St Michael & All Angels, Exeter, England


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Mystery Worshipper: Christopher Clown
Church: St Michael & All Angels
Location: Exeter, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 12 April 2009, 11:00am

The building

A traditional stone church in the early French Gothic style featuring the tallest spire in Exeter. An impressive worship site with lovely carvings. Begun in 1864 and consecrated in 1868, it was from its earliest beginnings a flagship of Tractarian principles in architecture and liturgy. The narrow aisles and unusually tall nave allow for an uninterrupted view of the altar. Carvings throughout the church feature naturalistic foliage sprays inhabited by real and mythical beasts. Numerous side chapels and shrines have been incorporated within the transepts.

The church

St Michael & All Angels is a bastion of Anglo-Catholic worship, not allowing, for example, women to distribute communion. They host a chapter of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament and sponsor a lecture series as well as a parish film group, youth group, and young adult group. Two masses are celebrated each Sunday, with solemn evensong and benediction one Sunday each month. Weekdays are full with morning prayer, mass, vespers and confessions on varying days.

The neighborhood

All of the city of Exeter is interesting! Exeter was the most southwesterly fortified Roman settlement in Britain and was besieged many times throughout the Saxon, medieval, Tudor and Stuart periods. It was an important agricultural and woolmaking centre during the early Industrial Revolution, but its fortunes declined after the advent of steam power in the 19th century. Heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe during World War II, many of Exeter's historic buildings were destroyed and later replaced by comparatively uninteresting structures. Some of the old buildings did survive, most notably the cathedral, guildhall and custom house, and today Exeter enjoys a brisk tourist trade. The city is well served by railways and motorways. Among many local curiosities is Parliament Street, said to be the narrowest street in the United Kingdom, so narrow that two people cannot easily pass abreast of each other.

The cast

The Revd John Hughes, curate, assisted by an army of acolytes and a wonderful choir. This was the curate's last service at this parish.

What was the name of the service?

Easter Morning Celebration.

How full was the building?

The church was less than half full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

We were met at the door by a greeter who handed us the worship book, the hymnal, and the service sheet. We were then directed to an empty pew.

Was your pew comfortable?

The church still has its original pews, which were apparently not designed for comfort.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?


What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Christ is risen, Alleluia!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A blue prayer book, green hymnal, and a printed order of service with the readings included. However, a different gospel was read during the service.

What musical instruments were played?

An organ, light bells, and the tower bell were used during the service.

Did anything distract you?

This was a very high worship service, with enough incense for five or six services. The incense continually drew my attention from the spoken word.

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

Very stiff-upper-lip. With the exception of the sermon, the entire service, including the reading of the gospel, was sung or chanted. However, the curate's voice was wonderful and he did a great job of chanting.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

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

8 – Since this was Father Hughes' last sermon at this church, it was a combination of sermon and good-bye.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

One must die in order to live. The seed must die in order to bloom. Trust in the Lord and do not fear the future.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The choir's anthem was lovely.

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

Incense and even more incense. All of the joy of the Easter celebration was lost in the formality and the incense. I perceived no sense of joy or exhilaration at the wonder of the risen Lord!

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

There was a good-bye gathering for Father Hughes, with coffee and wine and gifts and a very fond farewell. This congregation were clearly appreciative of their young curate.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

The coffee was hot and the wine was warm!

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

2 – All pomp and circumstance, no spirit or joy.

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

I always feel glad to be a Christian when communion is celebrated.

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

The staid mood was broken by a moment of levity as the sun shone through a stained glass window and reflected off the curate's nose, turning it a bright red!

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