Mystery Worshipper: Wes Charles
Church: Church of the Holy & Undivided Trinity
Location: Edale, Derbyshire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 30 August 2015, 10:00am
The present church is the third to stand in the village. The original was built in 1633 and rebuilt on the same site in 1812, in what is now the old graveyard. The present building was completed in 1886 in the Decorated Gothic style, using stone from the old chapel. The tower and spire were added four years later. There are some original memorials from the previous churches, as well as some paintings. The original font stands in the old graveyard.
Although not technically part of the benefice, the church joins with the local three-church benefice once a month for a joint service. Although they don't get huge congregations, they apparently get a lot of support from the villagers at major festivals and events. They are organising a quiet day next weekend.
Edale is a little village in the Peak District. According to a chart on the wall of the church, the population has fluctuated between 300 and 400 over the past couple of hundred years. It is quite a large church for such a small community. The area is popular with walkers, and as we left church, there was a constant stream of hikers walking up the road. I imagine the population swells somewhat during the summer months.
The Revd Dr Simon Cocksedge, a non-stipendiary vicar who is also a doctor nearby.
What was the name of the service?United Benefice Service.
How full was the building?
Probably about half full, but it felt like more because people were slightly spread out. I counted 37 people, which, considering the size of the community, seemed quite good. It certainly had the look of a well-attended service.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We arrived rather early, about 25 minutes before the service started. There were a number of men standing outside the door, and at first we thought we'd arrived before it opened, but they were just enjoying the fresh morning air. They greeted us as we arrived. Upon entering the church, they were still sorting out hymn books, so we entered somewhat unnoticed. After a few minutes in our pew, both the vicar and a gentleman called Michael came over to make us feel welcome.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was fine. I didn't notice any aches during the sermon, so I guess it was OK.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I can only describe it as an atmosphere of quiet organisation. We sat in our pew and as people arrived, they greeted those they knew quietly and talked quietly. This was accompanied by the sound of cups and saucers being set out on tables.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We begin our worship with hymn number 128: 'Fight the good fight with all thy might.'"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Old & New, New Anglican Edition and a printed service sheet. I was disappointed not to see a Bible on each pew to refer to during the service.
What musical instruments were played?
An organ, played well, but which could have been louder. It is an opus of Albert Keates Organ Builders of Hanley, Staffordshire, dating from 1936.
Did anything distract you?
There were two things. First, there seemed to be a constant battle between whoever was leading the music and the congregation. They stubbornly refused to sing at the tempo the organist wanted them to - he was playing at a lively pace and the congregation were always about half a beat behind. Also, the Bible readings didn't match the printed service sheet in version. The sheet was New Revised Standard Version, but I believe we actually heard readings from The Living Bible.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I couldn't quite decide. It had the atmosphere of a low church. On the other hand, the vicar seemed to bow over the communion, and a number of the congregation were crossing themselves after communion. I guess this averages out to middle-of-the-road Anglican. The exchange of peace seemed to go on and on.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The Revd Dr Cocksedge had a nice relaxed, anecdotal style of preaching. He very effectively used a number of stories to illustrate points. I felt he could have been slightly better rehearsed, as he seemed to jump back on occasion to points he'd forgotten to make. However, he was very easy to listen to and a clear preacher with a nice personality. I'd have given him another point if the sermon had been longer and more in-depth.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The gospel reading was Mark 7, where Jesus speaks about the traditions of washing hands before eating being unnecessary as it's what comes from the heart that matters. Traditions have too much importance. Jesus offers us the chance to re-think our traditions. Thomas Aquinas wrote that we can't say what God is, only what he isn't. Think about our own traditions. Do we need different ones? We should think about Jesus as the re-interpreter and think about what it means to follow Jesus.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
To see such a relatively large congregation at a little country church. And also that it wasn't just an older group, but a couple of families and children as well.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The volume of singing from the congregation. All the hymns were well-known, yet I couldn't really hear anyone apart from myself. Perhaps it was because the organ was rather soft, and the congregation were singing softly to compensate. Or perhaps not enough of them had waited outside to fill their lungs with fresh air before the service. I really felt they could have sung with more gusto.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We got our coffee and biscuits and had a look at the noticeboards at the back of the church. Before long, a gentleman called Maurice came over for a nice chat, and I spent some time talking with one of the ladies serving coffee. Everyone we spoke to was very friendly. We didn't have much chance to look lost.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Possibly the best after-service coffee we've had in a church and in real cups! I was told they could make me tea if I wanted it. Not only great coffee, but chocolate Hobnobs and chocolate & caramel digestives.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – If I were lucky enough to live in this beautiful part of the country, I'd be quite happy to come to this church, although it's not really evangelical enough for my taste.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it did.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Wondering whether the peace was ever going to end.