Bishop of Stortford.
Trinity, Witney, Oxfordshire, England.
Church of England, Diocese
It is a neo-Gothic stone building from the Victorian era,
looking much larger on the outside than the space it provides
inside. It has recently been reordered with a nave altar and
chairs replacing the pews. However, the choir still uses the
old choir stalls, partially screened off from the rest of
the congregation, and the eucharist is ministered at the communion
rail at the high altar.
They conduct house groups for people who wish to study the
Bible or discuss moral issues. The celebrate holy communion
on all Sundays of the month except the fourth, when they recite
The town of Witney, in rural Oxfordshire, derived its wealth
from the wool trade and was once famous for the manufacture
of blankets. The blanket industry is no longer part of the
town's economy, but the town still retains many of the trappings
of wealth. Holy Trinity Church is in a newer residential area
in the corner of a small village green. There is a small children's
playground behind it and the building itself is partially
hidden amongst a clump of trees.
The Rt Revd Bill Down, retired Bishop of Bermuda and Honorary
Assistant Bishop of Oxford, presided. Bishop Down was assisted
by his wife, Sally Down. Jeff Hill, team evangelist, preached.
The date & time:
13 September 2009, 10.45am.
What was the name of
Welcome to Worship Holy Communion.
How full was the building?
Around 100 people, which is approaching the capacity of the
church. About half of these, including this Mystery Worshipper,
were there to witness the baptism of Leo Adderley.
Did anyone welcome you
One person greeted me with a "Good morning" and
another handed me a stack of service books as I walked through
the door, trying to control my four children.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, very adequate upholstered church chair with a tray in
the back of the next chair for the multitude of books.
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
The large baptismal party, many of whom were not regular churchgoers,
were in good voice. With the organist providing some background,
it had something of the air of a wedding rather than a Sunday
What were the exact
opening words of the service?
"We sing our first hymn from the green hymn book, number 486."
What books did the congregation
use during the service?
I was handed a decent library of books when I arrived, including
the New English Hymnal and the Holy Trinity Hymn
Book. There was also a parish newsletter, a service sheet
for holy communion, and a separate service sheet for holy
baptism. The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version,
was in each row of chairs.
What musical instruments
Did anything distract
As preparations were being made to distribute communion, one
of the wafers fell to the floor. The bishop bent down, picked
it up, and put it back in with the others. As I went up for
communion, there was this nagging suspicion in the back of
my mind that I might receive that particular wafer.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Straight down the middle of the road. Nothing remarkable nor
dreadful about it. A nice service of the kind I have come
to expect from a decent C of E parish. The service was called
"Welcome to Worship" and was one of those slightly,
but only very slightly, shortened holy communion liturgies
with plenty of hymns. But alas, the baptism of little Leo
did not go all that well – read on!
Exactly how long was
On a scale of 1-10,
how good was the preacher?
6 Jeff Hill had the manner of a computer programmer
giving his first presentation after going on the "how
to do a presentation" training course. He used a slide
projector to reinforce his sermon. He included a cartoon joke
about text messages that contained several examples of the
abbreviations that people use when texting. (I have given
him an extra point, because the use of text messaging as a
theme in the sermon got my teenage daughter's attention, which
is a minor miracle for any preacher.)
In a nutshell, what
was the sermon about?
He preached on Mark 8:27-30 (the disciples are not sure who
Christ is, but Peter confesses him as the Messiah) in the
style of a group of teenagers texting to each other. He had
some fun with this concept, flashing up pictures of a mobile
phone on his projector with the letters, for example, "WITG"
(Who is this guy?) and "NAS" (Not absolutely sure),
and so forth. He threw in a few references to baptism, which
was, for half the congregation, the main event of the morning.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
This was a typical English congregation coming together for
their typically English act of Sunday worship – confidently,
quietly and without a lot of fuss. It was a nice example of
Church of England community. Perhaps this is what heaven will
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
At the baptism, Leo, who is about 18 months old, was not at
all impressed by the process of having water splashed in his
face "in the name of the Father." In fact, he screamed
for his mummy as though he had just fallen down and bumped
his head. However, rather than stop and comfort the poor lamb,
the bishop continued to slap more water in his face "in
the name of the Son and Holy Spirit." I thought it rather
unfair on the chap, since this was his big moment of welcome
into the Church, that he found the experience so traumatic.
But he soon forgot the trauma, and had a right good time waving
his lighted candle about and splashing wax on the floor.
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
I'm afraid I didn't really get a chance to hang around until
everyone had left, as I was involved with taking photos of
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
I didn't manage to find where the coffee was served – there
was certainly no mention of it in the notices. There was a
Traidcraft stall ("Fighting Poverty Through Trade")
at the back of the church selling ground coffee, amongst other
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 =
8 I was in my comfort zone here with the Church of
England at its best. Possibly a bit bland for some tastes,
but you could do a lot worse.
Did the service make
you feel glad to be a Christian?
Apart from my slight pangs of shame at being part of a religion
that uses water torture as an initiation rite for toddlers,
I was filled with the gladness that I always feel when standing
amongst a crowd of friends and strangers, united in a well
What one thing will
you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The baptism of Leo.