St Peter-at-Gowts with St Andrews, Lincoln, England

St Peter-at-Gowts, Lincoln, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Peter-at-Gowts
Location: Lincoln, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 12 September 2010, 9:30am

The building

This lovely little church is cursed with a rather unflattering name. "Gowts" are confluences of sewage drains which then flow, or "go out", to a nearby river. It is very difficult to get a good look at the building, as it's on a very busy road. If I had stepped back to look at it, I would have been strawberry jam. But the church seems to be very old, judging from a sepulchral arch bearing the name of a benefactor who died in 1347, and from baptismal records dating from 1540. We do know that the building was restored and enlarged in 1853. There is an impressive Norman tower, probably from the original structure, bearing a carving of St Peter holding the keys. Inside there are some beautiful painted panels in the roof. Victorian I would think. I noticed a votive candle stand and a couple of statues of Mary.

The church

From their website: "Our aim is to be available for people whether in the occasional need...coupled with a desire to make worship both dignified and fun." It is an inner city church, and as such the congregation come from many other places than parish.

The neighborhood

The Romans built a retirement home of sorts for army veterans here and called it Lindum Colonia. The name was later Anglicized to Lincoln. A thriving center of commerce, Lincoln became one of the wealthiest towns in England during medieval times. The cloth and wool trade flourished here, and even Robin Hood was said to have favoured outfits of "Lincoln green." But post-medieval times saw Lincoln's fortunes decline, to pick up again during the Industrial Revolution. Today's Lincoln is popular with tourists seeking out the city's numerous historic buildings. St Peters-at-Gowts is on a very long street, surrounded by smaller shops. I think Lincoln City Football Club is nearby. Also what seems like rows and rows of terraced houses with front doors straight onto the street.

The cast

The Revd Jeremy Cullimore presided, and the Revd Julie Hart preached. Mary Rose served, read the gospel, led the intercessions and administered the chalice.

What was the name of the service?

Sung Eucharist

How full was the building?

Comfortably full – around 35 in the congregation.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

From the minute I stepped in from the road, everyone was very welcoming. Some people asked where I was from.

Was your pew comfortable?

It seemed OK. I like hard pews – good for the soul! I sat near the front so I could watch the action.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quietish. Sadly, not a child in sight. Just quiet friendly talk.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Hello and welcome."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The New English Hymnal (rather old-fashioned, I thought) and New Hymns of Worship. And a service booklet, which was clear and in good size print.

What musical instruments were played?


Did anything distract you?

The priest seemed a little flustered as there appeared to be something wrong with the floorboards in the choir vestry. I suspect they may be rotting. Also, the woman behind me sang the alto part to the hymns and I tended to follow her rather than sing the melody. During the Apostles Creed, the priest asked a choir member to go fetch the marriage registry, but then he forgot to read out the banns. Finally, I found the queue for communion puzzling, as there was no one to guide a stranger. At length I pieced out that the right side went up first, then the left.

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

A tiny bit "up candle" – payers for Mary, gong, but sadly no smells. Most of the service was sung. And forgive me if I'm getting this wrong, but I believe I heard the priest addressed as Reverend Father!

Exactly how long was the sermon?

7 minutes.

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

9 – This was Mrs Hart's first time in this church. She didn't read her sermon. It was simple, informative, just beautiful. It contained historical, biblical and modern examples. Her manner was serene, and she had a wonderful smile. It brought a tear to my eye. Thank you, Mrs Hart! You have a new groupie!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Her text was Luke 15:1-10 (the parable of the ninety and nine). Lost and found. She described a young adopted man's emotions when he became a father for the first time. The newborn child was the first person with some of his genes whom he had ever touched. Lost, then found.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The sermon and some of the sung responses. And the priest smiled as he ministered communion.

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

Two things. First, at the exchange of peace, I turned to greet the woman behind me. "I don't do that!" she snapped. "This isn't a cattle market!" (But the same woman was friendly later over coffee.) And second, why did Mary Rose have to serve, read, intercede, and minister the chalice all by herself? Surely there must be some others who would be interested in becoming an acolyte, lector or eucharistic minister. Mrs Rose performed her duties well, but I kept wondering what else they were going to make her do.

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

People invited me straight to coffee. I did say hello to the priests, but they had to go to their next service, so they were unable to come to coffee. This is a shame, as they miss out on a valuable part of their ministry.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

A well known commercial brand of coffee, served in cup and saucer. There were also biscuits on offer. Chairs were pulled up for conversation, and even the cattle market lady made some pleasantries.

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

7 – This is my style of church, and I also appreciated the fact that social opportunities are available. I would have liked to have seen at least one child, though.

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

The welcome and the spiritualness did, but the cattle market lady's remark at the peace was simply horrid!

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

The serene nature of Mrs Hart and her sermon, and how Mrs Rose had to "do it all."

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