Boxgrove Priory, West Sussex, England

Boxgrove Priory, West Sussex, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Boxgrove Priory
Location: West Sussex, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 11 October 2009, 9:30am

The building

An old church founded in 1115 as a Benedictine priory, although a notation in the Domesday Book suggests an earlier church in Anglo-Saxon times. The present building is mostly 13th century and consists of the tower crossing, transepts, eastern aisles and chancel, the nave having been demolished during the time of the Dissolution. The present nave is the original monastic quire, which features a lovely painted ceiling. The church sits on grounds that include the ruins of the priory and guest house. A major restoration effort has been underway in the church for the past year.

The church

There are three services at the Priory Church of St Mary & St Blaise each Sunday: holy communion (traditional language), solemn mass (Common Worship) and parish mass (described as "a simple celebration of the eucharist"). Low mass is also celebrated each weekday, and confessions are heard by appointment. On the first Friday of each month a Holy Hour is held (mass, meditation and benediction).

The neighborhood

Boxgrove is a lovely old village just outside Chichester. The largest area of preserved Paleolithic land surface in Europe can be found at Boxgrove. The remains of Boxgrove Man, thought to be the oldest human being to have lived in Britain, were discovered in May 1994.

The cast

The Revd Ian Forrester, priest in charge; the Revd Victor Cassam and the Revd David Brecknell, assistant clergy.

What was the name of the service?

Sung Mass.

How full was the building?

Almost full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

At the church door was a notice that read: "Closed for restoration." But a helpful lady said that no, there was a service. We were greeted by the sidespeople and given our books, etc.

Was your pew comfortable?

As part of the refurbishment we were seated on new pews, which looked to be English oak (Mr Bunny is a keen woodworker). They were very comfortable for pews, made in the form of benches that would accommodate four large bottoms or five smaller ones. The recline of the back rest was at just the right angle and we did not miss pew cushions. The book compartments at the back of the pew in front would not accommodate the hymn books, but we were told that this would be remedied after the official rededication later in the month.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The choir were rehearsing, but they sang so beautifully that I thought it was a part of the pre-service. There was a quiet mumble of people chatting. Although there were some children in the congregation, I became aware of them only when they went to take communion. You could smell cement or stone dust in the air, and it felt a little damp.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The New English Hymnal, a service card, and a notice sheet.

What musical instruments were played?


Did anything distract you?

The smell of cement. Also, despite rigorous cleaning, it was still quite gritty underfoot. Any slight movement of feet sounded as if we all had sandpaper on the soles of our shoes. Incense was used enthusiastically, particularly during the eucharistic prayer, to the point that the stained glass disappeared into an autumnal fog.

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

High Anglican. We had a bell to announce the arrival of the priests, incense in abundance, chasuble robed priests and a beautiful sung service, some of which was in Latin.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

11 minutes.

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

9 – Father Cassam preached and had a very relaxed style. Although there was a pulpit, this was not used.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Reference was made to the gospel, Mark 10:17-27 (to enter God's kingdom we must forsake material goods). It is wrong to think that Jesus was against wealth. We are wealthy relative to people in the third world. The Pharisees thought wealth was a sign of God's approval. Jesus is concerned with what we do or not do with our wealth. The man in the gospel was a good man, but Jesus perceived that his wealth was an obstacle. The man was unable to do as asked. There is no suggestion that we should all do this; poverty is a part of the calling to religious life, but few have this calling. "The love of money is the root of all evil." Having wealth does not mean that you love it, but it can be a danger. All men worship a god of some type. It may be money, possessions, status, etc. We have to find out what our god is. What comes between us and the one true God? The answer tells us what our own god is.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The glorious singing of the choir, much of which was unaccompanied.

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

The fog of incense (although not of the choking pungent type) and the damp not-quite-finished atmosphere (although that will disappear once all the work is done).

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

We had a practice of the new setting of the Gloria and were invited for coffee in the St Blaise centre.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Lovely coffee in polystyrene cups. Mr Bunny liked his tea. All with very nice biscuits. Couldn't see if it was fair trade or not.

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

9 – Loved the music.

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 wonderful singing and beautiful ceiling.

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