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928: St Arilda's, Oldbury-on-Severn, Gloucestershire, England
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St Arilda's, Oldbury-on-Severn, Gloucestershire, England
Mystery Worshipper: Chris ChurchCrawler.
The church: St Arilda's, Oldbury-On-Severn, Gloucestershire, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: It is a pretty country church situated on top of a knoll which to my mind looks like a volcano. The building can be seen for miles around, and from the knoll you can see the whole Severn estuary and Forest of Dean. The body of the church was rebuilt after a fire in 1899 by architect Waller and is a faithful copy of the old church. There is a small 15th century tower and porch. The south arcade is lower than the north by one foot. Outside the church are some fine table top pews and 18th century tombs of deceased residents of Oldbury-On-Severn.
The church: The church is named after St Arilda, who was martyred for "not consenting to lie with the lord of the manor" in Saxon days. Although only 10 miles from Bristol, this is very much a small country church. They are still able to sustain a small choir, which is nice to see.
The neighbourhood: I often cycle up here and eat my sandwiches looking over the fields and Forest of Dean across the River Severn.
The cast: Rev. David Primrose, the benefice vicar from Thornbury.
What was the name of the service?
Nine carols and readings.

How full was the building?
Fairly packed, which was nice – I gather attendance is somewhat sparse during the rest of the year.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A couple of greeters were giving out some little iron candle holders.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was quite squashed, as the church was very full.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was cheerful – people saying hello.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to this service of nine readings and carols."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
We used a specially printed carol sheet and order of service.

What musical instruments were played?
A 1907 typical village church organ, and a piano to accompany the village choir.

Did anything distract you?
In spite of the heating and the amount of people, it was a little chilly in the church. Also, through the windows I was distracted by the wonderful view of the Severn Bridge all lit up, and the silvery River Severn below – looking as magical as it must have done over the centuries. Finally, all the men sang off key, which was OK, as it was a service for everybody.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Things began with the lights being dimmed and then the choir processing in while a small boy sang, "O little town of Bethlehem". The service was a traditional nine readings and carols, with a modern sketch in the middle. I guess one would describe it as a quaint service, especially when the lights went out and the iron holders were passed around.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The sermon was a sketch given by two teenagers. It was fairly well acted, although somewhat inaudible.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was hard to tell, but it seemed to be a sketch about modern Christmas, with puns about Buckingham Palace, a vicar, and Christian songwriter Graham Kendrick. The references to Graham Kendrick were probably lost on casual visitors.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The bit where the church was in darkness except for the candles. It is a very ancient church and site, and one felt honoured to be part of a congregation and long line of people who have worshipped here for centuries.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Maybe the cold.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everybody stayed behind for refreshments.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were some nice cakes and grape juice.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I am sure I will pop in now and again!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It certainly did. I was happy to be part of a tradition linked with a saint who died so many years ago. I often wonder how seriously we take our saints, and I believe Arilda deserves recognition in spite of the passing of the centuries.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The bright, cheerful company all gathered into the ancient church. One hopes that the passing years will still find St Arilda's perched on its knoll, ministering to the faithful.
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