Mystery Worshipper: St. Hilda
Church: Mariners' Chapel
Location: Gloucester, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 20 November 2011, 3:00pm
A small, stone building, built in the 1840s. I would guess the building is largely unaltered since its creation, except for the addition of some rather lovely stained glass windows in the 1990s, including one of Jacob's Ladder. The interior is plastered and painted cream, with boards with the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer and Creed upon them. The pulpit has what appears to be a ship's wheel on the front of it. The whole effect is rather lovely.
The church was originally constructed to minister to the waterfront community in 19th century Gloucester (the usual problems: blasphemy, drunkenness and rough living). It is an extra-parochial chapel, and is now under the trusteeship of the Church Society.
Gloucester Quays used to be the port area of Gloucester, which was Britain's most inland port. Since the 1980s the area has been refurbished and gentrified: the old warehouses have been mostly converted to housing. The nearby dock now contains houseboats. There is also a large designer outlet nearby, two museums and an
antiques centre. The area near the chapel is now pedestrianised, and with people strolling to and fro on a Sunday afternoon it had a purposeless, ominous air.
The celebrant was a retired priest who introduced himself to me only as Chris.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Service.
How full was the building?
It is not a large building, but there were only nine in the congregation, so it was pretty empty, I'm sorry to say.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. I managed to walk in and take my seat without anyone greeting me. Later one of the church members did say hello in a rather vague way to me.
Was your pew comfortable?
Not particularly, but I've sat in worse.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
An interesting mixture. There were two church members sorting out the sanctuary area, chatting away, later to be joined by the celebrant, but it was, despite this, rather peaceful.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The celebrant opened the service with the Lord's Prayer.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Mission Praise, plus Sunday service books containing liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer and the 1980 Alternative Service Book. There were also pew Bibles (New International Version).
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
I was admiring the lovely stained glass before the service began, but during the service I was distracted trying to work out what the subject of the "east" (actually west-facing) window was. Due to the chapel being slap bang next to a large warehouse, no light shone through the window. Also, as I struggled to travel back in time and recall the Common Prayer communion service, I was delighted to be brought back to the 21st century by the sound of a mobile phone going off.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
During the service I had a problem trying to work out which page we were on in the Prayer Book. The service followed the old 1662 rite, but as the Prayer Book contained liturgy (now redundant) from the Alternative Service Book I was completely lost to begin with. Fortunately a strict Anglican upbringing meant I was able to recite most of the responses off by heart. The service followed the traditional course of an Anglican communion service, with set prayers and responses read by clergy and congregation interspersed with hymns. The hymns were played very loudly on the organ, and accompanied very loudly by the organist's singing. It didn't really matter what the congregation did in the singing department as a result.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Chris was a retired clergyman (he told me he only came once a month to celebrate communion) but he was an enthusiastic and rather dramatic preacher.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
This being the feast of Christ the King, the subject of the sermon was the kingship of Jesus. Our preacher looked at what sort of king Jesus was – how he has authority but he is merciful and forgiving. He concluded by saying that we are Jesus' envoys to the world, and Jesus can be a king for the world through us.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The peaceful atmosphere and simple but beautiful interior of the church.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Scrabbling through a prayer book trying to find where we were. A few page numbers would not have gone amiss.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I wandered to the back of the church, where the priest introduced himself and made polite conversation. I was also offered a cup of tea by one of the church members.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The tea was hot and served in a china cup. It was accompanied by a biscuit too.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I loved the church, but I'm not really a Book of Common Prayer fan.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I felt very glad to be a Mystery Worshipper – to be visiting this beautiful old church – but I felt slightly sad also at such a small congregation.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The stained glass window of Jacob holding his ladder – exactly like an ordinary ladder.