St Paul's, Bedford (Exterior)

St Paul's, Bedford, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Paul's
Location: Bedford, England
Date of visit: Tuesday, 24 December 2013, 10:20pm

The building

Construction began in the 13th century, although only the south porch from the original building is visible today. Bits and pieces were added during the 15th century, and a major rebuilding and restoration took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is a large church, primarily in the Decorated and Perpendicular styles. Porches galore, misericords, chapel, rood, stained glass – it's all there. It is a beautiful church. The tower boasts a ring of 12 bells, cast at various times from 1744 onward. They were removed during World War II to guard against damage from bombing, and rehung after war's end.

The church

They are Anglo-Catholic in their churchmanship and support a number of local, national and international charities all enumerated on their website. Morning and evening prayer are said daily, with several weekday eucharists celebrated as well. There are a said and sung eucharist each Sunday plus an informal Sunday service twice each month.

The neighborhood

Bedford, in the east of England, was an agricultural and commercial centre during the Middle Ages, and after the Industrial Revolution became an important manufacturing town. John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim's Progress, was born in nearby Elstow and once preached in St Paul's. The late great comedian Ronnie Barker was born in Bedford. There is a river quite close to the church, and many homes and shops as well as schools. There are many cars and buses around the town.

The cast

The Revd Richard Hibbert and another priest identified only as "Father John", who I believe was a past vicar.

What was the name of the service?

Christmas Midnight Eucharist.

How full was the building?

The building was very full. People had come to worship from all over.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

As I came in, the person at the door gave me the paper with all the hymns and information about the service, and told me that there were Bibles where we sat. I was welcomed. Also when I sat down, several people chatted to me.

Was your pew comfortable?

Very comfortable, with a soft black cushion to kneel down on when necessary.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

We had the choir, all dressed in red, singing amazing hymns to us. It was lovely to see them and hear them. The vicar welcomed all the people and gave explanations about the service, and said there would be communion.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

When the procession arrived at the crib, the president said, "Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Common Praise and The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version.

What musical instruments were played?

Piano and organ.

Did anything distract you?

I worried about something I'd heard a while ago, that historically speaking, Jesus may not have been born on Christmas day!

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

We all stood and kept still as we sang many Christmas carols. St Paul's Anglo-Catholic leanings were very much in evidence: vestments, incense, ceremony.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

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

8 – The preacher spoke very well.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Jesus was born in a lowly stable, not in a fine home. Angels and shepherds attended. Mary and Joseph gave the boy a humble upbringing, and after 30 or so years he was executed and laid in a grave. Yet he is our Lord and King, our Saviour. The angels, the shepherds, Mary and Joseph – they all worked at getting Jesus to us. Today we celebrate his birth; in due course we will celebrate his death and resurrection. He is for us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

This service was excellent, the singing and the service and the communion. God is loving us!

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

The line from the Apostles' Creed: "He descended into hell." What must that have been like? Jesus came to save me and the others, yet I do not always behave as I should.

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

Many people smiled and chatted to me as we left. The minister smiled at me and shook my hand.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

We did not have tea or coffee – we all were going home.

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

8 – It was a really beautiful church and with very nice people there. If I were living there maybe I'd join.

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

I felt really pleased to be a Christian, having love from God, and I love God too.

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

I will remember that angels worked to get Jesus to us all.

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