|1115: St Peter & St Paul, Eye, Suffolk, England|
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|Mystery Worshipper: Pevsner.
The church: St Peter and St Paul, Eye, Suffolk, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
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The building: This is a large and splendid "wool" church, rebuilt in the late 15th century. The tower is a famous local landmark. The interior is light and colourful, following a redecoration and reordering in 1969. There is a large amount of work by the reknowned church architect Sir Ninian Comper dating from the 1920s and 30s. The interior's most notable feature is the beautifully decorated choir screen (1480); above are spectacular rood-figures by Comper, whose motto was apparently "Gild everything."
The church: Eye is one of the few Anglo-Catholic parishes in the diocese of St Edmundsbury, and the church draws its congregation from a wide area. There were several (retired?) priests among the worshipers.
The neighbourhood: Eye is a pretty and obviously affluent market town at the top of Suffolk. Next door to the church is the 15th century timbered guild hall. The architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner's description of the town (a village, really) includes the "horrible" town hall as well as the church tower – "one of the wonders of Suffolk."
The cast: The Rt Rev. Richard Lewis, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, was celebrant and preacher, assisted by the vicar, the Rev. Andrew Mircham.
|What was the name of the service?
Pontifical Sung Eucharist (with an explanation that "pontifical" means any old bishop, not just the one in Rome).
How full was the building?
It is a large building and this was not a special feast day, so it was only half full, with about 60 in the congregation and 30 in the choir and chancel.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A nice lady said good morning and handed me a hymn book and an order of service.
Was your pew comfortable?
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There were only two children and a baby that I could see, so it was all rather quiet. Unsurprising, as the average age of the congregation was about 50.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Before that we had sung a hymn and listened to the choir welcome the bishop with Elgar's Ecce Sacerdos Magnus.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
New English Hymnal and a very professional homemade order of service, which is printed specially every week, as there were notices on the back for the week ahead.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ and very competent choir of adults.
Did anything distract you?
The church was not warm and the heating was not on, but I gradually became accustomed to the temperature. The choir screen blocked my view of the altar for much of the service.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This was a traditional Rite B/Order One service, with solid hymns, lots of incense, and good singing by the choir, who sang the setting and the psalm.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 A charitable person would describe the bishop's voice as soft and gentle. A curmudgeon would say it was monotonous.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The bishop said he was glad to affirm the witness and worship of an Anglo-Catholic parish like Eye, and this went down very well. He then said what a pleasant change it was to be fully involved in the service, since he was usually tucked away in a corner on an uncomfortable chair. He thus had been afforded a good chance to gain a deep knowledge of Suffolk church memorials, and this led into talking about the living stones of the church, and how buildings like Eye's were loved by their congregations. The sermon was well received despite its being short on spirituality.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The singing was strong and the liturgy beautifully choreographed. It was very much a service where worship was offered on your behalf, and so you had the opportunity of focussing on the service rather than worrying about what to do next.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I was rather disconcerted to see the vicar mouthing the words of the eucharistic prayer along with the bishop – does this make it twice as holy? Theologically, I thought we all celebrated the eucharistic prayer, so I wasn't quite sure what the point was of the vicar's actions. The bowing at various points (especially any mention of the Virgin Mary) and a Hail Mary were a little bit too spikey for me. And the sanctus bell was rung at the wrong time.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A lady came up and invited me to have a glass of wine and some cake – it was a celebration of a couple's wedding anniversary. All the chit-chat was very social, but rather "county".
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I didn't try the coffee, but the wine was excellent. The cake was coloured purple for some reason, but was delicious anyway.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 I got the impression that this would be a very friendly church once you became a regular, and that its near uniqueness in the diocese meant that the people here were very united.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. It was a good, traditional Anglican service for the most part. The music was well-integrated into the service, and the whole effect was to give you a sense of the Anglican church being part of Christianity stretching back 2000 years.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The abundant use of incense and the sanctus bell being rung off cue. Oh yes, and the super purple cake served afterwards!