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2658: Holy Trinity, Funchal, Madeira
Holy Trinity, Funchal (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Werburga of Chester.
The church: Holy Trinity, Funchal, Madeira.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese in Europe.
The building: It dates from 1822 and uses a design by Henry Veitch, British consul at the time. Portuguese law prohibited Protestant places of worship from assuming the external appearance of a church, and so Veitch's building resembles a library or lecture hall more than it does a house of worship. It has a modest exterior in the neo-classical style. The main door is framed by simple white pillars. The roof appears flat apart from a small red-painted dome raised above fan window lights. Inside, the nave is circular, with the altar in an alcove on the east side. The inside of the dome is decorated in the style of the 18th century Scottish interior designer Robert Adam. It is inset with a painting of the all-seeing eye of God surrounded by a triangle representing the Holy Trinity from which rays of light scatter outwards. Around the church there is a peaceful and well-kept garden, surrounded in its turn by a high wall. Within this garden are included Stations of the Cross made from traditional hand-painted Portuguese tiles.
The church: The Anglican community of Madeira have been worshipping here for nearly 200 years. Christians from all traditions are welcomed, as are tourists arriving on cruise ships. Two communion services are held on Sundays and there is also a mid-week communion service on Wednesdays. Holy Trinity Church functions as a cultural resource for the whole English speaking community in Madeira, and is known locally as "the English church." The church and garden are open during the day to all visitors. Adjacent to the church is a suite of rooms that host a variety of social groups, and they also offer a weekly programme of concerts.
The neighbourhood: The Região Autónoma da Madeira (Autonomous Region of Madeira), a Portuguese territory since 1425, is the largest of a small group of islands in the Atlantic several hundred miles off the coast of Morocco. Madeira rapidly became a regular port of call for sailing ships heading to the West and East Indies. In 1478 Christopher Columbus stayed here for a short time, but long enough to meet and marry the daughter of the governor of the nearby island of Porto Santo. Funchal is the islandís capital and port, and the only settlement of any size on Madeira. The church is located in the centre of Funchal, not far from the main street but down a narrow road and quite hard to find. A short distance along the road is the historic British cemetery, which has its own chapel.
The cast: The Revd Neil Dawson, chaplain, was the celebrant, assisted by Michael Duckett, lay minister. The first lesson was read by Martin Gannon and the second by Joy Menezes. Welcoming remarks were offered at the start of the service by Jonathan Calvert, church warden, who also led the intercessions. The organist was Melvin Bird.
The date & time: Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (Candlemas), 2 February 2014, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Communion.

How full was the building?
Full to the point that it was hard to count the congregation: well over 100 and possibly nearer 200.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Lay Minister Michael Duckett stood halfway down the church path, shaking hands with all comers. He welcomed me warmly with gentle questions about where I was from, and directed me toward the church doors. Here two friendly women smiled as they handed out books and invited me to enter.

Was your pew comfortable?
My pew was comfortable, with deep padded cushions. Because the nave is wide rather than long, most seats have a good view of the main altar, as mine did.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quietly contemplative but friendly. The organist presented a pre-service recital lasting an hour (during which the congregation were invited to make a donation to church funds) and some people were clearly there to listen. However, this did not stop many present from greeting friends, especially those they had not seen for some time. Thankfully they did this discreetly, so the noise of conversation did not overcome the music.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everyone!" to which most people promptly responded, "Good morning!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The church has its own communion booklet and uses Complete Anglican Hymns Old and New. These books were further supplemented by a sheet of responses for the ceremony of candle-lighting before the gospel reading, and also by a weekly news-sheet that included the prayers for the day and a list of people for whom prayer was requested.

What musical instruments were played?
The church organ, played with panache! It is an opus of the renowned 19th century organ builder August Gern. Born in Germany, Gern first relocated to Paris, where he served as erecting foreman in the Cavaille-Coll workshop, and later to London. The foremost organ craftsman of his age, Gern's instruments at one time graced numerous churches in England, Scotland and the Continent, but few survive intact today. Thanks to a highly successful fundraising appeal, the Holy Trinity organ was extensively restored in 2012.

Did anything distract you?
The circulation of personnel round the altar for the distribution of communion. They had to walk in circles clockwise round the altar, a procession further complicated by steps on the left-hand and right-hand sides. However, there is very little space round the altar, so the procession is sensible – if distracting!

Holy Trinity, Funchal (Dome)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Traditional Anglican. Generally restrained but with some enthusiastic hymn-singing.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
8 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Clear and well-paced exposition of the gospel reading for the day.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The chaplain began by saying that lighting candles (which the congregation had done before the gospel reading) is something we are all drawn to do, perhaps before the shrine of a saint or when kneeling before the communion elements. When we depart from these places, we leave behind our candles "dwindling into light." Jesus is the Light of the World, and Simeon recognised him as such (Luke 2: 22-40). Simeon gave thanks that he could die in peace because he had seen Jesus. It is our duty to keep the door of our lives open so that we can be ready when Jesus calls us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The warmth of the welcome, the sincere and very clear sermon, and the enthusiastic congregational singing were all uplifting.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The cold draught round my feet. Anyone planning to visit this church in the cooler months of the year might wish to consider wearing warm socks.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
It was impossible to hang around looking lost. The service booklet mentioned the post-communion reception in the garden, the congregation were reminded about this during the service. Everyone just headed off out into the garden, sweeping up any stray persons into the melee.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The churchís tradition is to offer visitors a glass of Madeira wine and a slice of bolo de mel (honey cake, a traditional local delicacy) and I accepted this civilised offer enthusiastically. The coffee looked and smelled good, though, and tea was also available. Those present mingled in a very friendly manner, and no one seemed to be in a hurry to leave.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – One could not but be happy in this congregation. Their tradition of welcoming all comers is clearly embedded, and everyone was very friendly. Moreover, their obvious involvement in wider social activities fit well with Christís call to serve others – the community practises what it preaches. However, what stops me from giving it the perfect 10 is that I think I would eventually miss the singing of a church choir, which they donít seem to have here.

Holy Trinity, Funchal (Stations)

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?
The friendly welcome and the excellent sermon were both very memorable. But I suspect I may remember longest the wine and cake provided after the service, and consuming them in warm sunshine in the lovely garden.
 
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