St Mark's, The Lord Mayor's Chapel, Bristol, England

St Mark's, The Lord Mayor's Chapel, Bristol, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Mark's
Location: The Lord Mayor's Chapel, Bristol, England
Date of visit: Friday, 25 December 2009, 11:00am

The building

St Mark's is well described on this website. From the door entry, we come down the stairs to the seats and pews, which are comfortable. There are also old pews for the choir. There are historic battalion flags and ancient carvings. The ceiling is flat and full of wonderful gold attachments. It has very ancient beautiful coloured glass windows, from varying European countries. There are two small chapels, one light with very old windows and one dark with two stone bodies. There is a new modern painting above the altar, with Jesus on the crucifix surrounded by shining gold. Lovely Christmas decorations were red and white flowers, and there were six candles beside the altar and six high up candles on the edge of each pew – at least 200 candles altogether!

The church

This is the only municipally-owned church in the country and is the official place of worship of the Lord Mayor and Corporation of Bristol. It is open to the public from Wednesday through Sunday and attracts worshippers from a wide area.

The neighborhood

It is just opposite the Bristol Council building, with grass across the road. Also in view is the Bristol Cathedral. Bristol University is up the hill from St Mark's.

The cast

The Revd Prebendary Harold Clarke, chaplain to the Lord Mayor. Prebendary Clarke wore a traditional white hooded alb, girdle, and a white stole with gold embroidery at the ends.

What was the name of the service?

Festal Eucharist for Christmas Day

How full was the building?

Mostly full, about 50 people, including one baby. The Lord Mayor was apparently worshipping elsewhere that day.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

The verger welcomed me with a smile. As I had arrived early, he took me round the building to show me its beauty and history. Another person who was handing out booklets also smiled and welcomed me, as did the young woman I sat next to.

Was your pew comfortable?

It was a comfortable, old, traditional pew, divided into individual seats.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

It was generally quiet as people arrived and sat down. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the beauty of the building. Some people arrived late, but they were quiet too.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

Prebendary Clarke stood behind the altar to light the Christmas candle as he said: "With confidence of faith we light this candle of completion." The candle was then carried in procession as we sang "O come all ye faithful," the verger leading the procession. Two men walked with the prebendary, one in a white alb and the other in red and black (as were the choir).

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A specially prepared booklet.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ. There was a choir of eight singers, excellent singers, dressed in red robes with black hoods. Three gold ducks, the symbol of the church, were embroidered on the robes.

Did anything distract you?

The gold ceiling, the beautiful ancient windows, and the flowers round the candles – I kept looking at them.

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

A blend of the traditional and the modern. I believe the service followed Common Worship. We all sang four traditional carols. The choir sang the Kyrie, the Lord's Prayer and the Agnus Dei, plus Psalm 98 and a motet entitled "Cradle Song." We shook hands at the exchange of peace – no walking about, no hugs or kisses. Prebendary Clarke invited us to communion with the words, "Welcome to the rail for bread and wine or blessing."

Exactly how long was the sermon?

8 minutes.

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

9 – Prebendary Clarke spoke clearly and it was very easy to hear exactly what he was saying.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He told a story about a clergyman who had renovated an old church building just in time for Christmas. But before he could hold his Christmas service, a storm arose and flooding damaged the walls and the communion table. What to do? He found a shop that was still open and bought a second-hand tablecloth to use on the communion table. The cloth was old but lovely – embroidered with a gold cross, green stitching, and the letters "BCL." On the way back to church he met an old woman who had missed her bus and had no way to get home. He brought her into the church and saw to it that she was warm and safe. As the clergyman unfolded the tablecloth, the old woman recognised the letters "BCL" as her initials – the tablecloth had been hers! She had taken it with her as she fled from Germany just as World War II broke out. Later the clergyman saw the woman safely home. The next day, a gentleman in the congregation recognised the tablecloth as one that had belonged to his wife. They had become separated as they fled Germany and never saw each other again. And so the clergyman took the gentleman to the old woman's apartment, where a happy reunion ensued. The clergyman, Prebendary Clarke said, is an example of someone following God. Thanks be to God.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Wonderful singing, seeing gold shining behind the crucifixion scene, seeing the gold above us and the beautiful flowers all around.

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

I saw someone in the congregation who was drawing! Why not paying attention to the service?

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

As I hung around, I was greeted again, smiled at, and shown the ancient little stairs near the door.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Nothing at all – I do not know if they ever have any.

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

8 – I would definitely experiment in traditional Anglican worship again. I see they have a "Said Matins" coming up – I have never before attended that.

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

Yes – I appreciated being given love and care and also that we should do that, as exampled by God.

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

The prebendary's white robe and the beauty of the building.

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