Mystery Worshipper: Bill F. Bywaters
Church: Holy Trinity
Location: West Allington, Lincolnshire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 16 March 2008, 9:30am
A patchwork of medieval stone and 18th century brick. It almost looks as though someone had tried to rebuild this little church in brick but had run out of money or bricks. The porch and west end still survive in stone. The north arcade dates from around 1200 and the south doorway is Norman. There is no tower. Inside, it is beautifully simple, with sedate Norman arches in the north aisle.
Originally both East and West Allington had their own parish churches. West Allington was an ecclesiastical parish and East Allington was a chapelry (chapel of ease) of nearby Sedgebrook parish. East Allington was separated from the parish of Sedgebrook in 1872 and united with West Allington.
To further confuse things, East Allington is south and slightly west of West Allington. This is Lincolnshire, only a couple of miles from Grantham with its Gingerbreads football club, so you might think it is relatively lively. But this is picture-postcard England, green fields, old brick and thatch, and rooks loudly complaining about the price of sticks as they build this year's nests.
The Revd Stella Langdon-Davies, vicar.
What was the name of the service?Parish Eucharist.
How full was the building?
The little church was comfortably full, or felt so, with 20 to 30 people. They all seemed like a nice enough group.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was sure I was arriving early, but I was surprised to find the service already underway. The vicar spotted me and called out a cheery "Welcome! Come and join us." That was nice, and made me feel a bit less miffed that the whole thing had got underway a good ten minutes before the advertised time.
Was your pew comfortable?
These very un-fancy Victorian pews were surprisingly comfortable, and even gave some protection from a wintry draught that was whipping in under the main doors.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It would have been nice to have been there to witness the locals gathering on the green to re-enact Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem astride a small pony (there being no donkey available). But the procession had been cut short by driving rain and a north wind, so everyone had gone into the church and started early. They weren't expecting visitors.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
For me, the vicar's words of welcome quoted above. This helped at least to lessen the feeling that I was intruding on a private party.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The service was included in a printed handbook of Lenten services for the diocese of Lincoln. It was straight from Common Worship, but in clear print, well laid out, and easy to follow.
What musical instruments were played?
The organ provided all the loudness the church could handle. I won't say the tempo of the hymns was slow – let's just say I had plenty of time to dwell on the words while I sang.
Did anything distract you?
I still couldn't get over the fact that the service had started so early despite my realising that the weather had forced an adjustment of schedule.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This was the Church of England at its most sedate. Vicar Langdon-Davies had a very quiet manner of speaking. I almost felt that she was more a victim of the order of service than its leader.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was none. I assume the pre-service procession had been intended to take its place.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Being in a peaceful country church, where everything was in order and nothing seemed particularly slick, was very comforting, even if the weather was foul.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
On the other hand, the Church of England can seem like a very exclusive club at times. As I looked around, I wondered what Jesus might do if he wandered in. He wasn't over 40, he didn't have a taste for tweed or expensive-but-not-showy clothes. Would he have fit right in? I somehow doubt it.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Surprisingly, I was invited to coffee, and began to regret my unworthy thoughts.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The vicar had to dash off to her next service (with clear regret, but being able to socialise on Sundays is not given to many priests these days). The parishioners were all curious as to where I came from and how I happened upon West Allington on a cold, blustery, rainy Palm Sunday. I felt a bit uneasy about being an outsider, but at least I was properly attired in tweeds and cords. But if I had instead selected my Megadeth t-shirt and a pair of jeans...? Still, you've got to speak as you find, and the people here were, well, nice.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – A bit too sedate for my liking, I'm afraid. And I would have liked to have heard a sermon.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Largely because of what was NOT in the service, I felt acutely that being a Christian isn't easy. Loving people isn't easy. Recognising Jesus in other people isn't easy.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
This will always go down as the service that started without me. The service that wasn't expecting strangers. And the stranger who maybe expected too much of a little Lincolnshire church.