Sacred Heart, Shanklin, Isle of Wight, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Sacred Heart
Location: Shanklin, Isle of Wight, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 21 April 2019, 11:00am

The building

Photo: © Hassocks5489 and used under license The present building was erected in 1956-7 to designs by a little known architectural firm in the area. There were two previous buildings on the site, the second of which was almost totally destroyed by German bombs on 3 January 1943. A temporary church was erected pending completion of the present building. The plan followed that of the previous church and incorporates those parts that survived the bombing, including the lower part of the tower. The interior is light and airy and was reordered in 1988, at which time the high altar and side altars were removed. The cross was brought over from the postwar temporary building.

The church

Legend has it that German Luftwaffe pilots felt ashamed of Hitler's orders to bomb churches when they were likely to be full. Today, considering how little ethnic diversity there is on the Isle of White, it was astonishing to see so many cultures represented. It was clear that there is a strong Polish community within the church, as well as people from India, Asia and Africa.

The neighborhood

Shanklin is a popular seaside resort on the Isle of Wight. The esplanade along the beach features several hotels and restaurants. Shanklin Chine, a beautiful, wooded, steep gorge, was the site of PLUTO – the Pipe Line Under The Ocean (actually The English Channel, but who can resist a good acronym?). When the Allies were planning to invade Normandy they knew they would need fuel for their vehicles. An English engineer came up with the crazy notion of laying a pipeline that, incredibly, was never spotted by the Germans. Ironically, though, not one drop of fuel was delivered by PLUTO during the Battle of Normandy, and the pipeline ended up carrying only about eight per cent of all the fuel used by Allied forces in northwest Europe between D-Day and VE Day.

The cast

The service was led, and the sermon preached, by the parish priest, assisted by four young ladies in medieval robes complete with belts made of red rope.

What was the name of the service?

Easter Sunday Mass.

How full was the building?

Absolutely packed. We overheard someone saying their normal attendance was 200 and this morning it was more like 300.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

The lady at the door welcomed us and gave us a newsletter. A gentleman who came and sat next to me was very friendly.

Was your pew comfortable?

Not particularly. I’m just glad the service wasn’t longer! The shelf on the back of the pew in front was not deep enough to take a Bible or the hymnal.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Lots of chatting. Things quieted down a bit when the organist began to play.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Celebration Hymnal for Everyone. Only when I was totally lost during the service did I discover that other people had a second news sheet that contained the liturgy for the day. My neighbour gave me his copy, but it took me ages to spot that this needed to be combined with the liturgy in the hymn book.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ, guitar, and two violins.

Did anything distract you?

An elderly lady had hair that was dyed brilliant blue.

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

Traditional, sung liturgy. They had apparently not planned ahead well enough for communion, however, as both the elements of bread and wine ran out before everyone had received. One of the eucharistic ministers fetched a ciborium out of the tabernacle, but even that did not have enough hosts in it – the priest had to break what was there into smaller fragments. And, as Mary said at Cana, there simply wasn’t any more wine! It was strange to see the priest ‘washing up’ the chalice when there were still some people waiting to receive.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

9 minutes.

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

5 — The priest connected the fire at Notre Dame with the recent ban by French lawmakers on the display of religious symbols in public places. Only after talking to the priest after the service did I understand that he was commenting on the cross having survived the fire even though the Government had banned it.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

There are different interpretations of the empty tomb – by Mary, Peter, John and modern scholars. But the despair and disappointment of Good Friday are replaced by hope and forgiveness.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The flowers decorating the whole of the front of the church, and particularly a large reconstruction of the garden tomb, were beautiful.

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

Being totally lost as to what was going on throughout the service. The hymn numbers were not announced, and the first number on the board was not that of the first hymn but of something that occurred later in the service. The liturgy in the hymn book (which I didn’t know was there until I spotted somebody else looking at it) was a slightly different version from what was being used, and even when combined with what was on the sheet (which we had not been given) was really confusing. The only reason we went was because of a visiting relation who is a staunch Roman Catholic. Even she had difficulty following what was happening. It worried me that any first time seeker would feel completely at a loss and be unlikely to return.

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

Nobody approached us until we tried heading in what we hoped was the direction of coffee. Only after we had sat at a table by ourselves for quite some time did someone else join us.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

No decaffeinated tea, but there were herbal teas as well as coffee and squash. A vast array of biscuits and cakes, plus miniature Easter eggs on the tables.

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

3 — I felt too confused and lost to want to give it another try.

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

Not particularly. I was too irked by the apparent concern with housekeeping rather than the needs of the congregation.

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

The confusion that ensued when the elements ran out. A case of Martha denying Mary?

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