St Mary's, Fishponds, Bristol, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Mary's
Location: Fishponds, Bristol, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 1 March 2020, 10:00am

The building

An attractive traditional style church within its own pleasant churchyard. Consecrated 31 August 1821. Originally a chapel of ease to Stapleton Parish, Gloucestershire, and called Trinity Chapel, it was established as a parish by Queen Victoria in 1869 and its name was changed. Renovations and additional construction took place throughout the latter part of the 19th century and well into the 20th; these are well described on the church’s website.

The church

They seem to be an active parish, with the Church Yard Gang (quoting from their website) ‘strimming, hacking and tidying’ to make the churchyard a pleasant place to linger in or pass through. There is a Living After Loss group as well as a pastoral care group. Twice each month, their Saturday Lunch program gives people (again quoting from their website) ‘the opportunity to pop in for prayer, warmth, rest, contemplation or conversation … [while enjoying] soup, sandwiches, biscuits and cake as well as a variety of drinks.’ They are a member of the East Bristol Partnership, and the services at St Mary's are led by many different ministers, clergy and lay. There is sung eucharist and traditional evensong each Sunday, plus Music for Toddlers on Tuesdays and holy communion on Thursdays.

The neighborhood

Fishponds, situated in the north-east of the City and County of Bristol, is a popular local suburb with a variety of amenities: shops, public houses and restaurants.

The cast

The service was led by the parish priest.

What was the name of the service?

Sung Eucharist in Modern Language.

How full was the building?

Up to half full: approximately 40-plus worshippers.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes – welcomed, handed a service sheet, told where to find the hymn book.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pew was comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Some quiet conversation. Outside, a single bell was ringing. Inside, ‘churchy’ organ music was played – and well. Overall, a friendly atmosphere.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Good morning, St Mary's. It's the first Sunday in Lent, and the colour purple is significant.’ The congregation responded with a pleasant communal type greeting. The priest then paid a tribute to an organist associated with the church who had died a few days ago, followed by prayer for the family. Her remarks were made with sincerity; the congregation nodded with agreement.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A booklet containing the ‘Eucharist in Lent’ section of Common Worship; the New English Hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?

The organ, an opus of the WG Vowles Organ Manufactory of Bristol, dating from 1871. It was overhauled in 1938, and cleaned and revoiced subsequent to that. It is currently overdue for what their website calls ‘a major, and very expensive, overhaul’ and an appeal is underway. Even so, it was played throughout the service to a high standard.

Did anything distract you?

Nothing distracting. A small child play area at the back of the church was in use, but noise was minimal.

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

The service was traditional and well led. The robed choir were impressive in their singing, and sounded well balanced: A crucifer led the processional and recessional. A good illustration of traditional worship gave an atmosphere appropriate to the eucharist and the season. The musical setting, well led by the choir, was the Malcolm Archer Lincoln Communion Setting.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

16 minutes.

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

9 — The parish priest had a clear and concise conversational style of delivery. She used no notes.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

How did the Bible readings make you feel? How are they related? Why do you think they were written? Just who is God, after all? Why have Creator and created relationships become ruptured? Lent is important in our reflecting on our relationship with God. God is good!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I found it to be a spiritual act of worship. The sermon was biblically rooted, and with the sun streaming through the windows and the flowers outside, I think the service took on a very special aura. A pensive tone was created right from the beginning. On this occasion, at least, there was a sense of appropriate reflection.

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

I personally would like a shorter exchange of peace, but believe I am out of step with most in this!

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

I spoke briefly to the organist. Others nodded, smiled and said hello. On leaving, I was spotted by the priest, who made a point of greeting me as someone new.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Refreshments were provided,

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

9 — Visitors are very likely to make a return visit.

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


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

The sermon and the sun shining through the windows.

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