Mystery Worshipper: Wandering Star
Church: St Mary's
Location: Denham, Buckinghamshire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 8 April 2007, 10:30am
A traditional stone building with a wide, squat, crenelated tower, possibly Norman, over the entrance. The rest of the church dates mostly from the 15th century. The interior was beautifully dressed with fresh flowers for Easter Sunday. A marble baptismal font, large painting of the Last Judgment over the south door, organ pipes, pillars (which I gladly relegated to the "other place" see below), stained glass windows, wall plaques and dedications to past faithful members and benefactors all appear well cared for. Clearly a much loved building.
They sponsor a wide variety of activities for youth as well as adults. It seems as though there is something for everyone, every day of the week. In addition to Bible study groups, bell ringers and choir, they sponsor a monthly "London run" to deliver food, clothing and blankets to London's needy. They also hold "age concern" bus trips to the Tesco supermarket. Some entrepreneurial church members are organising vestry teas for summer Sunday afternoons.
Denham is a quaint, picturesque village lying just off the A412 Uxbridge to Watford Road. The M25 and M40 are also in close proximity, and it seemed strange to find such a green oasis adjacent to such busy thoroughfares. Films were once made in Denham, and the beloved English actor Sir John Mills lived here until his death in 2005 at age 97, as memorialised by a plaque on one of the pretty village houses. The front gates of St Mary's open into Village Road, but the gates at the back of the church are at the end of a long, tree lined avenue stretching through Buckinghamshire Golf Course into Denham Country Park.
The Rev. Adrian Hirst, rector, led the service. He was assisted by Joyce Tearall, lay minister; Joyce Turner and John Way, readers; and Carole Wadlow, intercessor.
What was the name of the service?Sung Communion
How full was the building?
The main body of the church was full and the side aisles were almost full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A smile and handshake with the service paperwork, and a nod from the person I sat next to. It was the last place in the pew, so everyone had to move up a little. This prompted some smiling and greeting.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was comfortable – long narrow cushion and kneelers.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Those who wanted quiet chose a less populated area to sit in. Others were seated where I supposed they usually sat, sharing conversation across the pews, discussing the flower rota, etc.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. Please turn to our opening hymn."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
We were handed a service sheet when we arrived, along with something entitled Parousia. The New King James version of the Bible was in the pew along with the New English Hymnal. Included in our paperwork was a photocopy of the words and music for one of our contemporary congregational hymns.
What musical instruments were played?
Excellent pipe organ, as well as piano and trumpet.
Did anything distract you?
As the congregation gathered to receive communion, I realised that at some point soon I would have to use the bathroom. I quietly asked the person next to me if there was a toilet in the church. My question had to make its way, rather like Chinese whispers, along the pew, until someone said I must ask a particular lady for the key. I took communion, found the keyholder and then the bathroom, returned the key, and quietly slipped back into my seat, whilst the remainder of the congregation received communion.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
All in all, I would describe the worship as fairly traditional, choir-led worship, with a smattering of modern hymns. A soloist began the service with a sweet Easter anthem. Many of the responses were sung, but to tunes unfamiliar at least to me. (I understand that some of the choristers have lamented that none of the canticles the choir knew and loved are part of the service any longer.) As we took our communion, the choir sang three anthems that the congregation could sing along with if they so chose. The congregation struggled somewhat with the contemporary song for which we were given the words and music on a sheet.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – I had read some of the rector's previous sermons. He spoke much as I expected, and once he turned to the topic of Jesus rising to life, he became decidedly animated.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Revolutionaries come and go from age to age, drumming up support for this cause or that. There were many such people before Jesus came on the scene. But most of them vanished along with their causes, and that was that. But Jesus rose from the dead after the darkness of Good Friday. He rose again!
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I would have to say that hearing the trumpet added a heraldic touch of triumph to the day.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I was seated behind a pillar, so I wonder if I missed seeing what was going on in heaven?
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Someone offered me an Easter egg. It seemed as though there were a lot of people in church who wouldn't normally be there. I felt that the regulars were keeping a special eye out for "prodigals."
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were coffee and tea on offer but I didn't stay.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – The service was too traditional for my liking. It (as well as the church, I suspect) appeared rather set in concrete. I'm not really impressed by a robed choir, nor do I appreciate sung responses that are unknown by many in the congregation. I feel a service of worship should be full of opportunities to participate. After all, this was the main service for Easter Sunday! The same song that the congregation struggled with, we sang in another church a few weeks later, and it soared!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Of course. It was Easter Sunday, after all!
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
That we didn't sing the quintessential Easter hymn "Thine be the Glory." Had we done so, I could have floated home!