St Laurence, Hilmarton, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Laurence
Location: Hilmarton, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 9 February 2020, 10:30am

The building

Photo: © Colin Bates and used under license Standard English parish church, medieval in origin, late Perpendicular. It was ruthlessly restored in the 19th century, although bits and pieces of what are thought to be the original – including some paint – can still be seen. The tower holds a ring of six bells. Recently the obligatory kitchen and sitting/play area were added. A former vicar, while rummaging through an old chest, discovered a Bible originally thought to be a second edition of the Authorized Version. However, it has been authoritatively dated to 1611 and is in fact a rare first edition of the Authorized Version. It is proudly on display in a secure case.

The church

Part of the benefice of Lyneham and Woodhill, Hilmarton gets what services it can. The school is active. Prayers for all impacted by the closure of Honda's Swindon plant are included on their weekly news sheet.

The neighborhood

Hilmarton is a village and civil parish in North Wiltshire, in the west of England. It is near Lyneham (near Swindon), which is home to a large RAF camp. Once it must have been an agricultural community. The Poynder Estate added a school, almshouses and cottages in the 19th century.

The cast

The service was led by a lay worship leader.

What was the name of the service?

All-Age Service.

How full was the building?

Twelve of us in the choir stalls.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. Everyone was very friendly.

Was your pew comfortable?


How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?


What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Good morning, everyone.’ We did reply.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Service sheet.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ, an opus of William Sweetland of Bath, thought to have been little altered since its installation in 1875.

Did anything distract you?

The Creed was a bit of a distraction from such a wealth of contemporary teaching. Also I kept trying to make connections when perhaps there weren't meant to be any.

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

Very friendly and informal, with everyone encouraged to ask questions and contribute. The worship leader treated it as a primary school lesson. She is a very good teacher, offering so much new material that I didn't take it all in. The teaching was scattered throughout, starting with questions after the first reading (Matthew 5:13-20 – ‘You are the salt of the earth’). Salt was the main theme, but other themes came first: ‘A selfie is about presenting a good image of yourself; the gospel is the opposite – it’s about living authentically.’ We were given a photocopy of French neo-expressionist Georges Seurat's most famous work, Un dimanche après-midi à l'île de la Grande Jatte (‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte’), which features the technique of painting known as pointillism. We were told that pointillism teaches that the small dot must not be ignored. Later there was an activity: an interesting and elaborate experiment using coloured water, oil, salt. and a jam jar. The Creed was in modern dress; the Lord's Prayer almost unmodernised. Finally, some petitions found a place.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

Impossible to say because the whole service was the sermon.

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

8 — The worship leader is an excellent teacher, at the opposite end of the teaching scale from preaching.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Salt. ‘Ye are the salt of the earth’ was the main theme. We were asked to think of some of the uses for salt. We ate crisps without, and then with, salt. Just as there are many uses for salt, so God can use us in many ways. We can be like salt (and also light) this week by (1) smiling at people; (2) being kind; (3) loving everyone; (4) thanking God and everyone.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The friendly atmosphere.

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

My total ignorance of chemistry. But actually, it turned out rather fun.

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

I was instantly invited to coffee.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Very good. Apologies for the lack of biscuits were not needed.

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

2 — I enjoyed it, but I want to see so many other churches.

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

Sad, but resigned, that the church has had its day.

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

Smile; be kind; love; thank.

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