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799: Wadham College Chapel, Oxford, England
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Wadham College Chapel, Oxford
Mystery Worshipper: ACOL-ite.
The church: Wadham College Chapel, Oxford.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: A reasonable typical chapel for an old Oxbridge college. Pews on the south and north walls; eagle lectern at the west end of the nave; unfortunately, no reredos, a large stained glass window covered the entire east wall; unusually, the communion rail was in fact a short wooden wall. The ante chapel housed the organ and looked large enough for small functions.
The church: This is the chapel to Wadham College, one of the consituent colleges of the university of Oxford. The chaplaincy is an important part of the welfare system for students of all faiths and none, and the chapel aims to provide Christian services to complement membership of a "real" church.
The neighbourhood: Wadham College has a reputation for being a bit leftie. I don't know whether that motivated the decision to hold the service here or not.
The cast: The minister was Harriet Harris, chaplain to the college. The preacher was Simon Motz. The readers were Vladimir Bermant, Greg Hilditch, Sarah Jenkins, Aidan Randle-Conde, Tsin Koh, Nancy Mendoza, Ilana Avital and Rosie Buckland.
What was the name of the service?
Interfaith Memorial Service for Holocaust Memorial Day.

How full was the building?
Pretty full. About 100 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was handed an order of service by a be-Kippah-ed Jew, which helped to remind me of the interfaith nature of the service.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew itself was fine, but the kneelers were so large as to seriously constrict leg room.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet. One lady asked me what the order of service was called, which I found odd as it said "Order of Service" at the top.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"I'd like to welcome you all to Wadham College chapel for this Interfaith Service of Remembrance on National Holocaust Memorial Day."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A bespoke service book. Readings were taken from Ben Okri's "Mental Fight"; a sermon by August Galen; Heinz Heger's "The Men with Pink Triangles"; Philip Gourevitch's "Stories from Rwanda"; Maya Angelou's "Still I rise", and Alexander Donat's "Memoirs". Psalm 102 was read to us.

What musical instruments were played?
None, which was a shame as the organ in the antechapel looked rather fine. There are also quite a few pieces of music that would have been suitable for this occasion (one of Bernstein's Hebrew settings of the Psalms perhaps).

Did anything distract you?
The service began with the lighting of a Jarzeit candle. From this, after each reading, the reader lit a candle on a menorah. Unfortunately, there were one too many readings and the last reader approached the candles to light one, realised they were all lit, looked dejected and toddled back to her seat.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Stately, but not lacking in emotion.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
8 minutes – it was an address, not a sermon.

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

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
There were three groups of people involved in the holocaust: victims, perpetrators and bystanders. We are in very real danger of turning into any one of these if we are not careful.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The quiet and calm. I'm used to doing lots of bustling before, during and after a service at my home church. It was very nice to have plenty of quiet time for reflection. There was also a decent amount of silence which made a nice change from the traditional "Anglican silence" (take a breath, exhale, make noise again).

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The problems with this service were mostly omissions rather than commissions. There was no prayer (surely, to be an interfaith service, rather than a non-faith service, you have to bring God in at some point); no music, neither a performance nor something for the congregation to sing; nothing for the congregation to say together; no candles for us to light. As much as I appreciated the calm and tranquility, a participatory segment would have been nice.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone hurried out rather quickly. There were some displays about the holocaust to peruse in the antechapel.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – This isn't a regular service. If I was to be in Oxford this time next year, I'd probably go. Would I like my regular worship to be more like this? The calm: yes; the lack of participation: no.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Hard to say, as it wasn't an exclusively Christian service.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The warning to be neither a victim, a perpetrator, nor a bystander.
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