|1100: St Andrew's, East Hagbourne, Didcot, Oxfordshire, England|
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|Mystery Worshipper: Hermione Chasuble.
The church: St Andrew's, East Hagbourne, Didcot, Oxfordshire, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: The present church dates from the 12th century, with a little stained glass from the 14th. Inside, it is light, relatively un-tinkered with and smells as a country church should. On the north wall is a painted coat of arms featuring a startingly priapic unicorn; and on each side of the chancel arch a good modern carved relief. There is a sanctus bell in the tower which was rung by a chap in a suit who saved a server from an undignified scurry to the bellrope and back. There was a sign saying "toilet" on the south porch door, and various bodies availed themselves of the facility. I don't know if it was a bucket or something more up-to-date.
The neighbourhood: East Hagbourne is the sort of place which features on chocolate boxes and tapestry kits. The nearby Didcot power station cannot be seen from the main street. There are lots of ancient timber and brick cottages about, a stream and several large period houses. There wasn't a farmyard to be seen or smelt, the barns and outbuildings having been converted into expensive houses long ago. There wasn't a local accent to be heard, or come to that, a barking squire and squirene. This is a rather up-market dormitory village.
The cast: Fr Edwin Clements, Rector of Hagbourne, Upton and Blewbury, was celebrant and preacher.
|What was the name of the service?
Eucharist, and it included the baptism of a two-year old.
How full was the building?
The 50 or so people present made it feel quite full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I got a generalised "hello" as I arrived at the same time as several others. A hymn book and two sheets of paper were thrust into my hand.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were pale wood, and hard enough to keep one perky through a sermon. There was a rank of needlepoint hassocks of such size on the floor that I had nowhere to put my oversized feet and had to adopt the first ballet position for the standing portions of the service.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very noisy. Everyone was talking loudly and incessantly. Feebly, I gave up trying to collect my thoughts as the conversation between the ladies in front of me was so gripping: "I bet he goes on and on about the Pope," said one. "You'd think he was a proper Catholic, wouldn't you? I really wonder sometimes," said the other. I should explain that it was the second Sunday of Easter and the great John Paul II had died the day before.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Apart from the first hymn, it was "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Possibly Hymns Old and New, and a specially-printed booklet for a baptism-with-eucharist, lifted from authentic Church of England sources.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
There was a an all-age, mixed choir, some members of which were wearing RSCM-type medallions. The odd thing was that they were ridiculously quiet, though perfectly in tune. They looked rather scared. They migrated to the rear of the church for the post-communion anthem, which was inaudible. Two young boys were servers, and Fr Edwin ended the Gospel with such a flourish of his arms that he knocked one poor boy's candlestick into his face. Both Fr and boy looked as though they would collapse with the giggles any minute, which I found thoroughly encouraging. Some of the baptismal promises were made by a troop of very young but serious-looking godparents under the chancel arch, before the real business migrated to the font at the back. A kettle was boiled rather loudly to ensure that the new Christian wasn't chilled by his experience. He behaved impeccably, so the water must have been just right. Fr Edwin has a splendid head of hair, which must have been the envy of the many thinly-thatched men in the congregation .
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Relaxed rural Catholic, with proper hymns, a degree of ceremonial (though no smoke) but no mucking about.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was based on the Gospel for the day, John chapter 20, where Thomas doubts the reality of the Risen Lord. We were exhorted to root our lives in a simple faith. The parents and godparents of the boy baptised that day were advised that helping him acquire that one thing was the most important action they could take for him.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Singing real Easter hymns in a country church which is still very much alive, seemingly without recourse to dumbing down.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Being told where we were in a foolproof service booklet every few moments; the lack of enthusiasm in the choir and that "toilet" label on a door installed at a time when nipping behind the hedge would have been acceptable. "WC" or "lavatory" would have seemed so much more suitable, somehow.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
It was over 10 minutes before a local spoke to me, and then it was to get me to fill in a contact card. No, "how nice to see you," or, "do come again," sort of thing. Ears flapping, I heard a bit more moaning, from a different quarter, about the late Pope getting the mention dreaded by those others before things got underway.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Instant, in a pottery mug. Chocolate digestives were also on offer.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 Things felt comfortable, and the leaflet indicated that this is an active benefice, what with weekday eucharists, a pram service and confirmation classes. It was rather odd that said leaflet gave the day of the Feast of the Annunciation, yet it was not marked by a celebration of the eucharist.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It certainly did.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Ecumenism isn't ubiquitous hereabouts.