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  1189: St Nicholas, Worth, Sussex, England

St Nicholas, Worth, Sussex, England

Mystery Worshipper: Pevsner.
The church: St Nicholas, Worth, Sussex, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
Comment: We have received a comment on this report.
The building: St Nicholas' Church is a beautiful Saxon minster dating from the late 10th century. Much of the original church still stands, having been painstakingly restored at various times, and despite a major fire in 1986 after which a major rebuilding and reordering campaign took place. One approaches the church through a 16th century lychgate (restored in 1956) and thence through a delightful avenue of trees. The chancel arch is 22 ft high and 14 ft wide, and is one of the largest pre-conquest arches still standing. The interior feels light and airy, and there is a tangible sense of history and continuity. The excellent church guide puts it very well: "If only 20 persons per week had passed through its doors, Worth Church would have been visited by over one million people in its 1,000 years of existence."
The church: Worth is on the edge of Crawley, and is one of the three ancient parishes of the new town. St Nicholas' is in a team with another, modern church, and it looks as if the two churches are trying to offer different types of worship to please their large parish. St Nicholas' is very much the traditional church, and some of the congregation come from a distance to take advantage of this. The church has been known for its strong music program – at one time there was an all-male choir, but this has changed to a mixed one. There is a huge number of weddings and Sunday afternoon baptisms.
The neighbourhood: Worth is very much the up-market part of Crawley, and the church is in a pretty conservation area right next to the M23; you can hear the motorway in the church, which can be a bit off-putting. There are lots of modern executive homes, but no shops or other amenities.
The cast: The notice sheet gave the names of all the clergy in the parish but did not indicate who was taking the service.
The date & time: Sunday, 23 October 2005, 9.45am.

What was the name of the service?
Sung Eucharist.

How full was the building?
Full – but it is quite a small building, and so the 70 or so present made it feel full. Most of the congregation were elderly. We noticed one other young person sitting on his own and being completely ignored (as were we!).

Did anyone welcome you personally?
We arrived through what turned out to be a side door, even though it was the most obvious one. The proper entrance was not signposted, so we found ourselves the wrong side of the sidesmen and had to work our way round. A sidesman mumbled hello as he handed us the books. After we sat down, a lady came to the end of the pew and looked at us very hard as if to say, "You are sitting in my place." Just after the service began, another lady came and asked if it was OK to sit next to us.

Was your pew comfortable?
A perfectly comfortable pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was quiet before the service. There were a few children in a sort of crèche at the back of the church, but they were fairly quiet then and during the service.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Grace, mercy and peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
New English Hymnal, Anglican Service Book (for the psalm), a pew sheet, a notice sheet, a sheet with the communion hymn on it, and a slip about forthcoming musical events. Quite a forest of paper, really.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ and choir, who sang Byrd's Three-part Service. A Byrd anthem was substituted for the advertised Rutter piece (thankfully so, in this Mystery Worshipper's view), and the concluding voluntary was different from the one listed in the pew sheet.

Did anything distract you?
The sound system was terrible. All the voices boomed through it, and it was in fact switched off after two minutes. This resulted in one of the clergymen becoming completely inaudible, which was a nuisance as he was the one announcing the hymn numbers.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was formal – servers and vestments – and the choir sang much of the service. The booming acoustics resulted in my feeling as if I were the only one singing.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
9 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
1 – The sermon was read out in a monotone. The subject matter was ideal for the elderly congregation, most of whom no doubt look back nostalgically on a so-called golden age when you could leave your front door unlocked. It felt irrelevant to me as I am under the age of 65.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was ostensibly on the theme of love. However, the first half was a diatribe against our supposed permissive society. In the past, according to the preacher, the elderly were safe, crime was low, there was little violence (has he forgotten two world wars?), etc. etc. It sounded like an article from the Daily Mail. The second half was about how love needs to be tough and not indulgent. At the end, he read out 1 Corinthians 13 ("If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love...").

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Some of the choral music, and most of the wonderful Saxon architecture.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Pretty much everything else – being ignored, the ghastly sermon, the lack of any sense of fellowship – there were no notices read out to give the service a more human feel.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We didn't hang around, I'm afraid. This was our second visit – the first time had resulted in a similar experience, but we thought it only fair to give it another go. The first time, we went with two much older friends, and they were talked to, but we were not – in fact, on that first visit we were treated rather rudely by one of the clergy.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were apparently refreshments, but no indication of where to go to find them. And no one took the trouble to speak to us. We both just wanted to go home.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – This is the unfriendliest church I have ever been to, and more's the pity, as it is our parish church. There was no welcome other than the sidesman's curt hello and the glare from the lady who thought if she did it hard enough we would relinquish "her" spot. The church seems to have nothing to offer people under the age of 60 unless they want to sing in the choir or be servers.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It made me glad that I have a car and can go somewhere else.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I will remember this as a cold, formal place where you have to be a "member."
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