St Paul’s, Charlestown, Cornwall, England

St Paul's, Charlestown, Cornwall, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Paul's
Location: Charlestown, Cornwall, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 28 June 2009, 9:30am

The building

This Victorian stone church dates from 1851 and stands in spacious grounds surrounded by gravestones, It was only completed in 1971 with the addition of a fibreglass spire and a ring of six light bells. The treble bell is called Noel because it was donated by Noel Coward. The beautiful interior consists of a wide nave with three aisles leading to a rather elaborate chancel and sanctuary. The high altar bears a cross in the middle of six tall candles. There is a backdrop of three tall slim stained glass windows crowned by a small rose window. A rood screen is positioned at the entrance to the sanctuary, and it is surmounted by a large crucifix with the figures of the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene looking at Our Lord. In front of the rood screen is a communion table complete with smaller cross and candles. To the left is a small Lady chapel. An unusual feature of this church is the location of the organ and choir stalls at the west end.

The church

Church of England, under the pastoral care of the Bishop of Ebbsfleet. The church is affiliated to Forward in Faith, an international Anglican organization that opposes the ordination of women to the clergy and episcopate. It celebrates two masses on a Sunday and has a morning mass every day except Friday. There is evening prayer every Sunday evening, with a monthly evensong and benediction, and holy rosary every Thursday. The evangelism group and the bell ringers meet regularly and there is an active social calendar of events. Preparations were being made for a car boot sale and a flower festival.

The neighborhood

Charlestown is a harbour village in the outskirts of St Austell, which is situated on the south coast of Cornwall. Originally a fishing village, it grew in size to cope with the exportation of china clay, tin and copper ores from the St Austell area in the 18th century. Charlestown is named after the entrepreneur Charles Rashleigh, who planned much of it. The church lies in a quiet residential area not far from the harbour, which still acts as a small working port. Nearby is a museum called the Shipwreck and Heritage Centre and a pub named The Rashleigh Arms.

The cast

The celebrant and preacher was the parish priest, the Revd John Greatbatch, SSC.

What was the name of the service?

Parish Mass.

How full was the building?

It was reasonably full and I would say there were about 80 in the smartly dressed mainly elderly congregation. Ladies outnumbered gentlemen in about the ratio 3:1. There were a few supervised toddlers who played reasonably quietly at the back of the church.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Several people greeted us in the car park. A lady steward greeted us with "Good morning" as she handed us various books and sheets, and several more people in the church also greeted us.

Was your pew comfortable?

The original pews had been replaced with comfortable cushioned chairs, but the hassocks were quite thin and, when kneeling, I was much nearer to the floor than I usually am.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The organ was being played quietly. There were some whispered conversations but overall there was a quiet reverential air of expectation.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

Father John welcomed us from the lectern before reading out some notices about future events. After a procession of choir and clergy he chanted an opening prayer and announced the hymn to be sung, to which there was a grand procession all around the church. Then the actual service began with the words: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The New English Hymnal, service booklet (Common Worship Order 1), pew sheet, and another sheet from Forward in Faith entitled "Forward!".

What musical instruments were played?

A very fine organ originally made by the Cornish organ builder Hele and Company of Saltash, now renovated and maintained by another Cornish firm, Lance Foy of Truro. It had a rather warm and mellow tone and was expertly played.

Did anything distract you?

When visiting a new church you usually follow the resident congregation in kneeling, standing or sitting. So quite early on in the service, at the Kyrie, where I would normally kneel, I was rather perturbed to see everyone else standing, kneeling or sitting in roughly the same proportion! There was no specific direction in the service booklet so I found this quite disconcerting. Even when there was specific direction they all did their own thing! Very strange, I thought! The style of the service was very similar to that of my own church at home, so I followed their example and did my own thing kneeling and standing as I was used to doing.

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

This was a glorious Anglo-Catholic service, rather like watching an excellent performance at Covent Garden. The robed choir processed in, led by their chief chorister, who was holding a cross. Then the altar party, led by the thurifer, crucifer and taperers wearing albs with red girdles and collars, processed down the aisle. Father John wore a biretta and a red chasuble over his surplice. The front altar was censed before the servers took up their position behind the rood screen. The Gloria was sung facing eastward, and the collect was chanted, although the gospel was said rather than chanted. Bells were rung and gongs sounded at appropriate times, and there was much crossing, bowing, genuflecting and censing.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

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

8 – Father John spoke very clearly, using prepared notes.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Peter and Paul are important for the two distinctive directions of their ministry. Peter had known the earthly Jesus, and concentrated his ministry of spreading the good news of the risen Jesus Christ amongst the Jews, those whom God had originally called. The risen and ascended Jesus Christ spoke to Saul, a persecutor of Christians, on the road to Damascus, and this conversion brought about a change in name and belief. As Paul, he travelled amongst the gentiles in his epic journeys around the Mediterranean, spreading the word of the risen and ascended Jesus Christ, and established many new churches. Peter and Paul both ended their lives in Rome, where the church of Christ was finally to take root. Peter's foundation stone was laid there and he became the leader of the church, as Jesus had told him he would. It is through the apostles that we have the apostolic succession - not only of popes following Peter, but also of deacons, priests and bishops called by God. In honour of these two great apostles it has been traditional to ordain men as deacons and priests at this time. Please pray for those men who will be ordained during this season.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I was in heaven for most of the service but I particularly enjoyed singing the Angelus at the end. Father John gave a very good rendition of it.

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

There were some hiccups! When we sat for the second reading we waited for what seemed to be an age for the lector to come forward. Finally Father John read it himself, finishing by pulling a face at people at the back of the church. Also some of the melodies were unfamiliar to me. I didn't know the tune for the Gloria or the creed; indeed the singing of the creed seemed to grind to a halt at one point.

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

Lots of people chatted to us and asked if we were on holiday in the area. We chatted to the organist and Father John. When I mentioned to Father John that I didn't know the tune to the creed, he laughed and replied that neither did they!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was a choice of tea or coffee and a selection of biscuits.

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

10 – I would definitely worship here if I lived in the area. Unfortunately my home is 370 miles away.

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

It made me feel very contented and happy to be a Christian.

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

The singing of the Angelus.

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