St Andrew, Aysgarth, Yorkshire, England

St Andrew’s, Aysgarth, Yorkshire, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Andrew’s
Location: Aysgarth, Yorkshire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 30 November 2008, 10:30am

The building

St Andrew's church is an ancient building of stone in the Early English style. It was originally built in the 13th century and has since had many additions and alterations. Surrounded by gravestones, it is quite a large church and consists of a chancel, a nave with aisles, and a Lady chapel. Its most valuable possession is a huge ornate rood screen, which has been placed at the south side of the chancel. It was supposedly carried by 20 men from nearby Jervaulx Abbey at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries. There is also a beautiful ornate reredos of Caen stone with a carving of the Last Supper. There are many interesting stained glass windows and the ones above the reredos are particularly magnificent. A table placed near the chancel steps served as a simple altar; a plain brass cross with a candle either side were placed on it.

The church

St Andrew's church is a member of the Penhill Benefice, which includes other village churches in the local area. Holy Communion is celebrated every Sunday and some weekdays on a rota basis among the churches. They had recently raised money for the ARC Addington fund – this fund was set up at the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury as the Church's response to the foot and mouth outbreak. A generous cheque was presented to the fund director at the beginning of the service. There is a Share the Light group and a Benefice Peace and Justice group, among others.

The neighborhood

The church is situated in picturesque Wensleydale close to the spectacular Aysgarth waterfalls on the River Ure, all part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It is located next to a very steep narrow road that leads off a main road down to the waterfalls. Its immediate neighbours are a pub and a gift shop, and up on the main road there are a few houses and a hotel.

The cast

The Revd Canon Peter Burrows, Archdeacon of Leeds, was the celebrant and preacher. He was assisted by the Revd Penny Yeadon and the Revd Judith Walker, curates.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Communion Benefice Service

How full was the building?

The church was quite full – I would estimate there to be 80 to 100 people in the congregation. I assumed the congregation consisted of local people with perhaps a scattering of tourists – yes, people do visit the Yorkshire dales in November! There was a mixture of ages, predominantly 50 and over, and I am afraid I cannot remember seeing any children. Most people seemed to be dressed quite smartly.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A sidesman greeted me with "Good morning" and handed me a hymn book, a service leaflet and a service book.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pew was comfortable enough but the kneelers were a nightmare! Each pew had a communal wooden kneeler with individual hassocks on top. There wasn't much room, so one ended up kneeling with one's posterior resting on the pew itself – the result was that the wooden kneeler would suddenly skid forward with a loud noise.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

There was a lot of chatter going on. One lady two pews behind me seemed intent on broadcasting to the whole of Yorkshire. It did not feel at all reverential. However, everyone quieted down when the choir and clergy entered.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning, everyone. A very warm welcome to our first service in Advent."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Hymns Old and New, Common Worship, and an information sheet for the benefice, giving details of future services and events as well as the collect, readings, gospel and post-communion prayer.

What musical instruments were played?

A traditional pipe organ – played very well.

Did anything distract you?

I was rather distracted by the way the crucifer held the cross when she led the procession of choir and clergy. She held it at an angle of about 20 degrees to the vertical, which must have been most uncomfortable for her. As a retired maths teacher, I wanted to start calculating the moments of forces acting on the poor lady! I also wondered if I had fallen asleep at some time because although two readings were printed on the sheet, I only heard one, which was from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians.

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

I would say it was middle of the road to low church Anglicanism. The choir of five ladies wore blue robes and the three clergy were vested in albs and purple stoles. Two lighted candles were on the altar with the cross, and a large lighted one together with five unlit Advent candles were positioned to the side. One of these Advent candles was lit at the beginning of the service. I didn't see any genuflection, and incense was not used. The clergy and choir took their places on either side of this simple altar, facing the congregation, and it seemed a pity to me that the most beautiful part of the church was not being used.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

22 minutes.

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

9 – The archdeacon did not climb up into the pulpit, but stood at the lectern instead. He read clearly from prepared notes and joked about his journey from Leeds, the fall in temperature as he journeyed north, and the country smells he encountered.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He compared the state of the church in the 21st century with how Paul found the church in Corinth. How can we attract newcomers to the church if we are always arguing and complaining? He quoted national statistics saying there were 24,000 stipendiary clergy in 1900 whereas there are now 7,126 – and they have to deal with 16,000 church buildings. He talked about pastoral reorganisation and new models of ministry in this changing church. God has always been with us and is calling all Christians to share this ministry by using the skills he has given us. Paul found that the people of Corinth had lost sight, the rich kept themselves away from the poor and they lacked humility. This was not the church God intended because in reality it was not the sort of church that would attract others. Paul talked about the church of God and had real hope for the church at Corinth, based on the generosity of God; it is a similar situation in the 21st century. Paul is sure that God travels with us and will not desert or abandon us. God loves us so much that he gave up his only Son.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I always feel deeply moved when receiving the holy sacraments, the administration of which was done in a most reverential manner.

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

Refraining from skidding whilst kneeling proved to be sheer torture.

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

One of the curates invited us to stay for a drink. A lady came up to me and it turned out she was the vicar, who had just returned from a sabbatical. She explained that they had put the altar near the chancel steps because when they used the high altar there was too much space between the clergy and congregation. A sidesman also engaged us in friendly conversation.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was a choice of tea, coffee or soft drinks plus biscuits.

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

8 – If I returned here I would probably worship at this church rather than seek somewhere new.

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

Yes. I came out of the church with an inner glow.

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

The picture postcard setting of such a lovely church.

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