|839: St Andrew, Kyrenia, North Cyprus|
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Mystery Worshipper: Fox's Friend.
The church: St Andrew's, Kyrenia, North Cyprus.
The building: Built in 1913, whitewashed and traditionally plain. It has recently been refurbished, with much help and support from both Christian and Muslim members of the local community, and now has a church hall in the basement for use by many local groups.
The church: The church serves the largely British expat community in North Cyprus, with a congregation of around 35-40 regulars and 25-30 tourists/visitors at Sunday services. The regular congregation tend to be slightly older, but they make a sincere and successful effort to welcome the itinerants, with a thriving Sunday school for youngsters and a very warm welcome for the more mature visitor.
The neighbourhood: The church is next to Kyrenia Castle, which dates back to the middle ages. The Mediterranean Sea forms a backdrop to the view of the church from the town, and the call to prayer from the nearby mosque punctuates the day.
The cast: Rev. Anthony Fletcher.
What was the name of the service?
Family Communion on Palm Sunday.
How full was the building?
There were only a dozen or so empty seats, and at a very rough count, the church could accommodate 80 or so.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We (I was with my mum) were handed our hymn books and a service book, and asked if we minded sharing, as they were reaching the end of one of the books. This was said in a way which made it a genuine query. The lady in the seat next to us said hello as we sat down, and everyone in reach (plus a few who were actually a bit far away) shook our hands or greeted us during the peace.
Was your pew comfortable?
We had wooden chairs with rush seats, with brand new cushions on them – very comfortable and easy on the posterior! The seats were quite close together, so when we stood to go up for communion, we had to wriggle a bit to avoid pushing the chairs in front of us out of line. That was the only way to get enough chairs for the congregation in, I guess.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Hushed, expectant babble. People seemed to be exchanging greetings, but in a low tone with an eye to the front to see if the service was imminent.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good Morning, and welcome to our first service of Passion Week."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Common Mission Praise, and the Church of England Communion Order of Service book.
What musical instruments were played?
An organ. There was a small, enthusiastic choir who showed signs of regular rehearsal and tried some interesting arrangements (with some success) during the service.
Did anything distract you?
There was a strong wind, and a shutter kept banging on one of the windows, which once noted could not be ignored. There was also a cross-shaped window behind the altar, with slightly patterned glass. This took the place of a cross on the altar, and glowed with Mediterranean sunlight against the plain white walls. It was the simplest example of God's light I have come across, and it mesmerised me. A very happy distraction, but a distraction none the less.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The stunning fact about this worship was the reality of it. These were not words read from a book by rote, but phrases from the heart, spoken as freshly as if they were just occuring to the celebrant and the congregation for the first time. The worship was joyful, with laughter and real involvement, without being forced. Rev. Fletcher invited the tourists to join in holy week services, as well as to attend a wedding taking place on the following Saturday. He said he knew we'd like a good wedding, and would be very welcome. I felt blessed to be there.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 The preacher (Rev. Fletcher again) moved about quite a bit, and did not stay tethered to the pulpit. He used vivid, contemporary imagery (comparing the crowds in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to those at international rugby matches) and had us all sitting in silent contemplation, laughing out loud or thinking hard as he talked – a very inspirational, engaging preacher who brought the reality of Christ's passion in all its aspects right to us.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Jesus as both servant and king. As a king entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, as a servant elsewhere in the Gospels. Jesus died for everyone, not just Christians or a particular Christian sect, but for Jews, Buddhists, Muslims and even atheists. The message of holy week included all the bad, distressing things (pain, betrayal, and despair) as well as the triumph of Palm Sunday at its start and the resurrection at the end on Easter Sunday. All the elements were necessary, and none should be ignored just because they are difficult to contemplate.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
As the choir sang, "Be still for the presence of the Lord" at the end of communion, I was moved to tears. There was a sense of the real presence of God in the quiet of the building, with God's creation providing light and the symbol of Jesus' sacrifice for us all in the window-cross above the altar. I have never felt nearer to God in a church. This was a concentrated sense of the feeling of the whole service, where all, even the visitors, were part of a single coherent group, come together to worship God joyfully, and in a very immediate and personal way.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
That da**ed shutter, which brought me all too abruptly out of my sense of belonging at the end of communion, and a couple of other times during the service. Perhaps I should send the money to buy a hook to hold it in place.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was no hanging around! We were all invited to collect a palm cross, and the invitation to stay for coffee was repeated several times on a personal level as the crosses were collected. We were shown where to go, and two ladies each came across to see if we needed any help or would like to chat.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Average instant coffee in nice mugs, with excellent ginger nuts (it would have been worth the visit just for the biscuits).
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 If this church were not a continent away from where I live, I would change denominations to attend. I was welcome, involved and truly thankful for the experience of worship in such an authentically Christian atmosphere.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, but in a context where it would have been just as good had I been a Muslim or a Buddhist (or an atheist going along to confim my prejudice, but finding it confounded). I would not have missed my experience at St Andrew's in exchange for many other blessings.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The sheer sense of joy and vivid reality to the worship, and the complete lack of any sense of rote or empty rite. As I write this, it is three weeks since the service, and I can still recall how good it made me feel. I will take a holiday in North Cyprus again, and part of the reason is St Andrew's.