Mystery Worshipper: Girl in Train
Church: St Benedict's
Location: Horning, Norfolk, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 25 October 2015, 11:00am
Once a part of St Benet's (Benedict's) Abbey, the only abbey in England not to be suppressed by Henry VIII. The vicar is still the prior of St Benet's Abbey, although only the gatehouse, traces of building foundations and fishponds remain. One approaches the present church, dating from 1220, through a lych-gate and then follows the path to the south porch. (The north aisle was demolished in 1749 and its materials sold to finance badly needed repairs to the rest of the church.) But it's a charming rural church nonetheless, consisting of a nave with centre and south aisles, a side chapel, chancel with choir stalls, and steps and railing in front of the altar. All the pews have bench ends featuring interesting carvings, each one different. The east window is relatively new, dating from 1874.
They have holy communion only on the first and second Sundays of the month. The benefice service is held on the third Sunday, and they have morning prayer every fourth Sunday.
Horning is a picturesque village on the east coast of England and a popular tourist destination. There are many waterside properties, pubs, shops, restaurants and tea-rooms, as well as thatched-roof cottages. The church is some distance from the village about 35 minutes' walk. (Note to self: never believe Google Maps on walking times again!) Don't let the walk put you off, though, as it's a nice stroll when you aren't running.
Barbara McGoun, lay preacher.
What was the name of the service?Special Service for Harvest Festival.
How full was the building?
About a third full. It was a small congregation. I suspect, given the extent to which I was mobbed by friendly people, that I was the only visitor they'd had in a while.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
This was the first sign of how friendly the church was. I was welcomed by fellow churchgoers walking up to the building, and by several people when I arrived. This included the lay preacher, who seemed genuinely interested to find out about me.
Was your pew comfortable?
Pretty average wooden pew experience, but some kind person had put a cushion on the end of each row, which I thought was a really nice touch.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Some low-level chatting.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"A warm welcome, everyone, to our Harvest Festival service."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There was a special service leaflet. The hymn book was called Common Praise, a new version of Hymns Ancient and Modern. This book sadly contains a few modernised words, which I always find frustrating, as you end up singing the old ones once you start concentrating on the worship rather than reading the words carefully.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, with small SATB choir.
Did anything distract you?
Something that sounded like flapping. I think it was a butterfly caught by one of the high windows in the nave.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Village church Anglican. Hymns and some choir pieces. A bit of Taizé. The prayers focussed on sustainable and thoughtful use of our food resources, and the perils of demanding cheap food. We also had a collection for the local food bank.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The lay preacher's talk was clear, friendly, and thoughtful.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
You reap what you sow. A reference to the BBC Radio 4 programme Gardeners' Question Time (pointing out how strange it would be if someone complained that they had planted green beans and had actually got green beans, not French beans) led into a discussion about how our ungodly lifestyle choices will have unpleasant consequences for us.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
There was a terrific sense of Christian community. If things went a bit off script, no one seemed to mind. In fact, there were even a few giggles. There was also a sense of responsibility to the wider community. I also really liked the addition of a secular poem as one the readings: Ted Hughes' "Harvest Moon."
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It was a shame that there weren't more younger people and/or families there. I was, I think, the youngest person by quite a bit, and that's not really saying a lot these days. And although it was great to see a wheat sheaf at the altar, and some fruit and vegetables included in the (rather lovely) decorations, I always think it's a bit of a missed opportunity in rural areas when there are tins at the altar rather than lots of local produce.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No chance of looking lost. Many people came up to say hello the second the organ stopped playing. If I lived in the village, I could see that I would be made extremely welcome. I even got offered a lift back to my B&B.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No coffee provided. But I did get offered pears from someone's garden.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – In many ways, I could quite happily make this a regular church, especially given the wonderful sense of community. In fact, I will certainly make a point of going again next time I'm staying in the area. Having said that, I do value having at least some fellow congregation members at about my age and life-stage.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. Especially the sense of community and welcome.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The strong sense of Christian community. But the thing that really made my day/week/year was someone asking me if I was a student. As no one has asked me that for quite a while now, I will have warm fuzzy feelings about the place for some time to come.