St Dunstan, Woking (Exterior)

St Dunstan's, Woking, Surrey, England


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Mystery Worshipper: Addie Stephidelis, accompanied by Vinnie T. Inbeth-LeHem
Church: St Dunstan's
Location: Woking, Surrey, England
Date of visit: Saturday, 30 March 2013, 10:45am

The building

St Dunstan's is a modern building, completed in 2008. Architecturally inoffensive but interesting from the outside. Inside it is light and airy, all calm paint and pale wood. The building comprises a complex of offices and what may be a bookshop, and the church itself. The latter is in the shape of a quarter-circle, with the sanctuary at the apex. The altar is an attractive block of carved stone, and an icon of Christ crucified hangs over it.

The church

The Roman Catholic community in Woking has been around in one form or another for centuries, though until 1900 or so worshippers were obliged to travel to Sutton Green or Send to celebrate mass. Today, 62 nationalities are represented in the parish, with large Italian and Polish communities.

The neighborhood

Twenty-five minutes south of London by train, Woking is a typical commuter town, having largely grown up around the railway line from the mid-19 century onwards. Its ethnic and cultural diversity has long been a distinctive characteristic; the nation's first mosque was built in Woking in 1889.

The cast

The service was led by the Revd Canon Frank Harrington, assisted by three Polish parishioners whose names I couldn't find out.

What was the name of the service?

Swiecone. This is a traditional Polish service where the food that will be eaten at Easter is brought to church to be blessed.

How full was the building?

Standing room only! I would estimate that there were a good 250 people there, about 100 of whom were children.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

No, although there was a lot of awkward smiling as we all waited outside to be ushered in.

Was your pew comfortable?

It was pretty comfortable, though I suspect it might have become less so had there been a long sermon! Varnished pale wood, without cushions but with fold-down kneelers, in a gentle arc shape. They reminded me vaguely of old-fashioned tram seats, though I'm not entirely sure why.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Raucous! As mentioned above, there were a lot of children, most of them over-excited and possibly having already been at the chocolate, and a lot of other people meeting and greeting each other. It didn't feel irreverent, however; it was very joyful and everyone was glad to be there. The service started about five minutes late, but it didn't seem to matter.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

I'm afraid I don't know – it was in Polish, and wasn't dzień dobry (good morning), which is about as far as my knowledge goes. It's some consolation to know that the priest, Canon Frank, was in the same boat – after one of the Polish contingent had made the introduction, he said "Dzień dobry", then, for good measure, repeated "Good morning" in Gaelic.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

No books were used, though I did see somebody carrying a Pismo Święte (Holy Bible).

What musical instruments were played?

None – it was a very short service and there was no music of any sort.

Did anything distract you?

There was a child a couple of rows in front of us grasping a green-legged figurine, and I did get distracted wondering whether it was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (I'm pretty sure it was). Also, the furniture in the sanctuary was quite eclectic, and I was amused to note a jungle of office-style pot plants and a strategically-placed electrical socket.

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

I think family-friendly is the best way to describe it. As people came in, they placed their baskets of food on the sanctuary steps – all shapes and sizes these, but typically containing eggs (chocolate or otherwise), cake or sausage. The (bilingual) liturgy was very short and simple, consisting of some intercessory prayers read first in Polish and then in English, with brief responses from the congregation. At the end, the priest sprinkled holy water over the baskets and that was it.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

No sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

In these days when chocolate and cake are seen as sinful temptations, it's very refreshing to come together to thank God for the simple blessing of food, to be grateful for what we have rather than to feel guilty about enjoying it, so in that respect the whole thing felt like a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. And I did enjoy the sheer exuberance of the congregation.

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

One hopes that heaven will have no need for a sound system. The poor priest found his radio mic failed, and so was obliged to speak all his lines bent at an angle of 90 degrees over the lectern so that the stationary one would pick him up (tall priest, short lectern).

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

Not much. The congregation flowed to the front to collect the baskets, then out at the back. There was very much a sense that it was all over now, time to go home (to the extent that we completely missed out on the alleged coffee – see below). There were some people standing around in the lobby area, but they seemed to be waiting for friends rather than to be up for general chit-chat.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Reading the church's newsletter on the website, it appears that there was coffee, and that people were encouraged to bring cake. But we didn't catch on to that, so we just followed the flood of people out of the doors.

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

5 – "Regular" as in once a year on Easter Eve? Yes, absolutely, would love to. "Regular" as in every week? Well, apart from the whole not-being-a-Roman-Catholic thing, I don't feel that this service was representative of what it's like on a Sunday, so it's rather difficult to judge.

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

Very much so. It was a very joyful gathering.

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

The sheer mass of people and their array of Easter baskets.

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