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950: St Mary the Virgin, Wotton Under Edge, Gloucestershire, England
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1122: St Mary the Virgin, Wotton Under Edge, Gloucestershire, England
Mystery Worshipper: Chris Churchcrawler.
The church: St Mary the Virgin, Wotton Under Edge, Gloucestershire, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
Comment: We have received a comment on this report.
The building: A large country town church, with a perpendicular tower and exterior, all in warm Cotswold stone, peeping above a sleepy town. The interior of the chuch has some 13th century arcades, but the most notable features inside are the low, white plaster rib vaults erected by Nathienel Dyer in 1800. There is also a chandelier above the choir, many monuments to past residents of the town, and an organ with a fine case from St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, given to the church by King George I.
The church: The church has very good ecumenical links with the many other town churches, including United Reformed, Baptist, former Congregational, Methodist, and a former Independent meeting house.
The neighbourhood: Wotton is a picturesque hillside town built in Cotswold stone. It was a hotbed of religious revival and dissent in the 18th century, and the town is still dominated by the magnificent Victorian Rowland Hill Memorial Tabernacle, which is now used as aution rooms. There is also an historic old meeting house, which has recently closed.
The cast: Rev. John May and the curate, who was unnamed.
What was the name of the service?
Parish eucharist.

How full was the building?
Roughly 60 people, a mixture of young and old, were spread about the church.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A well dressed sidesman introduced himself and told me that the church had just employed a new organist.

Was your pew comfortable?
Very comfortable open Victorian affair with plenty of room to move about. The only problem was that I couldn't lean on it as it was too low.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Cheerful and welcoming – several people came over and spoke to me. The vicar was talking to people before the service and making his way up the aisle to where I was sitting on the back pew, and introduced himself. He was very cheerful, and sugested that I sit next to Beryl in front of me. It showed that he had taken time to understand what it is like to be a visitor.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to St Mary's, Wooten."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Mission Praise and their own eucharistic service book.

What musical instruments were played?
The organ. The new organist was very tall. He reminded me a little of the organist from BBC comedy series, The Vicar of Dibley, with his academic gown. I expected him to do a twirl down the aisle.

Did anything distract you?
While I was enjoying the building and organ music, a man dressed like a pirate walked into the service. Being a typical country town church, nobody batted an eyelid. He was wearing a red tunic with badges, and red knickerbockers. He also looked a centruy old. I half expected him to pull out a parrot that screamed "pieces of eight" or sang the hymn tunes. Some members of the congregation looked like other cast members from The Vicar of Dibley, especially the churchwarden with his gelled hair.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
There was a robed choir, which practised in the tower, the vicar wore vestments, and there were servers. However, the church used Mission Praise, which seemed incongruous. The organist didn't sound as though he was enjoying playing the song, "Such love". However, he really let rip on the George I organ for the final verse of "All my hope on God is founded". The whole service was typically middle of the road Anglican. If I was the organist, I wouldn't waste any organ breath on songs like "Such love" – I would have played that on the piano.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
About 10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The curate did a good exegesis of Luke chapter 14, about hospitality. However, he was reading his sermon from notes, and I felt he could have done with putting some personality into it – some laughter or reflection. It was all rather academic.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was about hospitality, and as I discovered later, the congregation did a wonderful job of putting the sermon into practice. After the service, the vicar gave another talk. He clearly knows his congregation well, and praised them for their various achievements. After the rather solem worship, his talk seemed very homely.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Listening to a magnificent organ being played well. I would have enjoyed hearing some Wesley hymns, to test drive it further. And of course the lovely welcome by the vicar and his congregation, and the fact that they looked after me so well.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The choir's unacompanied anthem – what a racket! To be fair, the organist was new and a choir lady said afterwards that the choir were very unsure about singing unacompanied. All four sections of the choir seemed to be singing in completely different keys.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
This is where St Mary's really shone. The vicar sought me out and introduced me to a lady who took me over to coffee, and she then introduced me to some other people. I was not allowed to look lost. This applied to other people who looked new there. The jovial vicar is very keen on sailing and there were a few other sailors in the congregation. Another person described how well the churches get on in Wotton. Also, the pirate came in for a cup of tea and was shaking his badges about. Who on earth this guy was I don't know.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was fine!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – This is a church with a big friendly welcome. I am used to a more "reformed" order of worship, but having said that, the service was musically good. I wasn't really keen on the setting, which sounded a bit of a dirge. A William Mathias setting would sound great here.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it certainly did. It is nice to know that there is a friendly church in Gloucestershire.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The cast from The Vicar of Dibley!
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