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1754: Holy Trinity, Funchal, Madeira
Holy Trinity, Funchal, Madeira
Mystery Worshipper: Chris Teean.
The church: Holy Trinity, Funchal, Madeira.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese in Europe.
The building: Built in 1822, the cream coloured square building in the neo-classical style was the design of the British consul, Henry Veitch. It is topped with a dome, and you would think you were approaching a library rather than a church. It is not certain whether Veitch designed it in the style of a round temple because he was a freemason, or whether he was influenced by Portuguese law that allowed only Roman Catholic churches to have a tower or spire. Several steps between four stone columns lead up to the entrance. Once inside there is a feeling of roundness about the church, brought about mainly by the circular gallery supported by pillars. The altar consists of a dressed communion table. The reredos is a semicircular wooden screen with a brass cross fixed at the centre, above which is a domed ceiling which has gold stars painted on a blue background. A fresco of palm trees enhances this image of a tropical setting. A wooden pulpit is on the left of the altar and to its right is a wooden lectern. To the south side is a small chapel also with a small starry domed ceiling. In the baptistery is a statue of Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt and wife of King Joao I of Portugal and mother of ten children, one of whom was Prince Henry the Navigator. The statue was originally placed in the church gardens on the 600th anniversary of the peace treaty of 1373 between Portugal and England.
The church: Holy Trinity has served as the centre for Anglican worship in Madeira for nearly 200 years and is known locally as the Igreja Inglesa (the English church). It has a small nucleus of permanent local members, but the majority of the congregation at the main Sunday service consists of visitors of many different nationalities and Christian traditions. There are two eucharists on a Sunday, one on a Wednesday, and daily morning prayer throughout the week. A notice board gives details of daily, seasonal and other services, study or devotional courses, and forthcoming social activities. The church enjoys friendly relations with the other Christian churches in Madeira, most of which are Roman Catholic and Portuguese speaking. It frequently hosts concerts of classical music.
The neighbourhood: Madeira, an autonomous region of Portugal, is a volcanic archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean about 500 miles west of Lisbon. Only two of the islands in the archipelago, Madeira and Porto Santo, are inhabited. Funchal is the capital of Madeira and has many graceful buildings and beautiful gardens, as well as a picturesque promenade and harbour, where cruise ships frequently lie at anchor. The church is quite close to the city centre, amongst a myriad of narrow streets with tall buildings on either side. Whilst most appear to be residential, small shops, bars and cafes grow in number as you approach the city centre. Holy Trinity cannot be seen from the street because it lies within a tall walled garden, which also houses the parsonage. Luckily it is well signposted!
The cast: The Revd Neil Dawson, chaplain, was the celebrant and preacher. Melvin Bird presided at the organ.
The date & time: Second Sunday after Trinity, 21 June 2009, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Parish Communion (Common Worship).

How full was the building?
It was quite full and I would estimate there to be around 100 in the predominantly rather well turned out elderly congregation. I cannot recollect seeing a single child there!

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A friendly lady greeted me at the door with "Good morning" and handed me all the literature for the service.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a comfortable wooden pew topped with a cushion. When I found that no one was sitting next to me, I used two hassocks to kneel on.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People gathered by some stalls near the entrance displaying cards, books, preserves and various knick-knacks, and quite a lot of chatter from this area drifted into the church. Inside, though, it was reasonably quiet and reverential.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Complete Anglican Hymns Old and New, an order of service booklet, and a pew sheet listing the gloria, the collect, the readings and the gospel as well as people to be prayed for and a list of future events.

What musical instruments were played?
Pipe organ, played very competently by Mr Bird, who had composed a new setting for the Agnus Dei. Built by the German organ maker August Gern, the instrument is housed in a rather impressive case on the north side.

Holy Trinity, Funchal, Madeira

Did anything distract you?
The only source of distraction came from the chaplain when he gave his sermon. Every time he pronounced a word beginning with the letter "p", he delivered it with such force to the microphone that it just made a loud cackle. No chance of anyone falling asleep!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was solemn and reverential. The altar party consisted of a crucifer robed in a cream coloured alb, a server in cassock, surplice and blue scarf, and the president robed in cassock, surplice and green chasuble. There were four lighted candles on the communion table. Incense was not used and there was no genuflection apart from the moments when the hosts were elevated. So I would say it was middle-of-the-road worship designed to accommodate worshippers from all sorts of different backgrounds.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The chaplain preached eloquently, reading from prepared notes.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The disciples were afraid when they were caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was asleep and was rather annoyed when they wakened him because it appeared they had no faith in him. We are the same in that we always wish that Jesus could be next to us to solve our problems or that God could wave a magic wand over us. But it doesn’t always work. Think of the hurried whispered prayers that must have been said in the doomed Air France plane or the prayers asking for cures for cancer. In the storm Jesus casually rebukes the wind, just as in the beginning God brought calm and order out of chaos when he made the world. In the Old Testament we saw Job questioning God’s morality and then later Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the problems faced by the church at that time; we have similar problems today. Who has not lain awake with worry? We face such things as bereavement, illness, and betrayal because to be human is to be vulnerable. We must put our faith in Jesus, who is at the door of the sheepfold, and have no fear.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The opening hymn, "Eternal Father, strong to save," which is a hymn for those at sea, had me really choked up, being as this lovely church is on an island in the Atlantic. All the hymns we sang were well known traditional ones and everyone sang enthusiastically. The overall impression was that everyone was there to participate and enjoy the service.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I was sitting quite near to the front when, just before the service started, a very large gentleman sat in front of me. When we stood for the procession and opening prayers I couldn’t see a thing! Luckily I was able to move myself along the pew a little and managed to peer around him.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I had a chat with the server, the chaplain and several other people who live on the island. I have worshipped at this church three times in the past when I have been in Madeira on holiday and enquired why Philippa was no longer in the garden. It turned out that a large diseased tree had to be uprooted and she had to be moved out of the way, but there are plans to restore her to her garden home in the near future.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was a charge of 2.50 Euros for refreshments but there was a good choice of tea, coffee, orange juice, Madeira wine, biscuits and cake. I had an excellent glass of Madeira wine with a portion of delicious bolo de mel, which is a rich Madeiran cake made with honey – nothing like the pale sponge cake that we call Madeira cake back in the UK!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – If I were lucky enough to live in Madeira I would definitely worship here.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I enjoyed the whole service, but was saddened when the intercessor prayed for Egyptian Christian girls who were being abducted and forced to convert to Islam, all condoned by the Muslim police. It brought back to me the sad fact that we live in such a dangerous world and that there are places where Christians are persecuted because of their faith.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I will remember leaving the church feeling happy and contented, humming the tune of "Eternal Father" to myself, when I turned a corner and heard hymn singing coming from a building. I located its notice board and found out it was a German Lutheran church. This confirmation that Christians of different traditions were actively worshipping on this sunny island further enhanced my contentment.
 
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