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2483: St Swithun's, East Retford, Nottinghamshire, England
St Swithun, Retford (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Torold.
The church: St Swithun's, East Retford, Nottinghamshire, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham.
The building: A large Gothic church with parts dating from the 12th through 15th centuries. The tower collapsed in 1651 and was rebuilt seven years later. Other parts were damaged in the fall, and the chancel was not fully restored until 1854-55. The tower has a ring of ten bells. The interior is lofty, with good coloured Victorian glass. Kempeís trademark, a wheat sheaf, can be seen in the south transept chapel window.
The church: St Swithunís is one of three churches in the Retford team parish. Resident parishioners are few in number today, although St Swithun's is still regarded as the civic church of the town, and as such hosts all services of national or local importance. They participate in the Retford Area Mothers' Union and have a dwindling but devoted team of bell ringers. The Friends of St Swithun's contribute time and money to the upkeep of the church.
The neighbourhood: Retford has been a centre for market traders and farmers for generations. It was a major coaching stop in the 18th century with the coming of the Great North Road from London in 1766. In the centre of Retford is an ancient coaching inn, the White Hart (1730), now sadly closed and boarded up. Thursdays and Saturdays are market days, held in the town square. Fine Georgian buildings (the town hall, Buttermarket Hall, the old post office in Bridgegate Mews) and coaching inns rub shoulders with modern high-street outlets Ė an interesting blend of old and new. St Swithun's stands proudly on a grassy island dominating Cannon Square.
The cast: The Revd Andrew Woodsford, celebrant and preacher.
The date & time: Sunday, 6 January 2013, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Sung Eucharist.

How full was the building?
Practically empty. In all, there were 16 souls, which included a choir of four and the organist. In such a large building, we were lost! The noonday service on market day ("late ladies' low") apparently draws a better crowd.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A small group of ladies at the back of the church welcomed me warmly with friendly smiles and pleasantries. I was handed a hymn book and some papers: the weekly parish news sheet, a service sheet entitled Sung Eucharist in the Season of Epiphany, Order 1, and a music copy of Philip Ledgerís Classic Communion Service.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was quite comfortable for short periods.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet before the service, with subdued giggles and chattering from the ladies who had greeted me. The bell ringers did their thing most ably. When the organ struck up, I went into a sort of reverie as I looked around at the high interior and lovely stained glass.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and a very happy New Year to you all!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
New English Hymnal and printed service sheets as mentioned above.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, played on large movable console up in the choir. It seemed rather distant from where the congregation were sitting, especially as there was a small nave altar from where the service was conducted.

Did anything distract you?
The priest walked with the aid of two walking sticks. He had to sit throughout the service. (He did explain that he was recovering from illness and was in fact much better now.) During the consecration of bread and wine, I chuckled inwardly as he sat behind the nave altar rather like a shopkeeper serving a customer in a casual manner.

St Swithun, Retford (Cannon)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Middle-candle C of E to slightly catholic: vestments, etc. (chasuble with apparel!). Reverential.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
7 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The priest sat throughout and delivered from his notes.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The wise men, kneeling before the baby Jesus, recognised his divinity. God revealed himself, crossing human barriers. The Magi glimpsed the message and gift of God in human form. How do we respond to the generosity of God embracing us all? Our offerings to God are a pale reflection of Godís offering of his Son to us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Singing hymns with great enthusiasm! Marvellous!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Though the air had the chill taken off it, it wasnít quite hot enough to qualify for "the other place." There was a bit of wandering around at the peace, but with so few people present, it didnít go on long. Even the priest managed to hobble around to greet everyone.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I couldnít exactly lose myself in the crowd! The bright organ postlude showed that the organist was positively enjoying himself, and so did I as I listened to him. Several people approached me and asked where I was from. There was no tea or coffee served, so we all went our own ways. It being close on lunch time, I decided to avail myself of some local hospitality in one of the taverns, where I enjoyed a hearty repast of local viands and fine ale in front of a roaring log fire.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – The Revd Mr Woodsford tried hard to bring a feeling of godly spiritual refreshment to the faithful few that morning, a challenging task cheerfully undertaken.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
All ten bells of St Swithunís confidently ringing out across the town.
 
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