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775: St Mary's, Bathwick, Bath, England
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St Mary's Bathwick, Bath, England
Mystery Worshipper: Lavender Waters.
The church: St Mary's Bathwick, Bath, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: The building dates from the 1820s. Externally, it is rather bleak in appearence, and of local stone. The interior is a fine example of mongrelism. The nave has a gallery on three sides. The chancel arch and western baptistry arch are adorned with slightly weedy angels. The Blessed Sacrament Chapel and the Baptistry are Arts and Crafts in style, yet the east windows are polychrome Victorian. As for the copper bird on the east end of the south transept: it had the head and body of a cormorant, but the legs of an eagle, to say nothing of the lopsided wings. Art, no doubt. Our Lady resided in a wardrobe-sized niche in the wall of the north aisle. There was no leaflet to help the curious out with this architectural hybrid, and even Mr Pevsner appears never to have been inside. The central aisle and the chancel sport a truly execrable stained mustard-coloured carpet.
The neighbourhood: Bathwick is an extremely classy district, five minutes walk from Pulteney Bridge and Bath Abbey. Volvos, Porsches and BMWs seem
The cast: The curate, Fr. Nigel Beardsley, celebrated; a lay reader, Mr Stephen Crow, preached; and the Rector, Fr. David Prothero, slithered in just before the end to deliver a second set of notices. An unidentified priest was also vested, but I was too far away to see what his precise role was.
The date: The service took place in Easter 2003. The report was received soon after, but publication on Ship of Fools was delayed due to administrative problems in the Mystery Worshipper project –Editor.
What was the name of the service?
Sung Eucharist.

How full was the building?
The nave was three-quarters full, but the aisles and galleries were empty.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The hymnbook and leaflets came with a smile.

Was your pew comfortable?
Upright, wooden and of Presbyterian spacing. The kneelers were huge, but hard to deploy in the narrow gap available.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Unhushed chattering.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," although we were treated to an early batch of notices before that.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The English Hymnal (revised) and a xeroxed order of service. Unadulterated Common Worship it was not. My neighbour had been supplied with the previous weeks's leaflet.

What musical instruments were played?
The only Willis organ in the diocese, according to a board at the back, appealing on its behalf. The choir was excellent, although they displayed a curious devotional sexism as they came and went: the women curtsied (rather than genuflected) in a double Indian file as they passed the blessed sacrament, whereas the men bowed two abreast.

Did anything distract you?
It was lovely to see children serving, and I apologise wholeheartedly for my remarks if the servers have special needs, but if not, they do need to be drilled. The smaller acolyte spent the duration of his Gospel duty sliding down the end of the pew until he reached a sitting posture. He then took one leg off the ground, and rocked backwards and forwards and grinned at all and sundry. The other acolyte acquitted himself well enough during the Gospel, but once the altar party had moved to the east end, could be seen hanging almost upside down from the altar rail and pulling on the decorative metalwork. The boat girl flounced and posed. Children much younger than these can be seen serving unobtrusively, with with great gravitas and polish all over the land. The distribution of communion was anarchical. There was a standing-only distribution point under the pulpit, and a kneeling one at the altar rail. There was an unseemly and thoroughly aggressive stampede as people left their pews and careered forwards, swapping from north to south and vice versa depending upon their preferred mode of reception. One feared for small children and fragile geriatrics. Although it was delivered in a cut-glass accent, the Old Testament reading was inaudible. The provenance of the intercessions was a puzzle. The celebrant had a book held under his nose, but unless he was a ventriloquist, and had changed his accent to that of a retired brigadier, it wasn't him. There was no one else in sight with moving lips. Creepy. There were plenty of children in the congregation, but they were not acknowledged at any point. They were not included in the offertory, there were no children in the choir, and despite the plethora of notices given, visiting children were not invited to join the indigenous.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Although there were six candles on the altar, lights everwhere, servers, Our Lady in her wardrobe, and Our Lord in his cupboard, it just didn't feel comfortably Anglo-Catholic. The thurifer was so sparing with his resins that no numinous fug could build up. The consecration was eastward-facing, though to be fair there probably wasn't room to move the altar forwards to accommodate even the slenderest cleric. The Gospel was said at the east end of the nave. The celebrant was almost apologetic. It was Eastertide, but almost as though the immensity of the resurrection hadn't quite got through. The Sanctus and the Agnus Dei were just that, sung in Latin

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was based on the Gospel, John 20:19-31, concentrating, I think, on "Receive the Holy Spirit".

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The soloist singing, "O taste and see".

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
That organ. It was so loud that my head hurt on a couple of occasions, although I should be in training, living as I do in a house with a liberal supply of teenagers, amplifying devices, woodwind and brass.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing whatsoever. I half hoped that the people in front of and behind me, who had been friendly enough at the peace, might offer to take me to coffee, or ask me where I was from, thus sparing me the ordeal of hanging around. I tried wandering about, looking at the art and memorial tablets, and though lots of people pushed past, nobody spoke. I then attached myself to one, then two more people, but still nothing was said. I had showered thoroughly that morning, so am reasonably sure this wasn't a personal hygiene matter. Nobody even tried to discover whether I could talk posh, too.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I saw people clutching green cups-and-saucers containing steaming brews, and even caught a whiff of instant, but was too demoralised to do anything other than leave and head for the nearest pub, where a double G & T was a friendly 2.35.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – From a purely experimental point of view, it would be interesting to see how many weeks might pass before one was spoken to by another member of the congregation.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. It was Easter, I was still buzzing, and I had received the sacrament.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
East, west, home's best.
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