Mystery Worshipper: Haveuheardthemessage
Church: St Giles
Location: Balderton, Nottinghamshire, England
Date of visit: Monday, 21 September 2009, 9:30am
A Romanesque church dating from the 12th century, enlarged in the 13th and 14th centuries, and restored in the 19th century. It is set up on a bank in the middle of a graveyard, where it stands out over the busy main road. There is a large spire at the west end with a peal of eight bells. Over the north end is a niche containing a figure thought to be of St Giles. It is very apparent that this traditional old building is much loved – it has been well maintained inside and out. The inside looks quite traditional – no sign of reordering. The rood screen dates from 1475. Everything from the flower displays to the lending library says that this is a church that the congregation cares for very much.
St Giles is the only Anglican Church serving Balderton. The bells are rung twice each Sunday and for weddings, memorial services and national celebrations. A men's group meets for prayer and discussion one Tuesday each month. There is also a Mothers Union, a Mums and Toddlers group, Sunday Club for children, and other social groups.
Balderton is a small village in the Newark and Sherwood district of Nottinghamshire. It's a strange old place, with many large and slightly rough council estates, but community spirit is strong. Turn the corner, though, and you'll find large detached houses. The area is very bi-polar in respect of its inhabitants.
The Revd Tony Tucker, vicar.
What was the name of the service?Parish Eucharist. Also in a nearby building there was being held "Messy Church," which is a Fresh Expressions activity where people can enjoy the experience of being part of the extended church family through a range of craft activities, storytelling, worship and simple homemade meals.
How full was the building?
Most of the pews had people sitting in them. There were probably about 70 or 80 people in all. Messy Church had about half that.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A cheery "Good morning" as I was handed my hymn book. As I tried to make myself comfortable in the pew, I had the pleasure of meeting Tyler, a young man of around two years old with a lovely smile. We had a nice conversation.
Was your pew comfortable?
Oh boy, my poor old bottom! I found it was a blessing to have an opportunity to kneel to give the cheeks a rest. There were cushions on the pews, but they were itchy.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There were a few people milling around, some women gossiping by the main entrance, but also quite a few people kneeling in prayer before the service started.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, folks! It's lovely to have you here this fine morning."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
We sang from Anglican Hymns Ancient and Modern. St Giles has their own parish eucharist booklet. The readings were included in the newsletter, which, I might add, was very well done and clearly printed. There were no pew Bibles.
What musical instruments were played?
A traditional pipe organ, well played.
Did anything distract you?
I had a cold draft blowing on my back, and had problems working out what hymns were next, as I couldn't see the hymn numbers. Two hymn boards were in place, one for the service and one for communion itself – I worked that out near the end!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was most definitely stiff upper lip: Stand upright, hold the hymn book stiffly to the front, try not to enjoy singing too much. You get the picture. I let my hair down and did a little arm raising and swaying, but I could feel the eyes burning from behind me! The choir were brilliant although small in number. They could be heard clearly, and I especially enjoyed hearing the deep men's voices.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The vicar had no notes, and even mentioned that he was not using any, and hoped that he would not go off on a tangent. The preaching was down to earth, easy to listen to, and with a subtle use of humour. It is clear that the man has had Church Army training, and he spoke with an evangelical heart.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Everything and nothing! He touched on many subjects, but it boiled down to living a Christian life, making ourselves attractive to non-Christians, giving people a reason to come to church, and not behaving as if we are better than others or trying to seek favoritism from God.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
St Giles is bordering on high church, so a bell was rung during the eucharist. It brought me out in goose bumps and gave me a real sense of why I was taking the bread and wine. I felt so relaxed and calm and spiritually uplifted during the communion service.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Because it was sung eucharist, I found myself lost with the tunes they were singing: Gloria, Agnus Dei, etc. Simon Cowell of Britain's Got Talent would have listed me in his bad books for my efforts at harmonising.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
It took a good five minutes for someone to approach me for a chat. But when they did, it was with the usual questions: "Are you visiting?" "Do you live near here?" etc. A few more people came forward after that to make polite conversation. I had already left the building when a lady invited me to a ladies' pamper evening. Well done her!
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was hot and wet and tasted of coffee – what can I say? It was served in standard issue blue cups and saucers. The biscuit selection was a bit naff, although there was a hint of chocolate chip on the plate.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I'd seriously consider it but would like to see more use of modern worship songs. I'd also like to send my children over to Messy Church.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
My new best friend Tyler.