Mystery Worshipper: The Foolish Pilgrim
Church: St Margaret's
Location: Hawes, North Yorkshire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 13 April 2008, 10:30am
A Victorian church built in the 1850s to a traditional design, replacing a chapel of ease. The altar in the sanctuary has a riddel-post surround. The chancel contains seating for choir and clergy and includes the pipe organ console. The nave has pews in the centre and south aisles, and a partitioned-off section in the north aisle, which possibly was a Lady chapel, currently undergoing refurbishment. In the west end can be found a tower with a bell and, audibly, the heating system. There is also a new and very attractive stained glass window commemorating both the millennium and the 300th anniversary of the granting of the town's market charter. The original parish bier is on display at the back of the church.
The benefice has two parishes: St Margaret's in Hawes and St Mary and St John's in the nearby village of Hardraw.
The market town of Hawes seems to be the largest settlement entirely inside the Dales National Park. The Pennine Way, a walking trail regarded as the toughest, most demanding, and most challenging in Britain, passes through the town. There are many other local paths and tracks into the park. The town is in Upper Wensleydale, where the high bare moorland contrasts with the brilliant green of the lower slopes and there are sheep everywhere. Population at the last census was 1,323; tourism must increase that greatly during the holiday season, judging by the number of hotels, guest houses and bed-and-breakfast establishments in the area. Local indoor attractions include the Wensleydale Creamery, where Wensleydale cheese is made; Outhwaite's Rope Works; and the restored Gayle Mill, an 18th century water-powered cotton spinning mill.
The Revd William Michael Simms, incumbent vicar, was the celebrant and preacher. Members of congregation gave the readings and led the intercessions.
What was the name of the service?Parish Eucharist.
How full was the building?
About one-third full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A greeter said, "How nice of you to join us!" as I received the books.
Was your pew comfortable?
Plain wooden pews with carpet lining. Not particularly comfortable but at least they were adequately spaced. Something about the pews took me completely by surprise – read on!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and reverent; whispered conversations. The organist played some pre-service music.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Please be seated. Good morning."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The New English Hymnal and a service booklet containing the text for Common Worship, Order One (the cover was specific to St Margaret's).
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The roar of the heating system - perhaps the burner though if it had not been running it would have been very cold in church. The child behind me who inadvertently hit the back of my pew a couple of times - the rest of the time she behaved perfectly.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Formal but relaxed. The celebrant altered the sequence of the opening elements of the service, and changed a couple of hymns from those listed on the hymn-board (at least one at virtually the last minute, judging by the whispered messages between organist and choir). In fairness, the alternative hymns were more in keeping with the rest of the service.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The incumbent vicar's delivery was relaxed and easy, and if he used notes I couldn't see them.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He spoke on the readings for the day, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (Paul on Our Lord's death and resurrection) and John 11:17-27 (Martha's discussion with Jesus regarding Lazarus' death and Jesus' statement about resurrection). There had been two funerals in the parish that week, one of which was for a gentleman who had served as warden and verger for over three decades. The lives of both people had been marked by humility and service, not hubris, not pride or arrogance. The warden had initially declined to serve, thinking himself not good enough. The vicar concluded with a reference to Psalm 115: "Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory." It seemed a very fitting epitaph.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sung sursum corda and preface (the introduction to the eucharistic prayer) - I had not heard it for many years and it was very well done. Also, I was amazed to discover a mouse – the trademark of the legendary North Yorkshire furniture maker Robert "Mouseman" Thompson – carved on the end of my pew! I had no idea that Thompson had worked in the church.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The roaring of the heating system. Had it been continuous it might have been easier to bear but the thermostat control switched it on and off throughout the service. Fortunately the flames did not burst into life at an inappropriate moment in the service.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Several people gave friendly nods, and eventually a lady came up and spoke to me at some length. The vicar thanked me for coming as I left.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Fair trade instant coffee served in china cups with saucers from a table at the back of the church. Reasonable strength. No biscuits, though.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I would be very pleased to make a church such as this my regular church.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very much so.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The singing at the start of the eucharistic prayer.