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|1724: Keswick St John, Cumbria, England
Keswick St John, Cumbria, England.
Church of England, Diocese
A pink sandstone church in the Old English style, dating from
1838, the work of the architect Anthony Salvin, an expert in
medieval architecture noted for his restoration of castles and
country houses. It occupies an elevated position overlooking
the town of Keswick, a site chosen on advice given by the poet
William Wordsworth; indeed, its spire can be seen for miles
around. The grave of the novelist Sir Hugh Walpole lies in the
churchyard. The interior consists of a wide nave with aisles,
chancel, sanctuary and Lady chapel, and it contains some beautiful
stained glass windows by Henry Holiday, who illustrated the
first edition of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass
and whose windows appear in dozens of British churches, including
one in Westminster Abbey. Hanging above the north aisle is a
banner depicting St Herbert, who lived nearby during the 7th
century, the work of Josefina de Vasconcellos, who until her
death in 2005 at age 101 was the world's oldest living sculptress.
Finely carved oak choir stalls flank the altar, which has Old
English style riddel posts. A font and an eagle lectern, carved
by a parishioner, stand on either side of the chancel steps.
On Sundays there are normally two eucharists followed by a sung
evensong. However, the town was hosting an international jazz
festival, so on this particular day a jazz songs of praise was
programmed for the evening. Further eucharists are celebrated
during the week at various locations and there is a busy calendar
of meetings for the many groups associated with the church.
St John's also hosts a series of concerts throughout the year
given by choirs and chamber ensembles, together with organ recitals.
Indeed, Keswick choral society had held their spring concert
at the church on the previous evening, singing works by Haydn
The neighbourhood: Keswick is a bustling market town that nestles on the shore of Derwentwater, in my view the prettiest lake in the Lake District. It is set like a jewel in the Cumbrian mountains and attracts visitors from all over the world who come to engage in mountain or water sports, or simply to walk amongst glorious scenery. The church lies on a road leading out of the town in a quiet residential area.
The Revd Canon Stephen Pye, vicar.
The date & time:
Fifth Sunday of Easter, 10 May 2009, 10.00am.
What was the name of the service?
Sung eucharist and Sunday school.
How full was the building?
The church was quite full, with probably about 100 in the congregation.
There were a few children with parents but I would say that
most were on the wrong side of 50. I also noticed a few nuns
in the congregation.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was greeted with good morning from a lady who handed me a hymn book, a pew sheet and a service booklet.
Was your pew comfortable?
I was as comfortable as you could be sitting on an oak pew. The hassocks were deeply cushioned and comfortable to kneel on.
How would you describe the pre-service
It was fairly quiet, with just a few whispered conversations
being held. There was an air of expectancy. The chancel steps
appeared to have been made into a kind of stage.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good morning. You might have thought we were going to
perform this morning on this stage, but we're not! It's here
because we had the choral society yesterday, and this evening
we've got jazz songs of praise. But this morning it's the fifth
Sunday of Easter and we're going to begin our eucharist with
hymn number 151."
What books did the congregation use during the
Complete Mission Praise, Common Worship, and
a pew sheet listing the hymns to be sung and the collect, readings
What musical instruments
The organ was built by Arthur Harrison of Durham and is considered
to be one of the finest small church organs in the north of
England. My heart sank when the first hymn was played on a piano
because it made me wonder if the organ was out of action. However,
the next hymn was played on the organ by a lady who subsequently
used both instruments expertly throughout the service.
Did anything distract
I was rather irritated by the commotion that was coming from
the back of the church. I think it came from a group of toddlers
who were playing noisily with toys. Thankfully they were removed
after about 10 minutes, presumably to the Sunday school. Also,
when some notices were read at the end of the service, I'm not
sure if I heard it correctly but apparently a group called the
Mississippi Wigglers would be performing in the jazz program
that evening. It caused great amusement!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
A church leaflet described the worship as modern catholic and
it came over to me as very middle-of-the-road dignified Anglican
worship. The vicar wore vestments and the choir were robed but
there wasn't anything like a sniff of incense. The only way
it could be said to be happy clappy was the choice of hymns,
some of which were modern and had tunes unfamiliar to me.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
9 The vicar spoke clearly and made a joke about the coffee
at St John's, which I am afraid was lost on me. He said his
favourite tipple was Japanese tea and he produced a box of it,
inviting us to sample it after the service. He told us an anecdote
about Japanese tea. Apparently a servant was beheaded for dropping
some roasted rice into an emperor's tea. But when the emperor
drank the tea, he realised the flavour was much improved, so
in atonement he named the tea after the servant.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
In the gospel John presents Jesus as the vine and God as the
vine grower. Good quality wine is often drunk when there is
a celebration, but different drinks that also need careful growth
and preparation are consumed in other countries. In the gospel
we see that Jesus is the incorruptible vine, his disciples are
the living fruit-bearing branches, and Judas is a withered branch,
fit only to be broken off and burnt. We can aim to be a branch
and start today on the ups and downs of Christian life because
Jesus is slowly transforming us and ridding us of impurities.
At the end we will be worthy branches of the true vine. Then
we will taste in heavenly Jerusalem the wine of eternal life
and be with him forever.
Which part of the service was like being in
One of the most charming moments was during communion when the choir stood on the chancel steps to sing. They had an excellent range of voices and produced some lovely harmonies.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The only time I wished I was elsewhere was when we sang the
gradual hymn "You are the vine." When I located it
in the hymn book I saw it was short, but found to my dismay
that it was repeated over and over again to a rather sentimental
and slushy tune. It turned out to be totally relevant, though,
because the gospel and the sermon that followed were based on
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Several members of the congregation engaged us in conversation,
and I managed to learn that the nuns in the congregation belonged
to the order of the Holy Name and had taken vows of poverty,
chastity and obedience. They lead retreats and quiet days, and
offer accommodation at their house. The vicar asked where we
were staying and where we came from, and we had a chat about
churches in the area.
How would you describe the after-service
The coffee was served in a cup and saucer and there was a goodly
range of biscuits. I didn't see any Japanese tea on offer, though.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 If I came to live here it would definitely be on the short list. I might even begin to enjoy the modern hymns!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Absolutely. It seemed to be a very friendly place and I liked
the way the vicar conducted the service. A nice touch at the
end of the service was when the vicar announced it was the 80th
birthday of a gentleman sitting in the pew behind me. The choir
sang an extemporary "Happy birthday to you" with a
soprano providing a brilliant descant.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The sermon about the vine delivered by a vicar who loved Japanese tea!
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