Mystery Worshipper: Lambert
Church: Holy Trinity
Location: Exmouth, Devon, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 5 June 2011, 10:00am
The church dates from 1824. The tower, nearly 100 feet high, is the most prominent landmark in Exmouth. Pevsner dismissed it in 1952, noting it had been "completely and regrettably renewed in 1905 by the indefatigable [George] Fellowes-Prynne" (referring to the late 19th century champion of High Church Gothic Revival). However, I thought it had great dignity, elegance and grandeur. Since 1905, much further improvement and restoration has taken place. Damage to the windows in 1942 has resulted in some striking, if rather brash, stained glass. In 1993 an imaginative scheme created a first floor committee room and coffee bar, with a crow's nest room above.
This is one of two churches in the parish of Littleham-cum-Exmouth with Lympstone. There is a great variety of services, from Book of Common Prayer: holy communion, sung eucharist, morning praise, family service, video, and the enigmatic "service with no name" (prayer, praise and teaching led by the music group). Something on offer for people of all traditions.
Exmouth, a seaside resort in East Devon, enjoys a substantial summer tourist trade and serves as a regional centre for water sports and outdoor activities. Holy Trinity is a little way from the central square and is surrounded mostly by residential housing. It appears to be largely a middle-class neighbourhood.
The parish was in interregnum at the time of my visit. The celebrant and preacher was the Revd Ian Pusey, one of the associate priests.
What was the name of the service?Sung Eucharist.
How full was the building?
Just under half full. However, it probably holds some 300-350 people when full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. We were greeted at the door by the sidespeople.
Was your pew comfortable?
As comfortable as a Victorian pew with a perpendicular back can be.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was fairly quiet, although there was some chatter. The organist played some quiet music for about eight minutes until the service started.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everyone." We all responded likewise.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There was a printed service booklet produced by the parish covering Easter to Trinity. We also had a psalter and a Mission Praise hymn book.
What musical instruments were played?
The pipe organ. It was quite large, and the organist played it confidently, giving plenty of support to the congregational singing.
Did anything distract you?
The celebrant was in a chasuble. The choir were in blue robes, but the organist was wearing a brown t-shirt. It seemed a bit informal, especially as he mingled with the choir for the peace.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was moderately formal, following the liturgy in the service book without deviation.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – It was a decent theme, but I felt it lost its way. It could probably have been half the length without losing any of the meaning.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was based on the gospel for the day, John 17:1-11 (Jesus prays that the Father may glorify him and protect those who believe in him). This was one of Jesus's longest prayers. There are different ways of approaching God through prayer, including "Elizabethan language" that probably does not impress Jesus all that much.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The confident organ playing and good singing from the congregation.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The service seemed to lack any sense of holiness. There were constant interruptions: the greeting, hymn announcements, page numbers, etc. And the preacher's remark about Jesus not being impressed by Elizabethan language seemed strange in a service that used the 1662 Prayer Book form of the prayer of humble access almost verbatim.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I couldn't stop as I had a train to catch, and the service had lasted much longer than I expected almost an hour and a half.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – It was a bit cold for my liking.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?