All Saints, Freshwater, Isle of Wight

All Saints, Freshwater, Isle of Wight


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: All Saints
Location: Freshwater, Isle of Wight
Date of visit: Sunday, 16 September 2012, 10:00am

The building

All Saints is a beautiful village church and is one of the oldest churches on the island, listed in the Domesday Book of 1086. The tower has a peal of six bells and a striking clock. Inside, there is a memorial to Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and Lady Tennyson. The earthly remains of Lady Tennyson rest in the church's graveyard, although Lord Tennyson himself is, of course, buried at Westminster Abbey.

The church

This is part of a united benefice and there appears to be an active congregation here. The news sheet advertised a house group and men's breakfast, and there are weekday services and events held in all three churches.

The neighborhood

The Isle of Wight is the largest island off the coast of England and is also England's smallest county. The island has been a popular holiday destination for many years. Queen Victoria had her holiday home, Osborne House, here. The village of Freshwater is located on the western end of the island and is more rural than the more popular holiday resorts to the north and east. Tennyson lived in the village from 1853 until his death in 1892.

The cast

No name was published, but I assume the president and preacher was the rector, the Revd Mark Whatson.

What was the name of the service?

Parish Communion.

How full was the building?

Almost full to capacity.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A lady smiled and said "Good morning, nice to have you with us" as she handed me the books for the service.

Was your pew comfortable?

Can't say I noticed, so it must have been OK.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

There was a lot of chatter. About two minutes before the service started, the organ started playing quietly, which most people took as the cue to stop talking, but there were still two people having a rather loud conversation at the back of the church.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Hymn number 716."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Complete Anglican Hymns Old And New and a leaflet published by Redemptorist Publications with the day's readings and collect on one side and the parish notices on the other.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ, an opus of Henry Speechley and Sons dating from 1905. There was also a fairly elderly choir.

Did anything distract you?

I couldn't help noticing the lack of any children anywhere. But then at the communion, a small group of children appeared. I wondered where they'd been hiding them up until that point.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Fairly standard Anglican middle of the road. There were two candles on the altar and the priest wore eucharistic vestments. There was no genuflecting, but a few people made the sign of the cross at the absolution and the final blessing. There was a a good mix of traditional hymns and contemporary worship songs. There were two readings but, disappointingly, no psalm. The gospel was read from the nave. There was very little lay involvement. A member of the congregation gave the New Testament reading, but all other speaking parts, including the intercessions, were led by the priest.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 – The preacher spoke clearly and held my attention throughout. He had notes that he referred to from time to time, but was not reading from a script.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Jesus said, "Who do you say I am?" We need to identify who we are in order to identify God, but we must be careful to recognise God for who he really is and not to form him in our own image.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Worshipping in such a beautiful ancient building where countless other Christians have worshiped for many centuries.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Immediately after the opening hymn and procession, just as we were getting fired up for worship, the service came to an abrupt halt. I should clarify: this is where the notices were read. I realise that it is hard to find the right place for notices, but immediately after the first hymn is definitely not the right place!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

I hung around feeling lost. Eventually, after about ten minutes, a lady came up and spoke to me. Interestingly, after I had left the building, quite a number of people approached me in the churchyard and struck up conversation.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

A well known commercial brand. Admittedly, it was the coffee that makes up one per cent of the company's fair trade coffee production, but I was still disappointed to see such a plebeian product being served in church.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

6 – I was merely a visitor to the Isle of Wight, so I couldn't make it my regular. But the liturgy was dignified and the preaching good, although it was jarring to have the service interrupted by notices as it was.

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


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The beautiful old building and its surroundings.

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