Mystery Worshipper: Chris Churchcrawler
Church: St Ruan
Location: Ruan Minor, Cornwall, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 20 October 2019, 11:15am
A low 13th century church, one of the smallest in West Cornwall, made of serpentine blocks and with a low tower. The interior is very low and almost ship-like, with short pillars and arches that are only ten feet high. The carving on the pillars is quite ancient. There are one or two memorials to people who have drowned off the coast. There is a St Ruan holy well in a field nearby. There was another church nearby at Ruan Major that was also dedicated to St Ruan, but it is now an unkempt ruin.
The church is part of a large Cornish parish that has a tin church in the nearby fishing village of Cadgewith. The church is dedicated to St Ruan, who was accused of being a werewolf but who was set upon by dogs and proved not to be! They have morning prayer every first Sunday, holy communion (Common Worship) every second and fourth Sunday, and an informal family service every third Sunday.
Ruan Minor is a small village on a peninsula known as the Lizard. Quoting from Wikipedia: ‘The name “Lizard” is most probably a corruption of the Cornish name Lys Ardh, meaning “high court”; it is purely coincidental that much of the peninsula is composed of serpentinite-bearing rock.’ The village has thatched cottages, a post office, and a shop selling Cornish pasties. It is near the fishing village of Cadgewith, which has featured on a recent TV programme about fishermen.
A lay reader.
What was the name of the service?Family Service – although there were no families there! But family friendly nonetheless.
How full was the building?
When I walked in at 11.15 there was a group of five people having a chat at the back of the church. I wasn't sure if I had walked in on the end of a service or if no one else had turned up!
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was given a very warm welcome by all five people. Before dashing off to another service elsewhere, the vicar walked to the front of the church and warmly welcomed me, asking where I was from and saying that there were normally more people there.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes – normal church pew.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was chatty. There was some talk about a séance in the neighbouring village of St Kevern, which I later discovered had made the papers. There had been a protest outside the tearooms where the mediums were holding a meeting. This was interesting, as I live near a large city where Spiritualist churches tend to be ignored both by the Church and the public and where a séance probably wouldn't raise an eyebrow.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
‘Welcome to our family service!’
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Old and New.
What musical instruments were played?
A lady played the flute very well, and the lay reader played a guitar. The flute lady also accompanied one hymn on the organ. I found the organ easier to sing along with.
Did anything distract you?
The ship-like interior of the building, being so low and short. It really was a low building and quite dark inside, like a lot of Cornish churches. I kept thinking about the werewolf legend. There is a very Celtic feel about this area based above the coast and near the ancient Goonhilly Downs, a raised plateau in the centre of the Lizard noted for its wind farm and satellite dishes as well as several rare plant species. I was also acutely aware that the service was a family service but that there were no families – in fact, I was the youngest there!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Low Anglican, although candles were lit and the service had some structure.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 — The sermon was read by the guitar-playing lay reader – but read clearly and with a lot of thought having been given to the readings. He also improvised in bits – all in all, good, short, and simple.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His text was Genesis 32:22-31, where Jacob is wrestling with a man through the night. (I kept thinking of a famous sculpture of Jacob wrestling with the Man but couldn't place it.) When day breaks, Jacob says, 'I will not let you go unless you bless me.' Jacob called the place Peniel, which I found interesting, as I had lived near Peniel in Wales years ago and there was a large chapel called Peniel. The preacher went on to say that humans have many choices in the modern world and wander away from the values of God. These choices do not always enrich our lives, and we move further away from God. However, God never changes and has the same values forever and ever.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Being in a location that clearly has a long history and, though tiny, is valued by its congregation and village. The ancient building seemed to confirm what the preacher was saying about God never changing. The building seems not to have changed from the time it was built to the present day, along with the majesty of the locality, the cliffs and the sea – but also the timeless homely characteristics and friendliness of the place.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Clearly the numbers. After the vicar had gone, there was the lay reader, flute player, two ladies in the congregation, and myself. I was told there are usually a few more, but clearly the church is struggling. One wonders if in 20 years’ time the church will still be in use or not.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I had a cheery chat with the lay reader and ladies before heading out. The lay reader was a little concerned about the church, as he said most of its supporters were now in the churchyard.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 — I would always love to come back and visit. Maybe the church won't close. Churches in the past have ebbed and flowed, although these days they tend to end up being converted to houses!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, and knowing my part in the long history of the church in this place.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The sense of 'forever and ever' in this Celtic place of saints, sea, and friendly villages.