Mystery Worshipper: Isla White
Church: St Peter & St Paul
Location: Buckingham, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 22 November 2015, 11:00am
Debased Gothic style building, consecrated in 1780 and extensively renovated in 1866, although the tower and spire are the originals. Today the building is extremely well updated so that the modern toilets and kitchen do not detract from the beautiful interior.
On the day of my visit, a pool had been hired in for believers' baptism by immersion to be held in the evening.
St Peter and St Paul's Church is part of a group of six churches and parishes that make up the Buckingham benefice. There is a very wide age range and many activities on offer (see their website for details), from soup services to Hebrew, Latin and Greek courses. There is a traditional plus a contemporary service each Sunday, plus an informal evening service. There is also a Prayer Book service that rotates among the benefice. Midweek communion is held on Wednesdays.
Buckingham is a small market town with a most interesting legend attached to it. As the Anglo-Saxon king of Northumbria and his wife were travelling to visit her father, the king of Mercia, in 662, she went into labour and gave birth to an infant who could speak from the first moment. He declared he was a Christian and wanted to be baptised. Named Rumbold or Rumwold, he preached a sermon on the following day and on the third day announced he was about to die and dictated where his body should be buried. His final tomb was in the former parish church which fell down in 1776. Rumbold's Well, from which the water for his baptism is said to have been drawn, has been excavated and attracts the tourist trade (although it is now dry for most of the year). A portrait of the saint kept at Boxley Abbey, Kent, was said to be so light that children could lift it, but so heavy that no adult could. (It was later discovered to be held in place by pins that could be removed at will.) The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Diocese of Great Britain and Ireland, has written a dedicated service to the Holy Infant Rumwold (Little Vespers, Great Vespers, Matins and the Liturgy), complete with its own chanting tones, for his commemoration on 3 November.
John Hamilton led up to the peace. The Revd Will Pearson-Gee, rector, preached and presided at the eucharist.
What was the name of the service?Parish Communion with JAMmers (never found out what JAMmers meant)
How full was the building?
Pretty full, which was impressive since this was the second service of the morning and loads of people were chatting before leaving as we arrived.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were handed two hymnbooks, a service booklet, the weekly bulletin and a flyer on entering. Loads of people greeted us, including those leaving. A woman sat in the row in front of us after we sat down. She immediately turned round asking if we were new, since she had only been attending for three months.
Was your pew comfortable?
Padded wooden chairs linked together. Comfortable to sit on, but a bit close considering it was the first frost of the winter and people were wearing bulky coats.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of chatting, which eventually died down until there was near silence before the service started.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Please stand for our first hymn: Rejoice, the Lord is King.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The New English Hymnal, Mission Praise, An Order for the Celebration of the Lords Supper, the weekly bulletin, which included todays collect. Not sure if Bibles were available for those who asked, but the exact reference of the reading was not announced.
What musical instruments were played?
Electronic organ. It was announced that the real organ, just refurbished, would be returning during the week.
Did anything distract you?
Trying to follow what was happening by juggling all the bits of papers and books. Hymn numbers were displayed on a board with a colour code to indicate which book.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Traditional with slightly modern sung settings of things like the Gloria.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The rector created an evocative and memorable picture by pointing out that, just as Peters betrayal had occurred whilst standing by a fire, so Jesus arranged that Peters restitution took place next to a fire.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Last in a series of "God of the Broken." Failures leave scars that can affect the rest of our lives. How does God feel when we betray everything we believe in and make a mockery of him? When Jesus rose again, Peter must have been dreading meeting him. But Jesus didnt ask Peter if he was sorry, or to promise he would never do it again. Jesus asked Peter, Do you love me? It is easy to want to do things for God, but what he wants is our love. We must confront our sin to repair the relationship.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Seeing the child choristers hurrying back into the service (presumably returning from Sunday school) with the sleeves of their surplices billowing like angels wings. One little fellow clambered up onto the hassock that had been placed on his seat to make him taller.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Suddenly realising in the middle of a hymn that the offering was approaching, having to squat down to search through my handbag, then discovering it was a plate and everyone else had used envelopes, so our offering was clearly visible.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Loads of people came and chatted, and the minister specifically came over to talk to us. When we said we intended to look for somewhere to eat, a couple invited us to join them for lunch. Their kitchen was being renovated and they had planned to try a local pub.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Real fair trade coffee in disposable cups plus good quality biscuits.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – Friendly congregation, reverential service and good preaching.
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 youngest chorister clambering up onto the hassock.