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982: St Michael & All Angels, Paulsgrove, Portsmouth, England
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St Michael & All Angels, Paulsgrove, Hampshire, England
Mystery Worshipper: Jonah and the Whale.
The church: St Michael & All Angels, Paulsgrove, Hampshire, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: We spotted the green roof from the motorway! This is a brick building of a goodly size. The church was built in 1948 to serve the newly-built Paulsgrove estate. Once we got inside, we discovered that the building had been divided into three parts: a hall, the main worship area and a chapel beyond.
The neighbourhood: Paulsgrove council estate was built in the 1940s as a way of replacing houses in Portsmouth that had been lost to German bombing during World War II. The prefabricated homes were made in factories and could be assembled on site in as little as four days. It was only in the early 1950s that the community was provided with permanent shops. Paulsgrove hit the national headlines in the summer of 2000 when rioters took to the streets in an attempt to deal summary justice to suspected paedophiles. The estate has been very run down in the past, but is now on its way back up and distinct improvements are noticeable. Paulsgrove is backed by white cliffs, and an old fort sit above it.
The cast: Father Gary Waddingham.
What was the name of the service?
Parish Mass and Baptism.

How full was the building?
About one-third full, with most of the congregation in the back right quadrant. The friends and family in the baptismal party sat together.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were greeted by sidesman who gave us a service sheet. A couple of members in the congregation also gave welcoming smiles.

Was your pew comfortable?
It isn't possible to be comfortable in low-backed pews. And the bookshelf was open at the bottom, so everything slipped through onto the floor. The kneelers were small and thin.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The organ was playing and there was a low hum of chat.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father..." followed by the peace, and then a welcome to all, especially the baptism family.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A printed service sheet.

What musical instruments were played?
The organ.

Did anything distract you?
The thurible was huge! Father seemed scared of it, but the thurifer handled it competently and well. Maybe he could give Father some lessons?

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Relaxed and comfortable within the formal framework. People were gently amused in several places!

Exactly how long was the sermon?
7 minutes.

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

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Father had recently returned from his holidays and told us a story about eight nuns and a zither. He then moved on to tax collectors, and how a tax collecter in Jesus' day was 20 times worse than they are now. He pondered our tendencies to fall into the trap of the Pharisees and finished by reminding us that if we took the gifts God has given us out of the bottle and used them, we would have 800 people in church in no time.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The incense was wonderful, and the thurifer certainly knew how to spread it all around the church.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The acoustics were poor. We could barely hear the sermon and the readers were inaudible against a background of normal children's noise. The children were very well-behaved.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No chance. People were very friendly and someone offered to show us round the building. We were also invited to partake of coffee. This is one of the friendliest congregations we have visited.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was coffee, and it was hot. The company was excellent and we lingered long.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – If only it were nearer!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. The baptism was well conducted and I was left with the feeling that the promises that had been made really would be kept.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That wonderful thurible! I was itching to get my hands on it and give it a spin, but didn't like to ask.
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