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  1180: St Stephen's, St Peter Port, Guernsey, UK

St Stephen's, St Peter Port, Guernsey

Mystery Worshipper: Mr Kipling.
The church: St Stephen's, St Peter Port, Guernsey.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: The church was opened in 1865 during the Catholic revival of the 19th century, and has maintained its Catholic tradition ever since. Originally a chapel of ease to the main town parish church, St Stephen's became a parish church in its own right in 1884.
The church: The congregation appeared to be made up of people of "mature years". Very few families or children.
The neighbourhood: Guernsey is the second largest of the Channel Islands, St Peter Port being the capital and the only "built up" town on the island.
The cast: The church is currently in an interregnum. The president and preacher was Fr. Craske, a retired priest who lives locally. There was also another elderly priest who assisted at the distribution of communion but took no other active part in the service.
The date & time: Sunday 18th September 2005, 11.00 am

What was the name of the service?
Sung Mass.

How full was the building?
About half full. In true Anglican style, the back of the building was packed, gradually thinning out nearer the front. The first five pews were completely empty.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Several sidespeople were handing out booklets, assisted by a small boy who handed me mine. One of the sidespeople (who I assume to be one of his parents) joked about using "slave labour".

Was your pew comfortable?

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quite a lot of chatter. The people immediately behind me were having a very in-depth conversation about the events of the previous week.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"The Lord be with you" – but this was rather muffled, as the priest had forgotten to switch his microphone on.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Common Worship booklet, the New English Hymnal and a sheet containing the day's readings.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ and a small but enthusiastic choir, who were pretty good for their size, although the sopranos were a little wobbly in places.

Did anything distract you?
Constant chattering. A number of people seemed to be holding conversations throughout the service, so there always seemed to be chatter coming from somewhere, most notably during the Gospel reading, the intercessions, while queueing for communion and back in the pews immediately after communion.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Common Worship, Order 2 in Traditional Language. This was an eastward facing mass with full Catholic ceremonial, including incense, bells, six candles on the altar and plenty of genuflecting. I was quite impressed to see the MC holding the priest's chasuble as he censed the altar. There seemed to be very little input from the congregation (too busy chatting, maybe). At one point, I think I was the only person joining in with the said responses.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes.

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

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Not so much a sermon as a history lecture about the Celtic church and what they did for us. Whenever the preacher used the word "Celtic", he pronounced it with a soft "C", as in the Scottish football team. The sermon had no relevance at all to the day's readings.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Errm... can I get back to you on that one?

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The chattering, especially immediately before and after the communion. Some "stage directions" in the service booklet would have been nice. Every church follows its own local custom of when to sit, kneel or stand, but there was nothing in the booklet to indicate which posture was to be used, so I often found myself standing or kneeling in the wrong place.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Hang around looking lost? No chance! Guernsey people are among the friendliest in the world and this congregation was no exception. Before my companion and I had even left our pew, people approached us and invited us for coffee. Everybody was friendly, asking whether we were new or on holiday (it was the latter), where we were staying, whether we were enjoying our stay and advice on the best place to go for lunch. By the time we left, I think we'd spoken to nearly everyone.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Very good, served in a "proper" cup. My companion had tea which was also very good. I don't remember seeing any biscuits.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
All worship makes me glad to be Christian, but it made me a little ashamed to be Anglo-Catholic. Normally, I find Catholic worship extremely uplifting, but I found this service lacklustre and it left me feeling empty and spirutually unfulfilled. This is a shame as it is a total contrast to the genuine warmth I encountered from the congregation after the service. The more generous spirited part of me is allowing for the fact that they are in an interregnum and I know from experience that the absence of a permanent priest can allow things to get a bit loose at the edges.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The preacher's pronunciation of the word "Celtic".
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