Mystery Worshipper: Man With No Name
Church: All Saints
Location: Wokingham, Berkshire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 17 May 2015, 6:30pm
A nice building on the edge of the town centre. It has a pleasant churchyard, which seems to have an active and dedicated band of volunteers tending it. Entrance was through the whitewashed tower at the west end. Inside felt smaller than expected from the outside. The walls were quite plain, but with the lovely Gothic stained glass, ornate ceiling, and nicely carved reredos, it presented an attractive environment for worship.
They seem to be extremely active in the local community, particularly with regard to the musical provision. From the church notice board its clear that the choir are active and well respected. I was also handed a leaflet for the upcoming Wokingham Summer Music Festival bringing national and international artists to the town.
Wokingham is about 35 miles southwest of London. Once known for brickmaking as well as for its bell foundry, which supplied bells for many churches in the south of England, the town is known today for software development, light engineering and service industries. There is a nice enough inn opposite the church (the Ship Inn) where I stopped off on the way for a swift drink, as I was very early. It turns out I wasnt the only one I recognised quite a few of the congregation from the bar earlier!
The name given on the service sheet was the Revd Helen Charlton, though I didnt catch her saying her name in the service.
What was the name of the service?Choral Evensong
How full was the building?
Perhaps 20-25 people, not including the choir or minister, so relatively empty in the large building.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was welcomed by being handed the hymn and service books. It was a very brief interaction, but they did seem genuinely welcoming and pleased to see people coming in, even if they werent effusive in their welcome or overtly personal.
Was your pew comfortable?
Average: fairly traditional solid wood, without any padding, and standard leatherette kneelers. Excepting the front row, there wasnt anywhere to lean your open service book.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very peaceful and meditative. As I arrived early, the choir were doing a bit of paper shuffling, but that soon ceased. Five minutes before the start of the service, the organist played some quiet music. The congregation were mostly sitting down and contemplating.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening, everyone, and welcome to choral evensong."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There was Hymns Ancient and Modern New Standard, a service book (which was only used for the psalm, although I couldnt read the title as the cover was very faded!), and a custom evensong order of service, taken from the Book of Common Prayer. There was also a weekly pew sheet and a leaflet for the local music festival.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ (with many unaccompanied sections by the choir). The organ is a digital instrument by Copeman Hart Church Organ Builders of Shaw, Lancashire.
Did anything distract you?
Most distracting was trying to work out which book to be looking at when, and which section! There were no announcements through the service, so even with some familiarity with choral evensong it was difficult to follow what was going on.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Fairly traditional. There was an opening hymn ("God be in my head" by Walford Davies), along with an anthem ("Come Let's Rejoice" by John Anmer) and other hymns (but unfortunately I didn't know any of them!) plus the usual psalms and responsorials. There was a clear focus on the choir, and although the service was from the Book of Common Prayer, it felt quite relaxed and contemporary. The choir were very good the only real duff points with them were that (1) during the psalm, one half of the choir sounded much crisper and clearer than the other half, and (2) during some of the responses they couldnt seem to decide if they were finishing in a major or minor key!
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The Revd Helen Charlton was competent, although it was a little difficult to follow the structure of the sermon. She seemed to follow a standard Anglican three point sermon, although it wasnt obvious which section was which. This was compounded slightly by her referencing a book they had recently read that included two seven point lists. I had trouble working out which section we were in!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It started with reference to the days scripture readings and the recent general election, and how relevant these readings were to todays political and economic environment. In particular, there was a focus on how politicians try to address the wellbeing and happiness of the population. The preacher had recently read a particular book about Archbishop William Temple, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1942-1944 and was known for his support of economic and social reforms, and quoted from it often.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The Magnificat was sung, well, magnificently. In general the choir were excellent, and I would have felt quite satisfied with just listening to them!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Trying to navigate the torrents of rubric in the service book. Whilst it was nice to have some guidance on what was occurring throughout the service, it felt like whoever prepared it couldnt decide between writing a service book or a textbook and so included everything. There were historical notes as well as instructions, and possible alternative services. By the time I had finished reading some of the rubrics, the part of the service had already passed!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The nature of the service meant that most people just left at the end. I stayed listening to all of the organ voluntary, and after that there werent many left in the church. The wardens were tidying up, and somebody was talking to the minister. I hung around for a few minutes examining the church notices, but nobody approached me, and the minister was still occupied. In the end I wandered off to have a look at the churchyard.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no coffee so far as I could tell.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – It was a good service, although I would have liked to have known at least some of the hymns. I was hoping for a good sing, which I didnt really get the opportunity to have. If I were local to the area, I would certainly consider attending some more services to know the general feel of the church better.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I felt that I was taking part in a proud tradition of Christian worship. Im not normally a Prayer Book sort of chap, but the relatively relaxed and informal nature of the other parts of the service made it feel more fresh and relevant.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The choir, I think. They were excellent, with the precentor sounding loud and clear.