Mystery Worshipper: Andy the Albanian
Church: St John the Evangelist
Location: Brigg, Lincolnshire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 20 March 2011, 9:30am
An imposing, cream brick building from the 1840s. It is in the centre of Brigg and yet surprisingly invisible from the main shopping area – a consequence of the design of the one-way system and pedestrianisation in the 1980s. Entry is from the southeast corner into a side aisle. The church is bright and well cared for, and the colourful painted decoration on the chancel ceiling particularly caught my eye. Layout is traditional, with pews facing east, a raised pulpit, longitudinal choir stalls, and a high altar at the east end. A warm and comfortable building on an early spring morning.
They describe themselves as being in the "central Catholic" tradition of the Church of England. There are two services on a Sunday (at 9.30am and 6.00pm) and also services on Monday and Thursday mornings. There is a choir plus music group, as well as activities for children and a Mothers' Union group.
Brigg is a small town in North Lincolnshire. It feels like a market town looking for a raison d'etre after the decline of much of its industry and the loss of the cattle market. The pedestrianised town centre is just about hanging on, probably helped by the fact that the big supermarkets are on the old market site rather than out of town. Also worth a mention is the pub across the road from the church, if only for its name: the Dying Gladiator.
The Revd David Eames, assistant curate, presided; and the Revd Owain Mitchell, vicar, preached.
What was the name of the service?Parish Eucharist
How full was the building?
About a third full, I'd say. I had hoped for more. Even by Anglican standards it wasn't a young congregation, as the parishioner I chatted to over coffee observed.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A lady in an elegant lenten purple suit gave me a bright smile and a "hello" as she handed me the service paperwork. And at the end of the service the chap in the next pew said, "Welcome to St John's. Do join us for coffee."
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a perfectly comfortable wooden pew. A chair had been placed at the end of each pew, suggesting an expectation of overspill.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I was very impressed with this! There was a light hum of chat about five minutes before the service, but as 9.30 approached this faded away to a reverent silence ready for the start of the service.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Let us pray: Lord, we come into your presence to worship you..."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Old and New, Common Worship: Holy Communion booklet, a Redemptorist lectionary insert with notices on the back, and a folded sheet with the order of service, words and music for the Lent prose and some notes on the season of Lent. Quite a handful really.
What musical instruments were played?
A small organ.
Did anything distract you?
The central window above the altar had an image of Jesus apparently carrying the flag of St George! I couldn't help thinking of the contrast between that and the modern image of that flag. Nowadays it tends to be associated with a certain class of shaven-headed knuckle-draggers, either of the racist far-right or of the football hooligan persuasion, often both.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Quite formal, with traditional hymns and vestments and faithful adherence to the Common Worship script, but not stiff or stuffy.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – It was a scripted sermon but delivered in a fluent and relaxed manner with plenty of eye contact. There was much that was good, not much that wasn't, but somehow it lacked spark.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was about the need to make a conscious choice for heavenly things over worldly things. Father Owain began by observing that Nicodemus' questioning of Jesus was like a TV interview show should be – searching for the truth. Nicodemus at first, like some of today's Christians, misinterpreted Jesus' talk of being born from above (or again). Dramatic conversions do happen but aren't necessary; but we do all need to make a conscious choice and to choose for Jesus.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The quiet reverence before the service was so unusual in my experience that it really set me up for worship.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The music was a bit disappointing. There was a smart, robed choir of maybe eight singers, but they didn't sing anything on their own and sounded very uncertain at the start of the Lent prose.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't get the chance in church, as my pew neighbour welcomed me immediately after the service and invited me to coffee. I tried again to look lost in the hall, and a friendly lady spotted me and came to chat.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee was fair trade instant but tea was a well-known commercial brand, both in china cups, served with a smile.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – Everyone was very friendly, though as a callow youth of 51 I think I might wish for more people my own age.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, and in particular glad to be part of the Church.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The silence before the service.