St Peter and St Mary, Fishbourne, West Sussex, England

St Peter & St Mary, Fishbourne, West Sussex, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Peter & St Mary
Location: Fishbourne, West Sussex, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 7 June 2009, 9:30am

The building

An old building recently refurbished and newly decorated. Very light and airy inside. Old fashioned pews without cushions. Some stained glass. Small font near the main door. The oldest part is the nave from the 13th century, and the latest a 20th century extension, which I was told has caused some later problems. Major work had been done thanks to a legacy from a parishioner.

The church

They have three eucharists plus evensong each Sunday, and either morning prayer or eucharist during the week. They also hold junior church at Fishbourne School, and sponsor Lazer Club and YOOF for teenagers.

The neighborhood

Fishbourne is a small village very close to Chichester, known as the location of a major Roman archaeological site accidentally uncovered by workmen when a water main was being laid. The church is a bit apart from the village and sits in a well tended churchyard.

The cast

The Revd Clive Ashley, vicar.

What was the name of the service?

Parish Eucharist and Baptism

How full was the building?

Mostly full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I was greeted by more people here than at most other churches I have visited. There was a friendly interrogation about where I had come from and was I going to make Fishbourne my regular church. The congregation were an extremely friendly bunch.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes , but I think this was due to the fact that I found the service so engaging that my mind at no point wandered to the comfort of my posterior.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Warm, lots of subdued conversation and people greeting each other. People arrived well ahead of the service time.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Common Worship, Order One; Hymns Old and New; a weekly leaflet which had the readings and special prayers for Trinity Sunday. There was also at the pew end a copy of The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version.

What musical instruments were played?


Did anything distract you?

I had such a good time at this service, I can say the only distracting thing was the smell of paint, but I soon became accustomed to it.

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

Quite middle of the road. The standard worship was used. The priest wore a chasuble, but there was no incense. The bell was rung during the eucharistic prayer, which was Eucharistic Prayer E. The worship was sung to a setting by Richard Shepherd. The baptismal candidate was the daughter of a church member who will be ordained later this month and then move on to his first parish as curate, and so it was a very personally moving occasion for the vicar.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

13 minutes.

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

9 – Father Clive apologised for forgetting the banns book so that the banns could not be read this week. He radiated a warmth to his congregation. His delivery was quiet and measured. He had a clear voice. We also had "Thoughts to take away" from his sermon in the weekly news sheet.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The vicar spoke on the day's readings, Isaiah 6:1-8 (Isaiah's vision of unworthiness before the Lord) and John 3:1-17 (believers who are born again will have eternal life). It is impossible to define the Holy Trinity in words alone. The Trinity is not about words but persons. Nothing can teach us about God, he has to be met. Isaiah tells us about his meeting with God and something about the nature, wonder and majesty of God. Jesus then teaches us a more homely and personal way of approaching God by calling him Father – but we must never lose the majesty of God. It is proper to kneel before him. None of us is perfect, but God has still chosen us serve him. Baptism celebrates a new life, and it is a privilege to take part.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The wonderful welcome, the thoughtful sermon, the baptism.

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

The high altar was very tight, and after receiving communion I was almost knocked over by another communicant.

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

There is no church hall, and so refreshments were served in the church after the service. We were all invited for coffee, and the newly baptised's mum had also made some cake. I was again chatted to enthusiastically. I didn't leave until almost an hour after the service ended!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Coffee, piping hot and very tasty, in polystyrene cups. There was a fair trade sign.

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

10 – I was moved during this service in a way I haven't been for a long time. What a friendly bunch!

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

Absolutely. Father Clive and his congregation show how fantastic it is to be a Christian.

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

The warmth and friendliness of the welcome I received and the Christian glow I had when I left, and still have as I write this report.

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