All Saints, Gurnard, Isle of Wight

All Saints, Gurnard, Isle of Wight


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Mystery Worshipper: Salskov
Church: All Saints
Location: Gurnard, Isle of Wight
Date of visit: Sunday, 11 July 2010, 6:00pm

The building

A yellow brick edifice picked out in red brick, dating from the 1890s. Its architect was EP Loftus Brock, noted for his interest in the history of ecclesiastical architecture. There is a brass plaque detailing over 50 local men killed in the Great War. A much smaller plaque beneath gives only eight names of World War II casualties. There are wooden pews, a chancel organ, and choir seating. I think the church must at one time have been fairly high – there was a statue of the Sacred Heart and sepia photos of the stations of the cross. There is a garden of remembrance tucked in amongst the flowering fuchsia bushes, and a new wooden community hall with a rather nice multicoloured mosaic cross inside.

The church

The notice board sported everything from a rather outdated swine flu poster to notices of links with African missions, community transportation, the Church Housing Trust, the Bereaved Suicide Support Group, and the Isle of Wight Older Voices Circle. There were also diocesan newsletters and informational leaflets about the Bethany Sisters, a local order of nuns.

The neighborhood

The Isle of Wight is a large island in the English Channel known for its outstanding natural beauty. Queen Victoria maintained her summer home there, and Charles Dickens penned most of David Copperfield while in residence on the Isle of Wight. In 1897 Guglielmo Marconi established the world's first radio station at the Needles, an outcropping of chalk rocks at the westernmost end of the island. The village of Gurnard is on the island's northern coast and is known for its strong tides, making challenging conditions for first-class sailboating. There was no hint of any world famous boat race today. The church is out of immediate sight of the sea, in a sunny, green residential area, with a pub over the road.

The cast

The service was led by Ian and Sue, a married couple.

What was the name of the service?

Informal Service (according to the banner on the fence). These services are held once a month, and some people attending are regulars at other churches. As I understood it, each leader constructs the service round the loose framework of activity, readings and prayer

How full was the building?

We were nine in total.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I arrived half an hour early, and Sue and Ian both welcomed me warmly. They asked how I had found out about the service. I explained that I had asked around but had also spotted the banner. I had earlier tracked down a rather impressive church tower in Newport, the island capital, only to find that the church was now the Temptation Night Club (having first been deconsecrated, one hopes!).

Was your pew comfortable?

There was a circle of upholstered chairs set out round a coffee table with a candle on it. These were very comfortable. The wooden pews for regular services had the usual embroidered hassocks and thin embroidered cloths to temper their hardness.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Sue offered me a drink from the hot and cold selection laid out, and suggested that as I was early, I might want to explore the garden and the new community building. When I returned, just before 6.00, there were more people gathered, chatting quietly.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

We morphed almost imperceptibly from standing with drinks to sitting in a circle. At length Sue said, "We'd better begin," and welcomed us all by name (including me).

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Sue had her notes, a book of meditations, and two translations of the Bible: the Youth Bible and a relatively new one, The Message.

What musical instruments were played?

None. There was a CD player with Graham Kendrick songs, and a gentle version of Shine Jesus Shine preceded the service. The CD also played during the meditation. I'll mention Graham Kendrick again in a moment.

Did anything distract you?

My first thought on seeing the arrangement was that it would be impossible to write anything during the service, so I concentrated on trying to remember the events in order. Once it began, I found myself enjoying it, and had to remember to remember!

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

Sue had earlier described the service as involving activities, prayer and discussion, and had remarked rather ruefully that some older members of the congregation were not comfortable with this format. Our first activity was to play a game of Jenga: wooden rectangular pieces are piled three across, alternate layers crosswise to the previous one, to make a tower. The trick is to remove a piece without toppling the tower. As each player removed a piece, he or she had to name something enjoyable. When the tower finally collapsed, Sue noted that lives without a firm foundation are unstable. Next, we read the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-34), or the fool and his money (Sue's description), from each of the two Bible versions. It was noted that the Message version was rather pointed in its references to bankers. Ian, Sue's husband, is a banker. We discussed the application of the idea of trust in God rather than concern to amass goods. The third activity was a meditation. We were each invited to pick a flower from a bunch, and to consider them in detail, noting their qualities of strength, fragility and beauty, and thanking God for them. The final stage in the service was for each of us to write a worry or concern we might have on paper and to consign them individually to the Water of Life – in this case a jug of water. The process was neatly managed so that our concerns were private if we wished to keep them so. We closed with the Lord's Prayer.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

There was no sermon as such.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The welcome was outstanding, helped by a glorious summer evening, with a church filled with sunset light.

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

I could just about live with subdued Kendrick at two points in the service. The initial feeling of being exposed, so common when Mystery Worshipping, lessened as I joined in the party.

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

We simply moved across to the cheese, grapes, biscuits and drinks. I said that I had come to the Isle of Wight for the folk festival, and the lady who had been sitting next me turned out to have been a morris dancer in earlier days. Ian gave me a farewell hug and kiss!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Tea, coffee, elderflower cordial, various fruit juices, oat cakes, cheese and fruit. Very pleasant. I left before the rest, to give myself time to deposit the calling card and a small contribution in the plate by the door.

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

5 – This service was an unusual one . It attracts people from other churches, and is for some an addition to their usual attendance. On that basis, I could enjoy it, though for weekly observance I prefer the liturgy of my home church.

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

Oh yes.

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

Waiting for the inevitable toppling of the Jenga tower.

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