St Mary, Brighstone

St Mary's, Brighstone, Isle of Wight


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Mystery Worshipper: The Yam Yam
Church: St Mary's
Location: Brighstone, Isle of Wight
Date of visit: Sunday, 25 September 2011, 10:45am

The building

A modest village church (like many in the area), medieval but evidently much rebuilt after a fire in the 1860s. It is a comfy, light and well-looked after building re-ordered relatively recently. I thought the arcade looked 15th century. The chancel north windows were a noble row of four 13th century lancets. The walls were largely exposed rubble. Several windows were reticulated in the style of c.1300. Unusual for the Isle of Wight, so probably from the 1860s repairs.

The church

St Mary's is part of a team ministry of five village churches in the south of the Isle of Wight. Rather than a relay of similar services, the churches hold services at the same time, alternating among them. The parishes have just appointed a new priest in charge, following an 18-month interregnum after the last priest sadly died in office. The church runs home groups, has a children's choir, and helps with the island's food bank.

The neighborhood

The Isle of Wight, being separated from the mainland, feels somewhat behind the times. This attracts people who like that pace of life, helping it to remain anchored some years back. There's not a great deal of work around, so it's not a place for go-getters. The north of the island is more well-to do and built up. Cowes Week is a famous sailing regatta. The south of the island is surprisingly unspoilt.

The cast

Sorry, I didnt find out the name of the gentleman who led the service and preached (it wasn't on the service sheet). He was a retired teacher. I'm not sure if he was ordained or not, visiting in the interregnum, or a member of the congregation.

What was the name of the service?

Morning Worship.

How full was the building?

Around 50 present, enough to make a small church feel well-occupied, and without everyone retreating to the back.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

We arrived rather late. A lady got up, greeted us, and gave us our books. She directed Mrs Yam and the Yamlet to the ladies, and, when they returned, took them and the Yamaletto to the children's group (which was in a school building over the road). We were well looked after in the circumstances of our hopeless tardiness.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes. Padded chair.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

We missed this. Before the main service a half-hour children's service is held.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

Sorry, missed it.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Mission Praise and The Holy Bible, New International Version.

What musical instruments were played?


Did anything distract you?

I managed to concentrate on the service pretty well and the congregation were reverential and attentive. I expect our arrival was the biggest distraction. Once settled in, I let my eyes wander around the church architecture. Someone was upset at the end of the service, but was comforted by those around her.

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

Lowish church. The service was not liturgical in the sense of following set prayers, acclamations, etc., but retained some of the overall structure of a liturgical Anglican service. For instance, there was a reading from the Old Testament as well as the standard epistle and gospel. There was a collect, a psalm, intercessions, and a final blessing. Longish sermon. The songs were modern and heartily sung. Some raised hands. I'm sure it would be too low for some and not low enough for others. I thought it struck a good balance. Perhaps communion services have more liturgy.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

26 minutes.

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

7 – A couple of times he said, "I'm going to say three things" but I'm not sure he ever got to the third. However, he had a good rapport with the congregation and unpacked the scripture well.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Gospel reading (Matthew 21:23-32 – the parable of the two sons in the vineyard). Two sons were asked by their father to work in the vineyard. One said yes but didn't go; the other said no but changed his mind and went. It was the second son who did the father's will. The parable challenges us to recognise God's authority and to do his will. It is the repentant (changed) heart that is pleasing to God.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The church clearly makes an effort with children. It had a very healthy number of children, around 20, ranging in ages from 3 to 15 (the Yamaletto is only a year old so he doesn't count, although he was a diverting toy for the bigger children). However . . .

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

. . . Mrs Yam was with the Yamlet and the Yamaletto in the children's group. Such a wide range makes it difficult to engage everyone. It might benefit the young people to see if they could split the age groups.

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

One of the churchwardens chatted to me for a while. The other Yams had gone out for an ice-cream after the children's group had let out, but I did not know this. I wandered around distractedly yet aimlessly, looking silly. Notwithstanding this, several people said hello.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

It was available but I didn't have any.

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

7 – It had a nice feel and was friendly and welcoming, even though we were late and I darted around looking silly at the end. We live on the mainland and were only here on holiday.

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

Yes. I believe that God is asking me to do something specific, so the sermon spoke very directly to me. Turning up in a church miles from home and being thus challenged felt like another prod from God. Yeowch!

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

Being challenged by the gospel reading and sermon.

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