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2477: St Michael's, Winterbourne, South Gloucestershire, England
St Michael's, Winterbourne (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Aileen.
The church: St Michael the Archangel, Winterbourne, South Gloucestershire, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Bristol.
The building: Thought to be 12th century, extended and restored in the 19th century. The graveyard holds many ancient graves and plenty of trees. The tower houses a peal of six bells. The inside is beautiful, very high, and has brown wood up above, and white paint on the walls. The floor is red, the pews are brown wood. Behind the altar is a stone carving of the Last Supper based on Leonardo Da Vinci's famous fresco. A Christmas tree had been set up to the left of the altar. Lots of candles. There was a banner of Mary and the baby Jesus at the back.
The church: St Michael’s is a member of the Fromeside Partnership of Anglican Churches and is an ecumenical partner with Salem Methodist Church in Winterbourne. They have a Mothers Union, prayer group and Bible study. The parish hall, called St Michael's Rooms and located on the high street, is available for rental.
The neighbourhood: Winterbourne is a village with a population of about 8600, located on a hill and partially surrounded by woodlands and fields. There are some nice old houses and lots of grass with horses, cows and birds. JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, lived in Winterbourne and attended St Michael's Primary School. Indeed, the Potter family of Winterbourne was Rowling's inspiration for Harry's surname. The church is nestled amidst green fields and attractive cottages, and its spire can be seen for miles around.
The cast: The Revd Martin Clacker, vicar, and the Revd Jean Capstick, assistant curate.
The date & time: Sunday, 23 December 2012, 6.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Parish Carol Service: Traditional service of carols and readings.

How full was the building?
Very full – more than 100 people, mainly adults.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A smile and a welcome from the person who gave me the St Michael's Hymn Book and the Christmas carol service paper.

Was your pew comfortable?
Comfortable pews with red wool padding.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People chatted to each other and their friends, and marked the pages in the hymnal that they would need.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"At Christmas time we delight to hear the story of the journey to Bethlehem, the song of the angels, the surprise of the shepherds, and their joy as they found Jesus in the manger."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
We used the St Michael's Hymn Book and the paper we were given. I had brought my own Bible with me.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ.

Did anything distract you?
I had a supper engagement with friends for after the service and kept hoping that I wouldn't be late.

St Michael's, Winterbourne (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A traditional service of lessons and carols.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The Revd Jean Capstick spoke clearly so we could hear well, and what she said was helpful and good for us.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Mary was a mere teenager when she was told she was pregnant. Imagine how hard it was for her to travel on a donkey, with nowhere to stay in Bethlehem. She had to give birth in a stable, where animals were fed. But what miracles surrounded the birth: shepherds in the field were amazed to see angels who told them the news. And the wise men, who thought they knew all about astronomy, were surprised to see a new star that would lead them to the place. The gospel message is beautiful: Jesus is one with God. It's a message of God's love for us. Faith comes from that. God will be with us all of our lives. We can talk to God and he will help us. May Christ be present and grow in our hearts.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
We felt close to Jesus and filled by God, who saved and rescued us. The hymns, scripture readings, sermon and prayers all made it feel as if God was here with us.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
And yet, despite all our prayers, the world is still so full of trouble.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People beside me told me that there was tea and coffee available.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Tea and coffee, with plenty of biscuits too. We all enjoyed it.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – The service was beautiful. I always like to see men and women clergy together leading a service. The good preaching was really nice to experience.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I felt really glad to be a Christian, with God loving us and rescuing us by Jesus' birth.

St Michael's, Winterbourne (Banner)

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That Mary was so young when she gave birth. How did she manage?
 
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