|Comment on this report, or find other reports.
|Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you'd like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.
|Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.
||1224: Romsey Abbey, Romsey, Hampshire, England
Mystery Worshipper: Roundabout.
The church: The Abbey Church of St Mary and St Ethelflaeda (more
commonly known as Romsey Abbey), Romsey, Hampshire, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
Comment: We have received a comment on this report.
The building: In AD 907 King Edward the Elder settled some nuns on this
spot under the charge of his daughter. Ethelflaeda, the nunnery's second
abbess, was a saintly woman to whom several miracles were attributed, and
whose acts of sanctity reputedly included chanting psalms whilst standing
naked in the River Test at night. The present building dates from about
1120 and is a fine medieval building with large windows and a well lit interior
reminiscent of larger cathedrals across England. Classic Norman arches in
the hard, cream coloured, freshwater limestone known as Binstead stone tower
above the large nave. The rood is particularly famous, and the building
attracts all kinds of visitors eager, I suppose, to see a quintessentially
English church building. They are not disappointed. A recent survey by the
Daily Telegraph named Romsey Abbey as among the 100 best loved
places of worship in England.
The church: At its height the nunnery housed about 100 women, but
the Black Death reduced their number to 19. The Abbey entered a period of
shared use as the local parish church and was thus spared demolition during
Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries. By the time of the Puritans
the nunnery had been suppressed and the building's fabric had undergone
major changes. Today the Abbey remains the largest parish church in Hampshire
and is affiliated with the Greater Churches group. The parish sponsors numerous
societies and its congregation numbers many of the local great and good.
Lord Mountbatten (who was killed by an IRA bomb in 1979) is buried inside
The neighbourhood: The Abbey is the heart of the small market town
of Romsey, a very middle class town to the southwest of Winchester. Romsey
enjoyed a prosperous wool trade in earlier times, followed by a thriving
brewing and papermaking industry. During the 19th and early 20th centuries
Romsey was famous for the manufacture of collapsible boats, including lifeboats
used on the Titanic, among other vessels.
The cast: The Rev. Canon Neil Crawford-Jones, vicar (identified in
the service sheet only as "the Vicar") was celebrant and preacher.
The Rev. Tim Harling, assistant vicar, served as deacon, and Squadron Leader
Joseph Davies was the subdeacon.
The date & time: Sunday 29 January 2006, 10.00am.
What was the name of the service?
Sung Eucharist for Candlemas.
How full was the building?
Chairs were provided in the nave and they were mostly full. It wasn't possible to find an entirely empty row. I'd guess at a congregation of 300.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A sidesperson passed me a service book, leafelt and candle. Someone who didn't see me in the queue accidentally bumped into me and apologised, but this was the only direct word said to me.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a modern wooden chair, with a kneeler supplied if I wanted it. It was moderately comfortable for the length of the service, but most definitely not designed for slouching.
How would you describe the pre-service
I arrived about five minutes before service time, and the vicar was explaining
the procedure for the service. People were listening, but there was still
the usual background noise of the congregation settling in.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Open me the gates of righteousness" – the first line of the liturgy for
the day. As it was Candlemas, everyone had been given a candle on entry
to the church and the service started at the rear of the nave, by the font.
What books did the congregation use during the
New English Hymnal, a relatively smart in-house eucharistic service
pamphlet, and a sheet containing the special liturgy for Candlemas.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, played superbly well. Judging by the choir (a large men and boys
ensemble), attracting good quality organists is not a problem.
Did anything distract you?
Two acolytes went up each side of the aisle to light the people's candles.
The acolyte on the opposite side from me lit the first candle in every three
or four rows of chairs, whilst our acolyte was following a slower technique.
Impatient, I stepped across the aisle to get a light from the other side
and help hurry my side along (for we were approaching the end of the Nunc
dimittis), and in doing so seemed to have crossed the invisible line
between what is done and what is Simply Not Done! Aside from that, having
to juggle the candle, service sheet and hymn book was a distraction, but
at least we blew the candles out fairly early.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Eastward facing high altar eucharist in the Common Worship tradition,
with bells but no smells – just on the higher side of middle-of-the-road
Church of England. This, and the English Hymnal, a sung anthem,
Nunc dimittis and choir-only mass setting, made this service as
traditional as it gets, and it was done well. Some might describe it as
stiff-upper lip, but personally I appreciated the fact that a lesser festival
was being celebrated at parish eucharist.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
I was not wearing a watch, and fumbled to locate my cell phone to use as
a timer, but for once couldn't find the blessed instrument amongst my things.
But I would estimate 15 minutes, judging from the discomfort of the seat
and the coldness of my hands.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – I thought Canon Crawford-Jones failed to bring out the excitement
and expectation in the gospel passage (the presentation of Christ at the
temple, and the reactions of Simeon and Anna). I admit to getting a little
lost halfway through.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
He talked about putting our vocation into practice, as Simeon and Anna had
done, and not letting church as fantasy put us off our true relationship
with God. The post-communion prayer, where we ask God to accept our souls
and bodies as a living sacrifice, is more than just words – it is
something we need to work on.
Which part of the service was like being in
Listening to the choir sing the Nunc dimittis at the beginning
of the service was pretty close to heaven, and the sight of a full church
on a Sunday morning brought a smile to my heart.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Maybe it was the faux pas of the candle lighting incident, perhaps
it was the fact that I was at least ten years younger than 98 percent of
the congregation, but no one said a word to me after the service.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Well, I remained put in my aisle seat, fairly confident that out of the
four people sitting in my row, someone would talk to me. One couple passed
in front of my knees to get out without so much as a hello, and the other
couple were tracked down by someone else in the congregation for a chat.
Far from burying my head in prayer, I looked up and smiled as people walked
up the aisle past me, but I received not so much as a glance from anyone.
As most people had gone past me after a couple of minutes, I went to look
at the magnificent crib scene located in a side aisle through which people
had to go to exit. I tried to look the part of visitor, studying all the
information plaques on the wall – but again, no one approached me.
Finally, I tried to strike up a conversation with a sidesperson, dismantling
my candle to put it away in the boxes they were using to store the candles
and card – but I didn't get so much as a goodbye. After that, trying
to locate the coffee hour was definitely not what I was in mood for.
How would you describe the after-service
Alas, I wouldn't know. Coffee had been announced as taking place in a "church
room" without a clue as to where one could find it. I wish that churches
wouldn't assume that everyone knows the layout.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 Today's experience was the exact opposite of one I had had at Romsey
a few months ago. At that time I thought Romsey could be my new spiritual
home, especially as I'm considering moving to the town. But I have my doubts
after today. I might, however, try it once again before I write it off as
a lost cause.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
I was glad to be part of the Anglican Church celebrating a festival – but
I can't say it made me feel glad to be a Christian.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The aisle-crossing candle incident.
|We rely on voluntary donations to stay online. If you're a regular visitor to Ship of Fools, please consider supporting us.
| From Yunnan in China to Louisville in Kentucky, we report on Easter services, 2010. Read here.
|The Mystery Pilgrim
| One of our most seasoned reporters makes the Camino pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Read here.
| Read reports from 70 London churches, visited by a small army of Mystery Worshippers on one single Sunday. Read here.