A small and simple 13th to 14th century church, flint-faced on the outside, with no tower. It is rectangular inside, quite long and narrow, and light and airy. There is no rood screen so it feels open-plan. In the nave there is a small organ, oldish pews and a polished wooden floor. The chancel is filled with 1920s choir stalls. There is some stained glass. The building is set in a churchyard with many trees. In the porch there is an old set of stocks on which is written "Fear God and honour the King" and a whipping post. Did they use these on badly-behaved children in the past?
The church is part of the benefice of Framlingham with Saxtead. There is a service every Sunday morning, usually a eucharist at 11.15am, and occasional other services such as evensong and memorial services. Other activities include quiz nights and coffee mornings. There are also concerts: the choir stalls are going to be removed soon to allow concerts and community events to be held more easily.
Saxtead has a population of around 370. There is a large village green and a restored windmill, one of many built in Suffolk since the 13th century. The church is just off the busy A1120 road but set back in a tranquil oasis at the end of an avenue of trees - a lovely peaceful setting, some way away from the rest of the village. Unfortunately, the first sign you see as you enter the churchyard is a warning about crime.
Celebrant: the Revd Mary Lamb, assistant curate. Preacher: the Revd Michael Stedman.
What was the name of the service?Eucharist (Book of Common Prayer).
How full was the building?
Sparse eight in the congregation, two clergy officiating, and the rector was playing the organ. Somehow it didn't seem empty, though, because it is such a compact building. I quite liked it.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. Someone handed me the books as I came in and said, "Good morning. I haven't seen you before. Are you on holiday?" This was a bit unnerving.
Was your pew comfortable?
Not particularly. There wasn't enough leg room for me and it was quite shallow. No cushions.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and peaceful.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Locally-produced leaflet of the Book of Common Prayer service, which was easy to read, and The New English Hymnal (from which we sang two hymns). Also, New Hymns and Worship Songs was given out, which we didn't use after all.
What musical instruments were played?
Small pipe organ.
Did anything distract you?
Looking around the building and wondering how they were going to adapt it for community events. Plaster needing attention. Unusually, the windows were low and you could look outside, but I wasn't distracted by that. The Decalogue panels and other decorations were too far away to read.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
If you were looking for a traditional Book of Common Prayer service, you wouldn't be disappointed. It followed the pattern faithfully and I felt a vague friendliness, perhaps because of using the service leaflet instead of small print prayer books. The singing was quiet and it appeared that the second hymn wasn't known well by the congregation.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – A retired priest who clearly had had lots of practice, and was competent and thoughtful.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Healing and restoration. His text was Luke 8 (Jesus casts demons out of a man and into a herd of swine). The Revd Michael Stedman talked about a deaf-mute character called Looney Joe in Flora Thompson's childhood memoir of rural England, Lark Rise to Candleford. He compared him to the demon-possessed man. Since the 19th century, our treatment of schizophrenia has changed dramatically. It was much different 2000 years ago. When the man saw Jesus, he was in pain and begged: "Don't torture me." Pain is often a part of healing, like going to the dentist. There was a price for this restoration to the community, just as we pay for the National Health Service. Jesus told the man to give glory to God, not to himself, and gave him a commission. There is always pain and a price to pay for healing and restoration. You also see that in Gethsemane: Jesus was in pain. Finally, the preacher quoted from The Meaning in the Miracles by Jeffrey John.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The general atmosphere was very peaceful and rural. Time almost had stood still for a few centuries.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The uncomfortable pews and the feeble singing.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Not much initially, but I talked to a lady about their plans for reordering the building. Apparently, they have concerts in there and want to make it more suitable.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – I'd have to be thoroughly committed to the parish church, and happy with the same Book of Common Prayer format every week (though they do have evensong sometimes).
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
On the whole, yes.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?