Mystery Worshipper: Traveller
Church: Holy Cross
Location: Crediton, Devon, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 27 June 2010, 9:30am
This mouthful of a title: The Collegiate Church of the Holy Cross and the Mother of Him who Hung Thereon (the locals just call it "Holy Cross"), shows that it was a collegiate church in antiquity, which explains the strange arrangement of the central tower with the east end almost as long as the west. The present building is largely perpendicular in style, dating from the 15th century, although there are much earlier elements in parts of the building. The red hue of the building comes from the local stone, which is repeated in the red soil of the area. The interior is spacious and well-lit, as most of the windows at ground and clerestory level are of clear glass.
The Church of England in Devon last year celebrated 1,100 years of the county having its own diocese, this being carved out of the earlier, massive see of Sherborne. The current diocese of Exeter, however, is the newcomer. The original Bishop Eadulf in 909 sited his cathedral in Crediton and the see remained here for nearly 150 years until Bishop Leofric (also Lord Chancellor of England) petitioned the Pope and the King in 1046 to remove the see to Exeter, just eight miles away. Life was not quiet in those 950 years, what with various plagues and famines, even if the Civil War mostly passed by the town. The collegiate foundation was changed in 1547 to an unusual charter from Edward IV (still current) granting 12 governors all rights to the church and grammar school, and related charters from the bishop and cathedral chapter in Exeter relinquishing all claims to the goods of the church.
Crediton is now a pleasant sleepy rural market town a few miles to the north of Exeter, with a main street populated with independent shops, rather than branches of big chains that give so many towns a look-alike feel.
The Revd Catherine Carlyon was the celebrant, and the Revd Sue Martin preached.
What was the name of the service?Sung Eucharist.
How full was the building?
About 120 in the congregation. It felt comfortably full for a Sunday service, with most pews occupied, although more bodies could easily have been fitted in. The church now uses a nave altar, with the choir positioned behind this and the choir stalls positioned under the tower, so the east end was unused.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The happy bustle of people just inside the door included a couple of stewards with armsful of packages of hymn books, service leaflets, news sheets and readings. We received a big smile and a cheery "Good morning" with the proffered package.
Was your pew comfortable?
The standard wooden pew was spacious and comfortable enough for the period of the service. The ledge in front was, like so many of its sort, too narrow to hold a hymnbook and related paperwork securely.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Happy and relaxed on that warm summer's morning. People were gently moving around and chatting, without intruding on anyone who wished to contemplate the coming devotions. The church boasts an impressive ring of bells (augmented to 12 in 2007) in the squat central tower, and these were completing their call to prayer when we arrived and could be clearly heard inside the church.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to Holy Cross."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The parish has produced a booklet with their words for conducting a Common Worship sung eucharist, which also has the music (melody line) of the setting of the service. (This is a great idea and big advantage for musical visitors like ourselves; the church gets a huge numbers of brownie points for this.) The New English Hymnal was used for the hymns, a weekly news sheet for the notices, and a commercially produced sheet with collect, readings and psalm for the day.
What musical instruments were played?
A three-manual Harrison & Harrison organ, originally built in 1921 and fully restored in 2001, supported the music throughout. The organ loft occupies the north transept, so the console sits behind the choir, cantoris side.
Did anything distract you?
We did not know the arrangement of the church when we arrived and tried to find a discreet part to sit where we could see and hear, but not be obtrusive. We chose a pew close to the font, which turned out to be the position of the crèche. Their (mostly) happy noise was the most distracting thing about the service. (Do not think of this as a criticism! I think kids belong in church and well remember the effort to keep my own children reasonably quiet there.)
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Middle-of-the-road Anglican. No bells, no smells, no genuflection, but robes and ceremonial enough to set the time apart as a devotional offering. Notable in the entry procession was the choir, clad in red cassocks and white surplices, as they seemed to carry on processing for a long time and I wondered how they managed to fit all 34 in the choir stalls.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The preacher spoke clearly (and the church has a good PA system to help), using notes but not reading everything. Her voice was well modulated to bring life and interest to her message.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Forgiveness and reconciliation. The preacher began with personal experience of a forgiveness and reconciliation meeting in Africa but related this to current affairs world-wide. The gospel for the day (Luke 9:51-56) has Jesus and his disciples having a run-in with the Samaritans as they were heading for Jerusalem. James and John want to call down fire from heaven, a very human attitude. This tribalism still survives today and still needs to be rebuked where it harms relationships (with England playing Germany in the World Cup later in the day). Unhealed relationships mean that we look back and brood on the past rather than looking forward.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choral music (yes, I am a singer, so that is no surprise). Here is a parish church in a sleepy rural market town that manages to produce and support a director of music, an assistant organist, an organ scholar, a choral scholar, and a choir of around 40. They sang "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace" by Herbert Sumsion as a gradual anthem and "Set me as a seal upon thine heart" by William Walton as a communion motet. Neither of these pieces is easy, but they were performed very creditably. During the service, one young lady was presented with her latest award from the Royal School of Church Music training scheme, so music is firmly embedded in the life of the church.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The Young People's Sunday Club meets in the church centre during the morning worship and joins for the administration of the Sacrament. After this is finished, the children explain to the main congregation (via the celebrant) what they have been up to and vice versa. This (in my opinion) was not this celebrant's forte. Some priests are natural communicators with children and get them to explain what they have been doing whilst maximising the "Awww!" factor. Others are not and tend to generate hugely confused and tongue-tied children.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The people in the pew in front turned around to chat, as they had spotted us as visitors. They were friendly and interesting (one of them being one of those 12 church governors) and made us welcome without suffocating us in greetings. We had a good look around this ancient church before we left and chatted to several people from the congregation, who all made us feel welcome.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Instant coffee or tea made to order from a boiler on a table in the north side aisle, served in proper cups and saucers. Very welcome on a hot day.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – A very familiar format with a very welcoming congregation and wonderful music, with enough points of difference to other places I have worshipped at to make one think afresh.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, this is the Church of England as I believe it should be: ancient and traditional, doing what it has done for centuries, yet relevant and modern; thoughtful and careful, yet joyous without being exhibitionist.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The light interior of the church on a wonderful summer's day.