St Ambrose, Westbourne

St Ambrose's, Westbourne, Dorset, England


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Mystery Worshipper: Bon_Berger
Church: St Ambrose's
Location: Westbourne, Dorset, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 1 April 2018, 10:00am

The building

A large, turn-of-the-century Perpendicular Gothic church with ample space at the back for coffee and welcome, and a separated chancel behind a screen (adorned with gold icons) leading to a beautiful reredos by Temple Moore, champion of the Gothic Revival style.

The church

Their entry on the website of A Church Near You states that they "provide a peaceful sanctuary for reflection, prayer, devotion and spirituality." They have a Bible reading fellowship and a study group. They support the Society of Mary and Guild of Servants of the Sanctuary. There is a said and sung mass each Sunday, plus evensong. Morning and evening prayer are said daily, with said mass on Tuesdays and Fridays.

The neighborhood

Bournemouth is a seaside resort on the south coast of England, famous for its beaches. Westbourne is a charming, leafy suburb of the main town, very near to the beach front. It is a very upscale residential and shopping district, replete with fancy boutiques and cafes. Robert Louis Stevenson lived here for two years, during which he wrote Kidnapped, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and a goodly portion of Treasure Island. As a child, Winston Churchill once fell from a local bridge (now gone) and broke both of his legs.

The cast

The Revd Adrian F. Pearce, priest-in-charge, was both preacher and celebrant.

What was the name of the service?

Sung Mass

How full was the building?

There were 50 or so in the congregation. In a building of this size, that felt quite empty – especially for Easter Day.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Nothing much before or during the service, though there were a number of people attending the front door ready to hand out books.

Was your pew comfortable?

Wooden chairs. I didn't find myself thinking about the chair, which probably means they were pretty comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

It was rather quiet, especially for Easter Day.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Let us pray." (The prayer over the incense was broadcast on the speaker system.)

What books did the congregation use during the service?

New English Hymnal, liturgy book, order of service sheet, psalm and readings for the day sheet, congregational mass music (Grayston Ives' Salisbury Service).

What musical instruments were played?

An organ with a tiny (inaudible) choir.

Did anything distract you?

One of the members of the choir had a pet chihuahua that was not on a leash and was running around the church for much of the service.No one seemed to find this particularly unusual except for me.

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

It was comfortable Anglo-Catholic. Not Roman mass, but high Order 1 Common Worship with smells and bells, and culminating with the Regina Coeli.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

8 minutes.

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

7 – I didn't think the priest-in-charge sounded particularly charismatic, but he seemed earnest.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

It was about the redemption of humanity in Easter. It being Easter Day, there really wasn't much else one could talk about.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

They maintain a tradition of not only ringing Sanctus bells in the chancel, but also the main church bell, adding an unexpected and very charming other-worldly nature to the eucharistic prayer.

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

As I queued to receive communion, I had to stand in front of the four person choir – the combined age of which must have been at least 350. Only then did I realise how blessed I was being unable to hear them in the back of the church.

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

There was absolutely no opportunity to look lost. As soon as the service finished, the whole congregation formed a line to speak to the vicar and give back their service papers. He was very welcoming and made a point of saying hello to me as a newcomer. The line then proceeded directly to coffee.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Real cups, fine coffee. Biscuits and cookies served, though I was unsure whether it might be an Easter special.

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

7 – I liked the service, but the lack of welcome as I arrived made the congregation feel a bit insular. I can't say I ever stopped feeling like an outsider. If I went every week, maybe I wouldn't.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Absolutely. It was a perfectly acceptable way to celebrate Christ's resurrection.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

If I'm honest, it's going to be the chihuahua.

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