Mystery Worshipper: Sesquialtera
Church: All Saints
Location: Pavement, York, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 1 February 2009, 6:30pm
A fine medieval church in the centre of York, All Saints acts as haven of calm in the midst of a busy city. As with so many churches in a similar position, it has been reduced in size over the years to allow for street widening, etc. The splendid lantern tower, for which this church is well known, was built to house a lamp to guide travellers through the forest of Galtres, to the north of the city. The lantern still shines at night, but now as a war memorial. Aside from the tower, the church consists of a nave, aisles and clerestory, which is rather unusual in York. It has an attractive blue ceiling, which brightens up what might otherwise be a slightly sombre interior. The pulpit, from which John Wesley once preached during a visit to York, dates from 1634.
Being in the central business district of the city, there are very few, if any, houses near the church. Of course, this results in a smaller congregation than might be found in a residential area. However, it is also the guild church of the city, as well as the regimental church of the Royal Dragoon Guards, and so there are many associated special services held at the church. The crests of the city's guilds are fixed to the ends of the pews in the nave.
The church is opposite a branch of Lakeland Bank and other high street chains. It is essentially an ecclesiastical traffic island, with a great deal of passing vehicles. There is a mix of old and newish buildings, as in the average medieval city. Most of the old buildings have been taken over by chain stores. There is very little greenery. A little bit of grass covers the ground at one end of the church, but only for a few metres.
The person leading the service was not announced, but I later picked up that he was a retired gentleman called Tony.
What was the name of the service?Evensong
How full was the building?
There were nine in the congregation, including those who had served as sidespeople, and nine in the choir! It was not a pleasant night to be turning out, so hats off to those who did!
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was greeted by a sidesperson upon entering the church, who said hello and presented me with the two books and an order of service that explained the location of items in the books for the benefit of those not familiar with proceedings. He smiled and I found him amiable and welcoming. When I sat down, a lady greeted me, who turned out to be a member of the choir.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a standard pew that gave me no discomfort. The pews were made a little easier on the posterior with the provision of strips of carpet.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I arrived a good 10 minutes before kickoff, and initially there were very few people there, and the majority had jobs to be doing in preparation for the service. With five minutes to go, the organist played a voluntary. The title of the piece was listed on a notice in the church porch. This touch was the first sign that this church is serious about its music, which impressed me, being an organist myself. The organ music set the tone for the service, and made for a suitably reflective and prayerful atmosphere.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to our service this evening the first hymn is 773."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The books used were The New English Hymnal and The 1662 Book of Common Prayer. They were the actual little red books, as opposed to a transcription of the text in Common Worship, or similar. This added to the quaint and cosy feel of it all, at least for me. Also provided was a piece of paper that listed the page numbers of the psalms, etc.
What musical instruments were played?
The three-manual organ was played well, and there was a robed choir that appeared very well rehearsed. It was a tremendous asset to the worship, and as a church musician it hearted me greatly to see an enthusiastic body of singers taking part in a church that didn't have a huge congregation. Also, it was a cold winter's night and snow was falling. For nine singers triumphantly to turn out for presumably the second time during the day to sing for as many people was very encouraging. I do hope this choral tradition continues to be maintained.
Did anything distract you?
Being in the city centre, emergency vehicles passed more than once, shining their blue lights through the windows. I raised this after the service and they all said they didn't notice such things anymore! As with every time I attend worship in a new church for the first time, I couldn't help but sit absorbing all the details of the building, even though I'd popped in to look round many times before. I found the crests on the ends of the pews particularly engaging, and as ever, I found myself watching the organist playing and directing the choir, sometimes simultaneously!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was formal and very traditional Church of England. However, everyone seemed to be fairly happy. It felt cosy and warm, like cocoa at the end of the day. 1662 Prayer Book is the standard issue at All Saints.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Tony spoke clearly and in a style that was appropriate to the calm nature of the service, without being uninteresting. It was all rather concise though! Still, I think he managed to hit the spot suitably.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He made references to the readings, and briefly explained them all. He then spoke of how we would soon be into Lent, and how the church's year was unfolding. This led him onto the notion of looking to the future, and a brief mentioning of the difficult times faced by the church, with shortages of clergy etc, and how the city centre churches were having to respond to this and be more united.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The warmth of the church compared to the bitter chill outside, and the musical provision. The choir made a potentially uninspiring service into something that I would be glad to make an effort to attend in future. Also, the refreshments at the end were plentiful and enjoyable, and the friendliness of those present made for a happy evening.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Some of the congregation members were singing different notes from what the choir were singing, which made following along a bit of a challenge! Also, the sound of free-range youths getting warmed up for a night on the town pervaded at intervals. Still, I would hardly hold this against the church!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was immediately invited to remain behind for coffee by a member of the congregation, then by Tony, and then by various others. They managed to make me feel most welcome, without making me feel overly conspicuous, which put me at ease and compelled me to spend time in their company. I ended up staying and chatting for a little while to some very nice people. The organist offered me a go on the instrument, but unfortunately I didn't have time. I said that I'd return another time, which I think I will.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was instant granules out of a jar, served in a cup with a saucer instant but agreeable. Tea was also available. The biscuits deserve a special mention they were chocolate and about 2cm thick! There were also chocolate fingers on offer. Whether or not this is the standard offering in the biscuit line, I'm not sure, but the refreshments certainly got my vote on this occasion.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I loved the service, and would gladly attend on a regular basis were it not for my organly commitments elsewhere. However, while I like the 1662 service of evensong, I'm not sure a liturgical diet of pure 1662 worship would suit me. Nevertheless, I will return when I next have chance.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. The musical provision, and dedication shown by those participating in its delivery, was largely what made this service for me.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The choir the delightful sound they made and their heartwarming effect on such a snowy winter's evening.