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909: St Mary's, Little Walsingham, Norfolk, England
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St Mary's, Little Walsingham, Norfolk
Mystery Worshipper: Jonah and the Whale.
The church: S Mary's, Little Walsingham, Norfolk, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: A traditional stone edifice, with lots of steps (there is disabled access through a side door). Light, airy, Gothic interior, stations, lots of statues and candle stands. Clean, and the flowers beautifully arranged.
The church: A large number of pilgrims visit the church and the local congregation is small but devout. The nuns also worship at the church and spread themselves round the congregation, which included every age group possible and even a dog.
The neighbourhood: The village is bursting with churches of all denominations as well as an Anglican shrine. We spotted Orthodox, Roman Catholic, United Reformed and Methodist churches all within yards of each other. There is also a Roman Catholic shrine just outside the village.
The cast: Fr Norman Banks, preacher and main celebrant, with a battery of clergy to support him. There were 13 concelebrants, four of whom were vested, the rest in stoles, some local, many retired, and several visiting priests on pilgrimage.
What was the name of the service?
Parish Mass.

How full was the building?
It was full. Extra seats (folding wooden chairs) were put out in the side aisles and at the back. I suppose we could have squeezed a few more in, but it would have been standing.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were greeted outside by a priest and inside by three sidesmen, who gave us books, etc. Revd Mother also came over to welcome us. Lots of people smiled a greeting as they took their seats.

Was your pew comfortable?
Plain wooden pews, but comfortable enough; blue leatherette kneelers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of quiet chat. An organ voluntary started 15 minutes beforehand, but didn't cut the cackle – difficult, I suppose, with so many people coming in from elsewhere, to inspire a reverential silence.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
We launched staright into the hymn with no introductions, and then "In the name of the Father..."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
They have their own printed Mass booklet. A handout contained all the hymns and readings for the day, and a notice sheet, "The Link", which covers all the churches in the group.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, loudly and majestically played. A pity the congregation weren't listening. The timing, during the service, was impeccable – all gaps were filled.

Did anything distract you?
I was very disappointed to see the candles being lit in the wrong order – I expected them to know better! I fretted on this throughout the service, watching to see if they managed to put them out correctly after Mass!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Solemn, formal Anglican worship, and very nicely done, in the main.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

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

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
A quick mention of the readings (how many people will be saved) and then he launched into the lives of Saints Monica and Augustine, majoring on Monica's anguished prayers (and nagging of her son, Augustine) and the results. Augustine was too clever for his own good. A bit of Christian doctrine followed, coming back to the fact that no one asks these days how many will be saved. We assume that if we're "good" we'll go to heaven because Jesus opened the door.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The singing of a verse of "Blessed and praised" at the end of the consecraton prayer. I always find this uplifting.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Being asked by the priest on the chalice to take hold of it. He did have shaky hands, but I don't expect to have it passed to me. I guided his hand instead, but wasn't left feeling terribly sanctified by the experience.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No chance! Several people came up to say hello – some local, some pilgrim – they were all very friendly. Fr Banks made particular efforts to come and say hello.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Instant coffee, but served in decent mugs, with a smile. There was a good range of biscuits, which the children were busy trying to demolish, but fresh ones continued to appear. I also spotted orange juice for the children; there were quite a few there.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – Would love to worship here regularly; the only snag being the travelling time. And if I did, I'm not sure how I'd feel about being invaded by pilgrims every week. I gather many of the locals go to the other churches in the group.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Being asked to take hold of the chalice.
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