St John the Evangelist, Kenn

St John the Evangelist, Kenn, Somerset, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St John the Evangelist
Location: Kenn, Somerset, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 20 May 2012, 6:00pm

The building

A tiny single cell church on flat land near Clevedon and not far from where the famous 1603 tidal wave covered the fields. The church has a tiny Norman tower with an odd pyramidical spire that peeps up above the flat land and houses. The rest of the church was restored in 1861 by the Bristol architects Foster and Wood, known for their Wesleyan chapels and one Moravian church in Kingswood. The rebuild appears to have reused the perpendicular tracery in windows. The whole interior has a nice open wagon roof with the chancel marked by a cusped brace. There is also the 16th century tomb of Christopher Kenn, the last of the Kenn family, who held the manor here from the 12th to 16th centuries.

The church

It is part of the Yatton group of churches. There is a Sunday Club for children and coffee mornings for the adults. A pastoral care team co-ordinates visitations to the elderly, sick and bereaved. On their website they state that they have a reputation for tolerance and are prepared to try new forms of service and liturgy.

The neighborhood

Kenn was the scene of some very public hangings (the last of such) in the 19th century where some Somerset men were accused of setting a local farmer's wheat alight. The hangings drew quite a crowd of spectators. Three people were hanged; three others were transported to Tasmania. Kenn was also home to the Kenn family, who were associated with Bishop Thomas Kenn of Wells, bishop during the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685, an attempt to overthrow King James II that culminated in the battle of Sedgemoor. Today Kenn is a small village a couple of miles from the sea wall on a busy road and with a pub. In the distance can be seen Crook Peak, an important landmark and boundary from very early times.

The cast

The Revd Prebendary John Andrews, Bath and Wells Diocesan Communications Officer and Bishop's Press Officer and half time team vicar. It was his last service at Kenn before retiring from the benefice.

What was the name of the service?

Evening Prayer.

How full was the building?

I was quite surprised. Including the choir, there were 27 people present. Not bad for a small village – I would have expected a handful at the most!

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I had cycled the Strawberry Line at Yatton (a disused railway line that used to transport strawberries to Bristol). I noticed a service was about to take place, so introduced myself to the vicar. As I entered my pew, a lady introduced herself and mentioned that she didn't think there'd be an organist at this service. I said that I was an organist and was about to head off to the organ when Roy, the organist, came in at the last minute!

Was your pew comfortable?

Standard Victorian pew – however, not too bad!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

My immediate neighbours introduced themselves. There was some chatting going on but not across the aisle!

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good evening, everybody!" The vicar then said hello to individuals in the congregation (clearly a local congregation rather than gathered) and welcomed back one lady who had just returned from Australia ("G'day," he said). He also said that he had asked the organist to play the tune of the football club that the other Yatton vicar supports, as they had lost! He was quite amusing.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Good old Hymns Ancient and Modern and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

What musical instruments were played?

An organ. It sounded like a real pipe organ, but my neighbour in the pew in front said something about there being an electric instrument. There was an organ chamber but there were no visible pipes. There was a small choir at the front of the church.

Did anything distract you?

Christopher Kenn and his family (wife, two daughters, and infant) in their 16th century costumes and ruffs looking down at me from the west wall during the whole service!

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

It was Prayer Book evensong at its most traditional. No showmanship or gimmicks – just a beautiful plain 1662 service. The immortal words "We have erred and strayed like lost sheep" and "Light in our darkness we beseech thee O Lord!" hung in the timeless atmosphere.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes.

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

10 – The vicar had a very clear style of preaching – and I'm sure he saw me jotting notes a couple of times.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Looking back! He referred to a return trip to the parish church at Burnham on Sea where he had served his curacy. He was taught many things there, especially about pastoral work, that he could not have learned at theological college. He said that God was more concerned about now rather than the past and present. However, he stressed the importance of heritage and knowing where we have come from, which he said was pertinent to recently celebrating the restoration of the present church. One phrase that stayed with me was "God's eternal day is here for ever."

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Without doubt, the 1662 liturgy and the hymns chosen. The words "Lighten our darkness O Lord" and the words of a hymn written by the Oxford Movement churchman John Keble were really very moving indeed.

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

The fact that I didn't have anything for the collection. However, the kindly ladies with the collection plates must have been tipped off as they didn't offer it me!

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

The vicar talked to me about his retirement and some facts about the church.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There wasn't anything after the service.

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

10 – A friendly local congregation keeping a lovely liturgy alive.

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 Kenn family looking down from the tower wall at me!

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