Mystery Worshipper: Cherokee
Church: St George's
Location: Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 25 February 2007, 9:30am
A large, imposing building set on a hillside. The interior is wide, with a main aisle and two side aisles. Its most distinguishing feature is a beautiful mural in pastel shades by local artist Oliver Heywood covering the whole of the back wall. The mural features Christ at its centre, with various aspects of life in Nailsworth featured in smaller pictures radiating from the centre.
The congregation prays for a different part of the town each week. At the time of my visit, a service was scheduled to be held in a local pub in the near future. It being Lent, there were ecumenical study groups meeting each week.
Nailsworth is a small market town nestled in the range of hills known as the Cotswolds, in the desirable middle class area of the country referred to as the Royal Triangle. Once a bustling mill town and the site of a brewery of some note, Nailsworth today is a sleepy, tranquil spot popular with hikers in summer months. Recently the small town centre has been reinvigorated and boasts numerous restaurants, cafes and shops.
The Revd Stephen Earley preached and led the service. The prayers were said by a member of the congregation.
What was the name of the service?Family Communion.
How full was the building?
About a quarter full, about 50 people and lots of empty spaces. The congregation were almost exclusively elderly ladies, with very few children in evidence – it being half term, many may have been on holiday.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Two ladies handing out literature both said hello. Later, some ladies in the pew in front turned round and asked if we were visiting, where we were from, etc.
Was your pew comfortable?
No, it wasn't! It was hard and had no runner on it to cushion it even a little! However, there was plenty of space to kneel down.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was conversation, but in a large church with relatively few people I didn't feel it was intrusive and I could pray without feeling disturbed by noise. There was a lot of activity at the altar, lighting candles and general scuttling about, which I feel could have disturbed anyone wanting to sit and meditate.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Old and New, a booklet containing every version of the communion service, a leaflet specifically for the day with the readings and collect, a printout of the Ten Commandments, a leaflet with the music for the sung responses, and the parish news sheet. Phew!
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
I was trying to work out what the animals were on the stained glass windows behind the altar. Some were hard to identify even from close quarters when I went up for communion.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was very traditional, with sung responses.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – For content plus delivery. The content raises the score. Had I only been scoring delivery, it wouldn't have scored so high. The vicar was friendly and accessible in his approach but he wasn't particularly dynamic.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Lent is a time for austerity but not misery, and for preparation. In today's gospel we learn of Jesus needing a guide in the wilderness, and that of course was God. Jesus faced the same problems there as we face in our lives, temptation in particular. We must confront this, stand up for the truth, and have the courage of our convictions as Christians. Jesus must always be our guide through the moral maze. The Holy Spirit is what ultimately saves us.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Walking back down the aisle after taking communion and seeing the sun coming through to shine right on Jesus in the middle of the mural at the back of the church.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It was difficult to navigate one's way through the service booklet, and we were not always told which pages to refer to.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We were greeted by the vicar as we left and had a chat with him. We were invited to go for coffee, where several people came and chatted to us. People were very friendly and interested in us.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Good, hot instant coffee in proper cups and saucers, with biscuits. I'm told the tea was equally good.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – The worship was staid and fairly undynamic. Whilst I don't like happy clappy, I am happier with a more upbeat style than I found here. I do acknowledge, though, that this is perhaps what a lot of older people prefer.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not particularly. I feel that my soul needs more reviving than it got on this occasion!
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The sun shining on the mural as I walked back to my pew. I felt as if God had done it especially for me.