St Martin of Tours, Detling (Exterior)

St Martin of Tours, Detling, Kent, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Martin of Tours
Location: Detling, Kent, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 25 February 2018, 10:30am

The building

A rather small, flintstone building dating from the 12th century, with 13th and 15th century additions and restoration work done in the 19th century. It is a mixture of Norman and Perpendicular Gothic. It's a very square building, with a square tower (and thus a square spire) and a tiled roof. There is at least one bell – we watched the rope being pulled to announce the service. There are several stained glass windows depicting saints or scenes from the Bible; the beauty of them is that each is in a different style, demonstrating their history. There is a 14th century wooden pulpit from which a small microphone projected, hovering over the lectern and providing a very good sound into the church. One memorial I noted was a monumental stone tomb slab representing a tonsured priest. It had been found inserted face downwards into a lean-to wall in the north aisle and was subsequently mounted onto the wall. There are baby changing facilities, and both the car park and toilet are accessible. An induction hearing loop is also available, and they welcome service dogs.

The church

Detling is a village, and as such has a community outside of the church. The village magazine isn't produced by the church, but rather by the parish council. St Martin's is part of a united benefice with St Mary, Boxley, and St John, Grove Green. They have also recently joined with the Hollingbourne Group of Churches to become "The Pilgrim's Way Churches." There are Sunday schools at Boxley and Grove Green, and a Messy Church is held in St John's Primary School. St Martin's has a choir, which is joint with the other churches, but they don't sing at all Sunday services. I was invited to join them at a rehearsal, which I hope to do. They plan to sing as a choir at special services coming up. The church had a very successful quiz night the night before this service, and they have a plant sale coming up in May.

The neighborhood

Detling is such an historic place, listed in the Domesday Book and full of old monuments and buildings. Nestled right at the bottom on the very long, steep, dangerous Detling Hill near Maidstone, the village is in the countryside. Considering how close to the towns and the Dual Carriageway this is, it seems strange, but there it is. The village boasts a pub and a village hall. There is currently a campaign to set up a village shop near the hall, and the steering committee is working towards gaining support from the villagers, as well as a grant.

The cast

I'm sorry, but I haven't been able to get full names of the leaders. The service was led by a priest named David, who does three services in every two month period. The organist was called Tim.

What was the name of the service?

Sung Communion.

How full was the building?

As the church is tiny, it didn't look too empty, but there were about 25 people there.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

We arrived very early – about 20 minutes before the start. Child took the Bible reading literally and knocked on the closed door, which was opened (so it's true!), and we were invited inside. Even so early, there were already a few people there and we were warmly welcomed. The sidespeople weren't yet "on duty" but we were furnished with a hymn book and service book by the organist. We were then able to look around the church before the service started.

Was your pew comfortable?

Oh, it was lovely. Victorian box pews with doors that closed properly and didn't swing open randomly, widely spaced so there was plenty of room for Child to play. The seats had long carpets on them, and a few thin cushions for extra comfort. And such joy awaited when we sat down – under-seat heaters! The only downside to the pews is that they're not wheelchair friendly, but there was a wheelchair user at the service who chose to sit in the north aisle, which was wide, close to the organ, and in view of the priest. The bread and wine were taken to that person without fuss.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

It was bustly, but in such a relaxed way. We were given a chance to look around the church, including peeping at the organ and getting music copies of the hymn book. A couple of lovely ladies chatted to us and Child was offered a busy bag and the use of a new Transformers magazine. There was a steady flow of people, with the last arriving just as the service was about to begin.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Morning!" (congregation replied) "June is hovering." (June, it turned out, was approaching to read a notice.)

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Hymns Ancient and Modern: New Standard Version; Common Worship Order One (official booklet with red cover).

What musical instruments were played?

There was a two manual organ in the north aisle. It dates from the 1850s and was acquired from the Maidstone Congregational Church. It accompanied hymns, sung mass settings (Mass of St Thomas, David Thorne) and provided incidental voluntary music. I did find that the organ was played too quietly during the hymns – I like a good loud organ that makes the congregation sing up, rather than mumbling so no one can tell it's them singing.

Did anything distract you?

I'm just recovering form a rotten cold, so I was distracted by trying not to cough too loudly. There was an overhead spotlight that kept going on and off about every 10 minutes, so it wasn't too intrusive (but really does need to be addressed). The general historic features and stained glass windows were a pleasant distraction. And in the pews there were Gift Aid envelopes – with pens! I was impressed by that instance of thoughtfulness.

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

Their entry on the "A Church Near You" website states: "We enjoy worshipping in the Liberal Catholic tradition but are not in the least stuffy or stiff." That's pretty much what it was: middle-of-the-road Anglican style. Sung hymns and setting (Kyries, or course, it being Lent). It was definitely relaxed. Examples of hymns included "Praise to The Lord The Almighty"; "Lord thy Word Abideth"; "Jesus Shall Reign". No announcements were given as to "Please turn to page ___," which caught me off guard, as I was expecting to be given a page number. A man in the pew in front of us kindly showed us the page number for the eucharistic prayer.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

11 minutes.

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

7 – When the priest started speaking, I was worried that he might not project to the whole church, as he had a quiet style. But as he spoke, I realised that, in such a small church, his preaching style was just right. It was a very conversational tone, which was like listening to a story being told, and it made the sermon so much less "preachy" and easy to hear. At one point he told us a story, prefaced by, "I'm not supposed to tell personal stories, am I? It's frowned upon in sermons, isn't it? I like personal stories, though." We all laughed.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The gospel reading was Mark 8:31-38 (Jesus explains what the disciples must do if they will follow him). This reading showed the disciples getting things horribly wrong – not something you want to follow! We were told that we need to be together in solidarity through faith with people throughout the world and through time. We're part of a great movement with people in faith. Paul says that if we live by law alone we'd just be following rules and there'd be no room for creativity or development. The word "disciple" comes from the Latin word for student, and disciples must learn like apprentices – not just learning the rule book, but learning by doing and seeing and trying. We have to be attentive. We have to watch and anticipate and expect. As disciples we go where Jesus goes, being attentive and listening for ourselves.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The way we were welcomed and Child was given the busy bag without fuss.The beautiful building and interior. The under-seat heating. The organist played Handel's Sarabande in D Minor as his voluntary.

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

During the offertory hymn, nobody appeared with a collection bag, so I decided that I'd have to put our offering and calling card in the donations plate on the font behind us. But there was nothing else in that plate. Then finally, during the last verse, a woman brought the bag around, so I had to grab our offerings to put in the bag. A discussion afterwards revealed that this wasn't normal. But most frightening of all: in a conversation over coffee with the organist and priest, the priest jokingly said that it would be lovely to have the church reviewed on a website, and that he was sure there was one. I was convinced we had been "found out" and found it hard to cover up.

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

Oh, this should be a heaven moment! We didn't even get to leave our pews, as during the voluntary, the lady in front of us turned to say hello, and told us that coffee would be coming round in a minute. Yes, this church brings coffee, tea and biscuits on a tray round to the pews after the service.The official reason is because it's a small serving area, but it was such a nice touch! (We were still allowed out of our pews to mingle.)

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

The drinks were served in polystyrene cups, which I don't like, but it was good tea from a pot. Child was very impressed by the biscuits that had chocolate inside them.and when I went to take my cup back, I was asked if I wanted more, which of course I did. We can't pour good tea away!

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

8 – It's a friendly church, which genuinely feels like they're all together as a family and want you to join them.

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

Yes, it did.

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

The Handel Sarabande.

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