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2102: St Peter and St Paul, Aldeburgh, Suffolk, England
St Peter and St Paul, Aldeburgh, Suffolk
Mystery Worshipper: Cornerstone.
The church: St Peter and St Paul, Aldeburgh, Suffolk, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.
The building: A spacious and light medieval church with a west tower entrance, full set of pews, tractarian choir arrangement in the chancel, and a separate church hall with stage and curtains, reminiscent of something from the British sitcom about World War II, Dad's Army. A magnificent stained glass window by the 20th century British artist John Piper commemorates the composer Benjamin Britten, who is buried in the churchyard.
The church: There are a number of children's and adult groups and a full calendar of activities. See their website for details.
The neighbourhood: Aldeburgh is a seaside town renowned for the quality of its seafood, and especially fish and chips. An important shipbuilding centre until the River Alde silted up, the town survived as a fishing village and later as a resort.
The cast: The Revd Canon Arthur Phelps was the celebrant. The Revd Celia Cook, assistant curate, served as deacon and preached.
The date & time: Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity, 10 October 2010, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Communion.

How full was the building?
A quarter full, about 70 people scattered about, making it look reasonably full if you squinted your eyes. Clearly an aging community, probably reflecting the demographics of the area.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. Two men, each suited, each said a polite "Good morning" and shook my hand. The second one added, "Welcome. Here are the books you will need."

Was your pew comfortable?
Reasonably comfortable pew, with good visibility and sound reinforcement without distortion. The church was as warm inside as it was out.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and reverent, gentle organ music playing for about five minutes before kick off.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Hello and welcome." This was followed by an announcement that the Revd Nichola Winter, associate priest, had broken her arm on holiday in Scotland and that Canon Phelps had stepped in at the last minute to take the service.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Notice sheet with everything needed written in it, including all of the readings used and the notices. There was also a service booklet with friendly guide to what was likely to happen, and a hymn book (Hymns Ancient and Modern, New Standard Revised).

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, expertly played, to accompany hymns. I have to say, though, that the organist played with more gusto than either the choir or the congregation sang. A newly acquired reconditioned Steinway music room grand piano, model B, was used during communion for variations on "Lord of All Hopefulness".

Did anything distract you?
The Benjamin Britten window was a bit of a pleasant distraction, as were the amazingly colourful coats worn by women of a certain age and confidence in the congregation, and the smile on the face of the rather glamourous deacon. Less pleasant was the fact that the choir could scarcely be heard over the organ. Also, the table mike picked up the rustling of papers from the celebrant. (Canon Phelps apologised at the end for having made so much noise, but he was elderly – he could easily have been the deacon's grandfather!)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Traditional Anglican prayer book worship, with an enthusiastic robed choir and an accomplished organist enjoying a well tuned instrument or two.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Mrs Cook seemed a bit stiff and a little lifeless at first. She read from prepared notes, and only managed to gain eye contact when she relaxed about half way through.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
She romped trippingly across the three readings for the day, finishing up with our need for honesty, humility and graciousness in our dealings with others and with God. In times of adversity, we must remember (as her young son once told her) that "Jesus has a trick or two up his sleeve."

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choice of music, much to my surprise, which took me back to the 1970s. I had not sung some of these pieces since then! And the piano improvisations during the communion on "Lord of All Hopefulness", which hit the spot.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The prayers took us to Chile, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but apparently nothing needed praying for in Aldeburgh!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A lot of elderly women shuffled past and smiled benignly, and then a gentleman of similar age to me invited me into the hall for coffee.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Elegant 1950s tea dance style. Iced tea fancies ("left over from yesterday's do"), little sausage rolls, bourbon biscuits. Fairly traded instant coffee made up with hot water and served in proper china cups and saucers, delivered through a tiny hatch in the wall. I kept looking for the "War is over" bunting. It all seemed to be modelled on that era.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – Only one-tenth of the congregation were men and most of them wore suits and ties. It made the standard intercessory prayer "And to give thanks for all men..." all the more poignant.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Well, yes, in a distorted sort of family way. It made me feel comfortable but not welcomed – yes, we're glad you're worshipping with us, but you're not part of the family exactly. An occasional churchgoer might find it difficult to break in without breaking down some barriers.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Jesus having a trick up his sleeve!
 
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