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Church, Bristol, England
Church with St Ewen, All Saints and St George, Bristol,
Church of England, Diocese
A truly magnificent building by Bristol's city surveyor William
Paty (1758-1800). A church had stood on the site for hundreds
of years; the foundation stone for the present Georgian structure,
somewhat resembling St Martin in the Fields, was laid in 1786.
The spire features a dragon weathervane, and the clock is famous
for its quarterjacks – two statues of men who strike bells
with their hammers at every quarter hour. Inside, the roof is
made up of 12 elliptical vaults, with cherubs everywhere supporting
the pillars. The magnificent classical rood screen dates from
1928 and was fashioned out of the old 18th century screen. Most
noticeable is the Georgian semicircular communion table.
The Bristol city centre churches were reorganised in 2008 and
the parish now includes the most part of the old parishes of
St Ewen and All Saints. They are a member of the Prayer
Book Society and use the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
I expected them to be Anglo-Catholic but they aren't –
they're just very traditional. They have a small but eclectic
congregation who come (quoting from their website) "to
enjoy the dignity of our form of worship, the tradition of good
preaching and music."
The church is in the old city of Bristol, with its Georgian
tower and spire rising above the old legal and financial quarter.
Much of the area was bombed during World War II – the
church was one of the few buildings not to have been reduced
to rubble. Very few people actually live in the parish
although this may well change.
There was no mention in writing of the priest's name anywhere.
He did introduce himself to me, but I'm afraid I didn't jot
down his name. He told me that he is retired and comes to help
out from time to time.
The date & time:
Sunday, 17 January 2010, 6.30pm.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
About 15 in the choir and six in the congregation. There
was only one lady there (a proud parent of one of the choristers)
and some elderly gentlemen.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The verger came up and said hello, adding that the service would
be traditional. "It's a wonder anyone bothers to come to
church, the way they keep mucking about with the services,"
he went on to say. The rather jolly priest also introduced himself.
Was your pew comfortable?
A comfortable Georgian pew!
How would you describe the pre-service
It was rather noisy. I had hoped for half an hour of organ music
on the church's rather historic instrument (see below). But
instead, we were treated to choristers running about and the
organist shouting down from the loft for one of the choristers
to go and fetch his glasses. At length, however, his sight restored,
he struck up a loud prelude that showed off the romantic capabilities
of the organ.
What were the exact opening words of the
We sang the hymn "Jesus Shall Reign" but to an unfamiliar
What books did the congregation use during the
The 1662 Book Of Common Prayer, of course, and Hymns
Ancient and Modern.
What musical instruments
A huge thundering instrument sitting in the west gallery. (This
is where all organs should be instead of cramped up in tiny
chancel chambers!) The church's original organ was an opus of
the great 17th and 18th century English master organ builder
Renatus Harris. The original Harris case survives, but few of
the pipes are his. The organ was modernised twice in the 19th
century by the Bristol firm of WG Vowles Ltd and several times
in the 20th century by JW Walker & Sons Ltd of London. Further
refinements were made in 2008. The result, according to the
church's website, is an instrument that "is immensely satisfying
to play, and which speaks clearly into the church." I can
certainly attest to the fact that it was played with great enthusiasm
and expertise and really complemented the Georgian architecture
of the church.
Did anything distract
This was very much a Prayer Book service. The old words of the
Prayer Book and the Authorized Version of the Bible fit in well
with the Georgian architecture around us. The whole atmosphere
of the building brought back the Georgian Bristol of years gone
by. Bristol was a very different city then. Who filled these
pews? I wondered.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Very stiff upper lip as you'd expect of a Prayer Book service,
but not Anglo-Catholic in the least. This was worship that does
not speak of the modern age. The choir sang the responses and
also did an anthem.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 The priest had quite a dry sense of humour but engaging
manner. Unfortunately, some of what he said was lost in the
acoustics of the building.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
His theme was Christian unity. He spoke of relations between
Anglicans and Roman Catholics, and said that the Church of England
was a continuation of the Church of Rome. He told us a story
about a Roman priest who had celebrated mass in a fish market.
Eventually a rich benefactor built him a church, which was bombed
during the war. The priest was fatally wounded while trying
to rescue the reserved Sacrament from the church. In his memory,
the congregation returned to hearing mass in the fish market.
I thought the sermon was rather unusual for a Prayer Book church,
as some priests in this tradition have openly criticised the
ecumenical movement and the evangelical wing of the Anglican
Church in very strong terms.
Which part of the service was like being in
The music, without a doubt. The organ had a Georgian accent
to it – different from the many Victorian organs in the city.
Also the Georgian building with its sculptures. The old language,
too, was magnificent.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The fact that there were so few of us in the congregation. And
it was cold in the building, and my feet were starting to notice.
I hadn't had my tea yet, so my mind was on my stomach some of
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The organist played a postlude, and a tiny choir boy came round
with an ancient box on a pole for people to put money in for
the choristers! I wasn't expecting a second collection, and
only had 4p left in my pocket (as I had been generous in the
main collection!). After that, I spoke a bit with the priest,
who told me he enjoyed serving in churches of other denominations
(again, unusual for a Prayer Book tradition). One of the pleasures
of retirement, I suppose. A couple of choir boys told me they
liked my scarf (I had a very colourful one on!), and even the
organist opined that "It is rather fun, isn't it?".
How would you describe the after-service
There was none! I was very hungry. I wanted my tea! The city
on a Sunday is very deserted and not many shops are open. Just
as well – I wouldn't have gotten far on 4p.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 Nice for a change, but I like the variety of worship
styles within the Church of England and wouldn't want to see
everyone go back to the 1662 Prayer Book.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes it did - maybe one from the 18th century perhaps!
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The magnificent, roaring organ that swept everybody off their
feet. Also the little choir boy with his collection box on a
pole – presumably an old tradition!
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