St John the Baptist, Trowbridge (Exterior)

St John the Baptist, Trowbridge, Wiltshire, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St John the Baptist
Location: Trowbridge, Wiltshire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 22 June 2014, 10:30am

The building

Dating from 1875 and opened on 27 June 1876, the church has been extended in recent times by lengthening the chancel and adding two low transeptal extensions to the north and south. The old east wall was rebuilt, and the modern extensions also have the former side windows of the chancel. The church retains its reredos, replete with statues of four saints, although the altar itself has been re-ordered forward of its original position into a carpeted sanctuary.

The church

The parish also includes St Bernadette's, Westbury. They have a parent, babe and toddler group and sponsor an annual pilgrimage to Lourdes.

The neighborhood

Trowbridge is the county town of Wiltshire. It was once at the heart of the woollen trade, gaining it the sobriquet for a while of "Manchester of the West." It subsequently was home to a pork processing factory (Bowyers) and a brewery (Ushers) but has suffered decline over the last 15 years or so since their closure. There are some fine buildings and there has been much rejuvenation, but there is a general feeling from other parts of Wiltshire that it is a town to pass through. It apparently has one of the largest Moroccan communities outside of London. St John's stands on Wingfield Road not far from the station and a couple of minutes walk out of the centre of town.

The cast

From the picture on the parishs website, I deduce the celebrant was the Revd Canon Liam O’Driscoll, pastor.

What was the name of the service?

Parish Mass.

How full was the building?

About three-quarters full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I confess I was a moment late in arriving - the entrance hymn had just started. A friendly chap smiled and handed me a hymn book and leaflet, but it was not the time for idle chat.

Was your pew comfortable?

Not a pew to be eyed in the main body of the nave – I assume the original furnishings were banished during the re-ordering and the extending of the church. I was sat on a padded chair with ingenious folding kneeler attached the chair in front. It was great for giving room for feet when seated but awful when kneeling, as there was a danger one would (as I did) dislodge the kneeler under one's own seat.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

I did not arrive in time to have a chat with God prior to mass and soak up the atmosphere. Unlike at many churches, there were very few latecomers, so I can only presume they were all there in plenty of time to pray. They certainly didn't stay to do so at the end of mass (more below)!

What were the exact opening words of the service?

The singing of the hymn "O praise ye the Lord"; then: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Celebrational Hymnal for Everyone (with supplement revised) and a weekly pew leaflet (with texts of the lections).

What musical instruments were played?

A piano (which I assume was digital and amplified - I couldn't see) played very competently and at just the right volume and tempo to keep it all moving along. There were one or two good singers who led the music. There was also an electric organ that remained silent.

Did anything distract you?

I was distracted by the absence of a paschal candle by the font (or elsewhere); it emerged from the sacristy after mass while the place was prepared for a baptism. Why it wasn't left out, I can only speculate. And the altar seemed a very long way off.

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

It was a solemn Catholic mass (i.e. with singing and incense) but very indistinct, as the elderly priest rather mumbled his way through the liturgy (see below).

Exactly how long was the sermon?

8 minutes.

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

4 – I simply couldn't understand the priest much of the time – and must remember my ear trumpet on the next occasion, though I fear it would have made precious little difference in this circumstance owing to his mumbling with a heavy Irish accent.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

I did catch a "Thank you for help with the Corpus Christi procession" (which had inexplicably been held the previous Sunday on Pentecost).

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Seeing a Catholic church so full and vibrant for a Sunday morning mass – there was certainly a buzz about the place.

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

I found the way the church had been redecorated rather strange and off-putting. I thought the carpeting fought with the special character of a church. It also made the altar feel very remote from the people. And why did the new extensions have to be furnished with what appear to be mismatched cast-offs from other churches? It gave the place a look of an ecclesiastical junk shop!

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

There was a mass exodus for the door at the end of mass during the recessional hymn. The sanctuary party had not even moved from their places when there was a general gathering of bags, half-hearted attempts at genuflection, and a surge to the exit. I wondered if I had missed a fire alarm sounding, as the departure was urgent but not frantic. I stayed in the church for five minutes after the service, but there were few souls left.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

After-service coffee was announced but no indication of where it was to take place or how to get there. The priest gave me a warm but indecipherable greeting (recognising I was a newcomer) but his gaze almost instantaneously then alighted on a parishioner, and so I extricated my hand from his handshake and fled for the hills.

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

7 – Strangely, despite the clutter in the extensions, the absences in the main body of the church and the ghastly and unrelenting carpet, I quite liked the mass and would worship here regularly without too much of a penance.

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

Always glad to be a Christian, especially on the feast of Corpus Christi, and to renew my faith in the real presence of Christ in the eucharist.

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

That carpet!

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