A medival church made primarily from stone blocks, with a rendered tower housing (what sounded like) five bells. Some boxed pews in the quire, but mainly Victorian pews. Some stained glass windows. A very pretty screen at the tower.
The parish also includes the nearby suburb of Singleton, whose congregation meets in the village hall. St Mary's is part of the newly formed Ashford Team Ministry (May 2016), basically Ashford Town including all the old parishes. They have a number of activities all documented on their website. One of these is Grapevine, Singleton's community cafe, where children can meet before school and adults and seniors can socialise later in the day. There is a 9.30 traditional service each Sunday in Great Chart and an 11.00 contemporary service in Singleton, but today's service was a combined one for Pentecost.
Great Chart is a village in the Ashford borough of Kent, largely agricultural in nature. It's very picturesque, with beautiful views, and as it was a gorgeous sunny day it was lovely walking up to the church.
The service was led by various members of the team ministry, as it was their joint Pentecost service. The preacher was the Venerable Joanne Kelly-Moore, Archdeacon of Canterbury.
What was the name of the service?Joint Ashford Team Pentecost Communion Service.
How full was the building?
Bulging at the seams. We arrived a good 10 minutes before the service started and found it hard to find a seat. "There should be some over on the far side," we were told.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were welcomed right at the door by a sidesperson, who gave us the service booklet. However, we weren't given a notice sheet even though they had a massive pile of them and they gave one to the family ahead of us. A priest also said a friendly "Hello and welcome" as we found our seats. There were quite a lot of grinning hellos as we got comfy.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes standard Victorian pew, but with a carpet along it. It was very close to the pew in front, but no lack of leg-room. The ledge for the books was good it even had a tiny gap so I could slide my service booklet under to stop it falling off. There were no Gift Aid envelopes in the pews, so I had to ask for one.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
it was rather hectic. The choir and clergy were already in place ready to process, and lots of people were coming in and getting seated. That wasn't bad, though it sounded friendly.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father Almighty be with you."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A specially-printed service booklet. We were told at the beginning (after the welcome) that the service would go without announcement or notices. However, another priest then spoke about something else, and every single part of the service (including hymns) was announced as we went along. The readings were taken from different editions of the Bible: the Acts reading from The Message; the gospel from the pew Bibles I couldn't reach one from where I was, but they appeared to be New International Version. Other readings were on the readings sheet, but the version they were taken from wasn't listed.
What musical instruments were played?
All instruments! As it was a joint service, we had the choir and organ, and also a worship band, with keyboard, violin, guitar, saxophone, drums and singers. The organ wasn't loud enough for the congregation. During the choir's communion anthem, I noted to husband that not one single singer was watching the conductor. After the service, he told me he'd seen the conductor gesticulate most firmly that they hadn't watched him at all.
Did anything distract you?
The sound system was awful. I don't know if it's their normal system, but the handheld microphone that was used gave a couple of really, really nasty sound blasts and had to be abandoned. The collar mike given to Archdeacon Moore was low in battery, as it kept cutting out every couple of seconds for the whole of her sermon. The walls in the church were filthy lots of water marks and cobwebs and general gathered dirt and dust (which is a shame because the ground level was tidy and clean).
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a bit of everything. Because of the joint service, the music was shared between the band and organ two hymns played on the organ and a few worship songs played by the band. Each church in the team got a chance at a part of the service, and the eucharistic prayer was Common Worship (the one where we all join in responses). I thought it worked really well, that the style of each member church was represented. However, I don't think the mix would work so well in a standard service.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The archdeacon spoke well (microphone issues notwithstanding). I've heard her before – she always puts in a bit of her own life experience and speaks clearly.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Pentecost. She started with saying happy birthday to the church. She spoke about accents and difficulties in communication. She said she's from New Zealand and has been all over the world preaching and learning. She speaks French, but found that didn't help in Germany, where she couldn't understand anything. She linked that to the disciples speaking in tongues on Pentecost, and went on to explain about the Great Commission. Peter, who had denied Jesus three times, was the first to proclaim Jesus. That's the Holy Spirit at work that's what made the difference. The Holy Spirit helps us to proclaim the gospel, and gives us our sense of community (which she linked back to the new team ministry). "Diversity and community brought together" was her explanation of how Pentecost affected the followers in Luke's account.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The Acts reading (Acts 2:1-21 the coming of the Holy Spirit) was interspersed with references to the local towns and villages. This raised a laugh, and added to the sense of a huge community coming together to celebrate. That atmosphere was present all the way through. There was also good provision for the children they had a children's activity session in the hall, where they made lovely Pentecost crowns and Great Commission spirals.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The last hymn was "Shine Jesus Shine," played by the band. And people clapping. Aside from that there were accessibility issues: I saw no offer of a large print service book, although the typing on the booklet we were all given seemed large enough. The church had steps down from the entrance. I couldn't see a sign for a loop system, but that doesn't mean there wasn't one. No toilets were available in the church itself, but the hall across the road has toilets. Even so, there's no way a wheelchair could get into the toilet marked "accessible" the corridor's door is too narrow and there is too tight a corner.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We both tried to stand looking lost, but didn't have to do so for long. Everyone was very friendly, and even though it was obviously a big service where many people didn't know each other, we didn't get ignored. Lots of people said hello, made passing comments, and made us feel welcome.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was cake. Lots of it. I had an inkling there might be, because it was mentioned about five times during the service (twice in the sermon). The tea was lovely, but as there were a lot of people, all now crammed into the village hall, it took a while to be served. It did appear that the tea ladies weren't given enough help to cope with it. but they did very well considering. Tea and coffee were served in the standard green cups and saucers, from pots, so I didn't get to see if it was fairly traded.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – As it was a big service, we don't know how reflective of a standard service it was. But the friendliness was nice.
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 friendliness and general feeling of being really pleased to worship together.