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|1705: All Saints,
Saints, Northampton, England.
Church of England, Diocese
of Peterborough. All Saints is a "Resolution C"
parish and its pastoral responsibility and sacramental ministry
are maintained by the Rt Revd Keith Newton, Bishop of Richborough.
All Saints is a wonderful classical late 17th century church,
rebuilt on a much older site after the centre of the town was
destroyed by fire in 1675. Given the date and the circumstances,
the style is heavily influenced by Sir Christopher Wren and
St Paul's in London. The building is a basic box shape, but
with a central dome with lantern, classical portico and narthex
at the west end with the original tower above. The interior
is very open, with four massive pillars supporting the barrel-vaulted
roof but not disrupting the sight lines within. The interior
is richly decorated and ornamented, with beautiful dark wood
for pews, panels and the galleries. The pews on the ground floor
would seat around 350, and there are galleries around the sides
that would hold another couple of hundred.
According to their website, they see themselves as forming three
distinct congregations: weekday, weekend and civic. In their
music program they count boys' and girls' choirs (with a waiting
list to join), 12 choral scholars and six lay clerks, plus bellringers.
They characterize their liturgical leanings as "traditional
but not old-fashioned." There are two eucharists each Sunday,
with eucharist and evensong during the week. The fact that they
have a boys’ choir that sings choral evensong several
times a week is the reason that we went to this church for Ash
All Saints is located in central Northampton, surrounded by
shops and offices with a splendid Victorian guildhall just down
the street. The town was the centre of shoe making in the days
before manufacturing was sent offshore. The town is still the
county town of the eponymous shire.
The celebrant was the rector, the Revd Simon Godfrey; the preacher
was the Revd Canon Frank Pickard.
The date & time:
(Ash) Wednesday, 25 February 2009, 7.30pm.
What was the name of the service?
Choral Eucharist with the Imposition of Ashes.
How full was the building?
A modest congregation for a midweek evening service; around 30 people sitting in the centre block of pews didn't look lost, but the outer areas and galleries were empty. The choir and sanctuary party outnumbered the nave congregation.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A friendly smile accompanied the proffered service leaflet, prayer book (for readings) and hymn book.
Was your pew comfortable?
Not bad. I did not feel uncomfortable at any point in the service.
How would you describe the pre-service
We arrived 15 minutes before the service began, and the muffled sound of the six bells ringing competed with the distant choir rehearsal for a few minutes until the bells rang down and the rehearsal finished. The organist then began a contemplative Bach prelude until the service started. Some people chatted quietly, but it wasn't intrusive.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Thou hast mercy on all, O Lord" followed the unannounced
What books did the congregation use during the
The parish's own printed leaflet for choral eucharist; Book
of Common Prayer for the collect, epistle and gospel; and
pew sheet for hymn numbers and notices. The hymns all came from
the New English Hymnal.
What musical instruments were played?
A rather good pipe organ was used for the prelude, to accompany
the hymns, and for the final voluntary.
Did anything distract you?
I found the words of the liturgy distracting. I am used to most
things in the Church of England from straight Book of Common
Prayer through the Alternative Service Book and
most offerings from Common Worship, and have watched
liturgical practice from snake-belly low to nosebleed high.
However, a lot of the phrases and practices used here I had
never heard or seen before. The rubrics referred to "the
sacred ministers" and "the secret is said;" the
Lord's Prayer was interrupted before "For thine is the
kingdom" for an inserted prayer from the celebrant; and
the service concluded with "The eucharist is ended, go
in peace." The service leaflet gave no clue to the origin
of the liturgy so I was left wondering, which was distracting.
Checking the parish website later, I found that "The majority
of our service [sic] use the language of the Book of Common
Prayer as their basis, though we look to the liturgies
and rites common in England before this date for inspiration
for feast days and festivals." Google and the Ecclesiantics board on Ship of Fools were my sources later to find that the
liturgy owes more to Rome than to Canterbury.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Way up the candle with bells and lots of smells. The robed choir
consisted of 18 boy trebles with another 15 or so men and boys
in the lower voices. The choir sang Byrd's Mass for Four
Voices as the setting and Allegri's Miserere Mei
(in English) as a communion motet. The first hymn of "Forty
days and forty nights" can be a minor key dirge, but was
relieved by a switch to the major key tune of "Buckland"
for the final two verses a delightful and surprising modification.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
8 Canon Pickard had notes, but spoke clearly and fluently
rather than reading a prepared speech. He seemed well organised,
and he covered his points efficiently. His style was serious,
as befits the season of Lent. His delivery was clear, but it
was during the sermon that I realised (as there was a visible
microphone on the pulpit) that there was a sound system in the
church, with the speakers well concealed in the old building.
His subject matter interested me, and so my attention did not
lag, but whether all the choirboys could have told you anything
of the sermon’s contents, I couldn’t possibly say.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
We should look at our lives during Lent, thinking about how
they should be part of our Christian witness. He reminded us
that ashing returned officially to the Church of England with
the Lent, Holy Week and Easter book of 1984, but had
been done unofficially before that, borrowing from other rites.
It is difficult to get a balanced view of our own lives, as
there is a danger either of overemphasising our failings or
of being too modest about the flaws that we do have. Most of
us are "frayed around the edges" by life, not sinners
that the Sunday tabloids would report, but sinners anyway. Our
lives are a witness to non-Christians who know our allegiance:
if our lives do not match our profession, we deserve their scorn.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
The interior of the building is gorgeous and in beautiful condition. A time traveller from its earliest days could return now and see very little difference. Sitting listening to the wonderful organ with the fantastic architecture around me could be my idea of heaven. The choir processed in red cassocks and shining white surplices and ruffs to show how a choir can (and should) behave.
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
I hate to say this, but the choral music. Any church that can
support two choirs with children only on the top line, with
older boys staying on to sing in the back row, has to be doing
many, many things (such as choir camaraderie) very, very well
but the Byrd and the Allegri weren't among them. Both
of these are fiendishly difficult pieces to do well, and one
is spoiled by having access to broadcasts and CDs. But here,
this music too often showed up flaws in technique and tuning.
The treble soloist hit his Allegri top Cs cleanly with good
tone, but the choir support wasn't there. This was a grade 6
choir attempting (or being made to attempt) grade 8 music. I
tried not to wince too visibly or too frequently, but it was
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
We stayed seated to the end of the organ voluntary, by which
time most people had left. The rector shook our hands and spoke
briefly, but that was all.
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
Non-existent. Not surprising for a small group after a weekday
evening service. have a newly-opened coffee shop in the narthex,
but it is leased out rather than run by the church.
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 One visit on a special occasion makes it difficult
to judge, so I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, the building
is superb. But sadly, the choir did not live up to its reputation
this evening. If it lowered its sights to do simpler things
well, it could be fantastic. A more permanent influence, however,
would be the form of liturgy used. Here is a church lamenting
in the notice sheet the recent vote in the general synod of
the Church of England moving toward the ordination of women
to the episcopate and complaining that the Forward in Faith
demands are not being met in full. Yet they use a form of liturgy
that is not authorised for general use by the C of E and that
owes more in its makeup to another Christian church, without
acknowledging that loyalty. It makes me feel that the current
changes in the C of E are making them confront the inconsistencies
already present in their allegiances, rather than creating them.
Did the service make you
feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, I find the imposition of ashes a moving occasion and this
was no exception.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The sight of choir stalls full of decently presented and robed boys and men in a wonderful setting.
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