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749: St Peter's, Chippenham, Wiltshire, England
Other reports | Comment on this report
St Peter's, Chippenham, England
Mystery Worshipper: Leo.
The church: St Peter's, Chippenham, Wilts, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The church: There seem to be lots of activities from Alpha courses to social groups.
The cast: The celebrant was the Revd Rosey Lunn and the preacher was Dr Jeffrey John, then Bishop-designate of Reading.
What was the name of the service?
Holy eucharist for the visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

How full was the building?
There were 39 people, which is quite good for a Saturday morning.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, the celebrant greeted me and offered me a glass or orange squash, which was very welcome on what must have been the hottest day of the year so far.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. It was wooden, with a padded seat and back, and plenty of leg room.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and recollected. There had been canned music coming from loud speakers, but someone thoughtfully turned it off.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A special sheet with the hymns, a locally produced mass book and "Hymns old and new". There were also pew bibles.

What musical instruments were played?
Only an organ.

Did anything distract you?
The six unlit candles on the altar. I wondered whether they would be lit at the offertory, as some sort of liturgical innovation, but they had merely been forgotten. Then I became annoyed with myself for being so irritated by such a trivial matter, which didn't help my concentration.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Restrained Anglo-Catholic.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
14 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – He appeared quite chatty, though it was obvious that serious scholarship underlay what was being said, but was worn lightly.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Anglicans are wary of devotion to Mary unless choirs are singing in Latin and the words don't get noticed, but it should be natural to honour the mother of the Lord, and it is certainly scriptural since the words of the Hail Mary come from Luke's Gospel.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The words of the offertory hymn, "Heaven and earth stand still while Mary, wrapped in thought, accepts the words of joy and dread the angel brought to bear the Christ, and hold him dear in costly love, in pain and fear." These words were poignant because our preacher, Jeffrey John, had recently accepted a post which proved controversial and he was getting hate-mail. His vocation was very costly, yet he is just the sort of bishop we need to "bear the Christ" to postmodern, 21st century people. I write this under "heaven" because I believe our woundedness is visible there, yet transformed.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
In the corridor that links the school with the church is a prominent notice, "Absolutely no chewing gum beyond this point". As I went up to receive communion I was conscious of my trainers sticking to the wooden floor and realised I had trodden in a huge wad of the stuff. Would the churchwarden eject me?

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't because I couldn't resist catching the preacher on his own before the others came out of church. I urged him to hang in there, because we were all praying hard for him.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
We had cold soup, which was excellent.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – It is clearly part of its local community and has lots going on.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, though also sad that some Christians can be so bigoted as to give the preacher such a hard time.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The chewing gum – there will still be a residue, probably, on my trainers.
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