All Saints, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, England

All Saints, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, England


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Mystery Worshipper: Kingsfold
Church: All Saints
Location: Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 29 April 2007, 9:15am

The building

All Saints dates from the mid-13th century and is in the early English style. Its 190 foot spire is visible as one approaches the town from any direction. A fire in 1985 destroyed the organ, a ring of ten bells, most of the nave and chancel roofs, and caused serious structural damage to the tower, spire, and the vestry areas. However, if you didn’t know this you would never guess it, as the church has been lovingly restored to its former glory. Some of the woodwork has been replaced, some repaired, and some of the angels in the roof which were turned to charcoal by the fire have been rescued by coating them in resin and then repainting (and they look wonderful). The bells have also been replaced with a bigger ring (now 12 bells, 13 with the sharp second) which can be heard for miles around. There is also a very striking reredos by the Victorian architect Bodley, and stained glass by Kempe.

The church

It seems to be an active community. They run a coffee shop and sponsor several ministries and groups, including parent/toddler groups, a holiday club, bereavement visitors, a healing group, youth groups, etc. The church is part of the Ouzel Valley team ministry. And they have the good taste to include a link to Ship of Fools on their website!

The neighborhood

Leighton Buzzard is a traditional market town with a very attractive town centre that features a market cross and a wonderful old fire station. In recent times the town has expanded quite dramatically, with lots of housing and industrial areas and one of the most confusing sets of road junctions I think I’ve come across. The adjoining town of Linslade rather merges into Leighton Buzzard, which might account for the confusion. I’m told that the canal is the boundary between the two, but I've heard the area referred to as Leighton Linslade, so I’m not entirely sure what is where! Suffice it to say that these days Leighton Buzzard is quite a big small town.

The cast

The Revd Grant Fellows, team rector, was the celebrant. The Revd Dr Paul Andrews, team vicar, preached.

What was the name of the service?

Sung Eucharist

How full was the building?

Well, I thought it was pretty full with around 90 people there, but one of the gentlemen who spoke to me afterwards said there was a confirmation scheduled for that evening, at which they were expecting a larger crowd.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

As I arrived, it felt intimidating to see that the main door to the church was shut (to keep the heat in). However, as I gently pushed it, the door was opened for me, and someone smiled, wished me a good morning, and handed me my books.

Was your pew comfortable?

As pews go, it wasn’t too bad. I managed to get one to myself so that I could keep notes, hopefully out of sight of those across the aisle from me, but found the note-taking a little difficult as my paper was either too low down (when on the pew) or too high (when on a kneeler). But I suppose they probably weren’t designed for covert note-taking!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The organist was improvising on something I recognised (but can’t remember), and the congregation were mostly fairly quiet. There was some chatter, but it was subdued and not at all intrusive.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"A very good morning and welcome to All Saints."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

There was a home produced order of service, and we used Hymns Old and New. According to the notice sheet, the readings were from the revised Common Lectionary.

What musical instruments were played?

Just the organ.

Did anything distract you?

The organ case looked like it was being held up in mid-air by a set of wings! At communion, the congregation knelt at the north and south ends of the altar and the elements were distributed by two teams of eucharistic ministers. But from a distance it appeared as though the two teams were playing ring-a-roses around the altar and going round and round in circles. They tried to move symmetrically, but sometimes one team would get a little ahead of the other, and the second team had to run to catch up. It looked rather comical. But when I got closer, I could see that the rail of communicants was emptying and refilling as the teams moved across from one side to the other, and it all worked very smoothly.

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

It was unstuffy, unpretentious bells and smells, if that makes sense. We had a good choir, several servers and a formal liturgy, but all was done in such a way that it just flowed and seemed natural, not pompous or ritualistic. The children were out at Sunday school for the first part of the service but returned at the offertory.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

13 minutes.

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

8 – The vicar spoke in a clear voice and delivered a scholarly sermon, yet highly accessible.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The readings for today all have something of an ovine feel, being about sheep, lambs and shepherds. If we think of God as the shepherd and Jesus as the sacrificial lamb, then we have God sacrificing God. The Shepherd becomes the Lamb who becomes the Shepherd again. This element of sacrifice is there for us in the Gospel, but here it is we who are the sheep who are given eternal life. However, although the Father and the Son (Shepherd and Lamb) are one, we are rather more like the diversity of a real-life flock ¬ black, white and all the shades in between. The Pharisees couldn’t cope with Jesus coming for all the sheep, and that put them outside his flock. There is a lesson here for the Anglican Communion as it struggles to determine who is "in" and who is "out." We should hold to our commonality in Christ, and not make judgments about who should or shouldn’t be "in."

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The appointed psalm was the 23rd, sung to a simple chant setting. Beautiful! We had also sung "The king of love my Shepherd is" earlier. The vicar commented briefly on the exceedingly apt choice of hymns, and added: "Never pass up an opportunity not to do Crimond." A man after my own heart! (Crimond is one of the traditional hymn tunes to which the 23rd psalm is often done.)

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

For me, the prayers of intercession moved too fast. It felt like there was no pause at all, anywhere, to take in what was being said and to add our own prayers if we felt so moved. I felt we were asking God to "hear our prayer" without really knowing what we were praying for.

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

I sat and listened to the organ for a bit. As I stood up to go on a coffee hunt, a gentleman came over and asked if I was a visitor. It turned out that he was involved with the fabric of the church, so we had quite a lengthy conversation about the fire and subsequent restoration, and he pointed out a number of features that I should take a look at (I did). After we parted, a lady pointed me in the right direction for the coffee hour. As I stood sipping my coffee, another gentleman engaged me in conversation. They were welcoming without being over the top. I also was able to exchange a few words with the vicar.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Coffee and tea came in polystyrene cups with plastic holders. The parish is listed on the diocesan website as being a fairtrade parish, so I assume they were honouring their commitment. There were also some biscuits, and I think I caught a glimpse of some cake (looked possibly as though it might have been home-made) in a far corner. But that’s an unconfirmed sighting.

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

10 – A good choir, bells and smells and unstuffy liturgy, welcoming congregants. I love my own congregation, but I may return again on another free Sunday.

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

Oh yes, it was good to have been there.

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

Hmmm… the ring-a roses round the altar or the gorgeous psalm. Or both.

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