Community of St Clare, St Mary's Convent, Freeland, Oxfordshire, England


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Mystery Worshipper: Amy
Church: Community of St Clare
Location: St Mary's Convent, Freeland, Oxfordshire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 4 November 2012, 8:30am

The building

The community acquired the premises, formerly a home for retired governesses, in 1952, and a chapel was added in 1960. There is a guest house, workrooms, and a lovely garden. In the chapel the floors are all stone, and the wall is mainly white, with blue on the upper parts. Wooden statues of Jesus on the cross, Mary carrying baby Jesus, and two Franciscans saints are positioned at various spots. There are also wooden lecterns where the daily office is read.

The church

This is a contemplative community. Among their works are a bakery where altar breads of various sizes and compositions are made for sale to churches, and a print shop that turns out Christmas cards. They take great comfort in their garden, where a number of cats live contentedly. On designated "drop-in days" anyone is welcome to stop at the guest house for a time of quiet contemplation. Beverages are available, but guests are encouraged to bring their own lunch. Guests are invited to attend noonday holy communion in the chapel.

The neighborhood

Freeland is a village with no shops and about 1500 people living there. They have a primary school and plenty of places to walk under trees – beautiful trees. Lots of grass, and there are many sheep, horses, cows, hens, dogs, and deer. There is a Methodist church as well as an Anglican church both near the Franciscans' home.

The cast

A priest identified only as the Revd Anne, who came to take the service.

What was the name of the service?

Daily Eucharist

How full was the building?

About half full, 22 people, all sitting in a circle around the communion table.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Many smiled to me as a welcome.

Was your pew comfortable?

There were wooden individual seats, comfortable ones, coloured grey, with wool on them.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

People were looking up the hymn numbers. No one was chatting. The table for communion was being set up with its bread and wine and order of service for the leader.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Praise God!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?

We were given Hymns Old and New, Anglican and Celtic Psalms but no Bibles.

What musical instruments were played?

The organ was played excellently by Sister Mary, one of the Franciscans. The organ was at the front.

Did anything distract you?

It was raining outside and I felt upset about that, going home!

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

A quiet service except for the singing. Everyone sang well and none too quiet. Many people also bowed down to God often.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

No sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

It was the kind of service that inspires one to remember God's love for us. We were reminded that we all are "in God".

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

The contemplative nature of the service brought to mind the suffering of Jesus and that he died because of our badness. I felt sad that he had suffered so badly when he was put to death.

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

People smiled as we took our hymn books back to the exit. All left except for the Franciscans. We heard music coming from another local church.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

No tea or coffee there.

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

7 – This is the kind of place where one can always go to have silence when on holiday. But we can worship God every day, all the time.

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

I felt glad to be among Christians who were praying and singing about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and how God loves and cares for us.

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

The love God has for us.

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