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1896: St Mary's, Stamford, Lincolnshire, England
St Mary's, Stamford, Lincolnshire, England
Mystery Worshipper: Diapason.
The church: St Mary's, Stamford, Lincolnshire, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Lincoln.
The building: The oldest surviving parts of St Mary's date from early in the 13th century. The tower, built circa 1220, is in the early English style, and rises high above the town. North of the chancel is the Corpus Christi chapel, where weekday masses are offered and the Blessed Sacrament reserved. There is also a fine rood screen.
The church: High Anglo-Catholic; they describe themselves as the Anglo-Catholic centre of worship in South Lincolnshire. High mass and evensong take place each Sunday, and there are three low masses during the week. They sponsor a number of social events such as lunches, suppers, garden parties and concerts, including concerts of sacred music in their liturgical settings.
The neighbourhood: The town of Stamford lies about 100 miles north of London. Many of the buildings are constructed from old Lincolnshire limestone, giving the town a unique appearance popular with tourists and movie directors alike. Of special note are Burghley House, regarded by many as the finest Elizabethan house in England; Brownes Hospital, a 15th century almshouse featuring well preserved stained glass and furniture from medieval times; and the George Hotel, a coach house that may date as far back as the 10th century.
The cast: The Venerable Brian Lucas, retired (licensed/PTO), was the celebrant and preacher. The Revd Michael Ruff, rector, served as deacon. I tried but could not find out the subdeacon's name.
The date & time: Sunday, 24 January 2010, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
High Mass.

How full was the building?
Full – about 80 to 90 people, but only two or three young families.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. A man at the door shook my hand and gave me the books needed. There were lots of handshakes at the peace, but during the remainder of the service there were plenty of scowls!

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. Wood seat with red carpet.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet. The clergy, vested in cassocks, went about their preparations for mass while people walked around, lit candles, and prayed at the statue of Our Lady.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." The clergy processed in as we sang "Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning," which had not been announced.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The New English Hymnal, plus a specially prepared high mass sheet and notice sheet.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, and a choir of four men.

St Mary's, Stamford, Lincolnshire, England

Did anything distract you?
A lady sitting behind me kept grunting every so often. I couldn't figure out if she was dissatisfied with the proceedings or if there was something wrong with her! Also, among the few families that were there was one whose two young sons kept themselves amused with toys – much to the Venerable Lucas' displeasure, as will be seen.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Just about as high church and Catholic as Anglo-Catholic can get. They even prayed for the Pope!

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The Venerable Lucas spoke with a loud, bellowing voice. He kept looking rather sternly at the two youngsters with the toys.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He spoke on the day's gospel lesson, Luke 4:14-21 (Jesus reads in synagogue a passage from Isaiah that he announces has been fulfilled in the hearing of those present). Although we may not think it, we are also oppressed, and slaves to others, just as were those to whom Jesus read from scripture. He will set us free as he came to free his listeners.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The day outside was pouring with rain, and it was good to be safe and snug in such a beautiful place, surrounded by clouds of incense and gorgeous vestments and with the organ sounding in beautiful flute-like tones.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The disgruntled (or afflicted) lady in the pew behind me. I also thought the sermon was a bit long.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Lots of people came up to me, said hello, and invited me for coffee.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Good coffee served in china cups.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – A great, rich liturgy and a wonderful worship experience.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, but this is not a church for the evangelicals!

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The clouds of incense. I could barely see my way whilst returning to my pew after communion.
 
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