St Alphege, Whitstable, England

St Alphege, Whitstable, England


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Mystery Worshipper: Intentional Discipleship
Church: St Alphege
Location: Whitstable, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 26 July 2009, 9:30am

The building

The outside is very good to look at but rather plain: symmetrical with a wide but low tower holding a ring of eight bells. The west façade is of squared ragstone blocks, but the rest of the building is of stock brick. The inside is just as handsome – wide and bright, with fantastic stained glass windows and intricate ceiling beams. The pews are numbered although pew rents were never charged.

The church

I could really sense a very loving and friendly atmosphere! The Friends of St Alphege sponsor a number of social events to raise money for the church. Several youth groups meet regularly. There are two celebrations of holy communion each Sunday, plus evensong on the first Sunday of each month. Holy communion is also celebrated on Wednesdays.

The neighborhood

Whitstable is a popular seaside town in northeast Kent, about five miles north of Canterbury. Since Roman times the area has been known for its oysters. Each July the town's oyster festival, an eclectic and entertaining mix of outdoor and indoor events, draws visitors from all over.

The cast

The Revd Rachael Webbly, team vicar, led the service. The Revd Guy Lawrence, a visiting priest, gave the sermon.

What was the name of the service?

Morning Family Communion Service

How full was the building?

About half to three-quarters full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Two very nice ladies welcomed me whilst handing me the service sheets and books. A very friendly welcome indeed.

Was your pew comfortable?

They seemed to be the original pews, fairly uncomfortable. The backs seemed tall enough only for little old ladies. I was leaning forward for most of the service.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

People chatting, enjoyable to sit in. I did see a person I recognised and said hello.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Hello and welcome to our worship here this morning at St Alphege Whitstable."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Holy Communion Order One – Common Worship; Complete Anglican Hymns Old and New.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ and choir. Then, throughout communion, a rather pleasant guitar. The choir sang beautifully; I enjoyed it very much.

Did anything distract you?

A few kids running about the pews, the slamming of a few doors every now and again (but what you expect at a family service). Also, a microphone screeched at one point but was dealt with immediately. The vicar dropped something during communion, completely accidental but a little funny.

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

Typical traditional Anglican worship. I like to call it "fluid stiff-upper-lip." Not too traditional, but not "free with the spirit."

Exactly how long was the sermon?

19 minutes.

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

6 – The preacher was very easy to listen to; well spoken. There were a few jokes every now and again, but I couldn't always understand his link with what he was saying and the readings. He is the vice-chairman of the Guild of Healing and came to preach with an agenda regarding healing, I believe.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Christ gives us peace of mind during this "pressure cooker" climate of the world. How long, high, wide and deep is Gods love. It heals the mind, body and spirit. God ignores man-made differences (such as tradition) and uses us all, Baptist, Anglican, Catholic, etc., to do his will.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I have to say that the best parts of the service were the beautiful harmonies made by the choir. Both the singers and the musical director should be congratulated and encouraged.

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

A rather long silence in between the first hymn and the welcome, as if they didnt really know what to do next. Also, no one guided me to communion; I just joined the queue in confusion. And I accidentally sat in the wrong pew after communion – quite embarrassing! Oh, and we didnt have wine at communion due to the risk of swine flu! I understand that it is still communion with just the bread, but why couldn't we have wine in small individual glasses whilst praying for deliverance and protection from illness?

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

I did get talking to some friendly people. I also spoke to someone I knew. People were very welcoming!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I asked for a glass of water, and was served some cold water in a proper glass.

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

7 – A good service for the traditional Anglican.

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

The whole communion wine issue made me think that we were maybe under the impression God will not protect us. However, on the whole I enjoyed being there!

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

The random sound of a guitar playing, when I expected an organ – very pleasant change! And the choir! Amazing! Oh, and the swine flu issue!

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