the same as showing it to Christ himself.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Seeing a village church so full and so active. With all that one hears about the decline of village churches, it was nice to see one doing so well, and with such a committed congregation.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The first hymn (O Happy Day). Unfortunately, almost no one (including us) appeared to know it. Also, we didn't like it very much, and thought something more seasonal, seeing it was Advent, might have been better.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Not much opportunity for looking lost. We were examining the aforementioned "creed" window when someone spoke to us and told us about the new "millennium" window by the font, which had been given by the village.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was ok. Not fair-traded, but not evil either.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 Ruth thought if we lived there she would certainly go. Naomi quite liked what she saw, but would like to see what it's like on other Sundays, not being sure that it would be the thing for her every week.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Certainly it did for all the reasons it was like heaven. It was good to see the kids being involved in a natural way not having a "this is for the kids, everyone else turn off" bit.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Moses the Mouse.