Mystery Worshipper: Mordecai
Church: St Saviour-on-the-Cliff
Location: Shanklin, Isle of Wight
Date of visit: Sunday, 31 August 2014, 11:00am
St Saviour's, whose cornerstone was laid in 1867, is the work of the 19th century English architect Thomas Hellyer, responsible for the design of many churches, schools and hospitals on the Isle of Wight, many of which (alas) are no longer in existence. Although consecrated in 1869, it was not completely finished until 1905. The church survived World War II with only slight damage, but the damage is still visible. Notices all around the outside of the church warned of the dangers of falling masonry. In contrast, the interior is richly and lavishly furnished.
They are known (as I was to find out) as a bastion of Anglo-Catholic worship.
The Isle of Wight, located in the English Channel, has a long-standing maritime tradition (the first ever hovercraft was built there) and has long been a popular holiday destination. The poets Algernon Charles Swinburne and Alfred Lord Tennyson, as well as Queen Victoria, had residences there. The church is near the cliff top walk in Shanklin, a popular seaside resort town. There are many hotels in the area, with seemingly very few private dwellings in the immediate vicinity of the church.
The Revd John Davies, vicar, plus an unnamed concelebrant.
What was the name of the service?Parish Eucharist.
How full was the building?
There were 40 to 50, spread throughout the main part of the church, but only two children.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were told that there was disabled access at the side of the church, but even there we encountered a step. A lady and a gentleman welcomed us and gave us hymn books and a pew sheet. A robed gentleman saw that I have mobility problems and asked if I would like communion brought to me.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a standard pew. We had chosen to sit about half way back because there was a suitable space for my mobility scooter. There was a cushion on that pew, and I'm afraid I used it.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
General quiet chit-chat.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
A lady stood at the lectern and wished us all "Good morning and welcome to St Saviour's."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
New English Hymnal, the service booklet Eucharist for use in Ordinary Time, and a pew sheet with details of the readings and music to be used.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, an 1874 opus of JW Walker & Sons Ltd.
Did anything distract you?
We hadn't realised that this was a very high Anglican church where incense is used liberally. I dislike incense, and found myself coughing at the amount of smoke. Also it had a very sweet smell, which I found unpleasant.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Traditional Anglican, partly sung by the choir. Did I mention billows of incense? At the end of the service, the celebrants and choir processed to the side altar where they sang the Salve Regina and prayed.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – Father John spoke very clearly.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
When Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah, his remarks were spontaneous but also impetuous. Jesus said that Peter would be a cornerstone, but also a stumbling block. Jesus didn't choose a perfect person to build his church rather, plain old Peter, an imperfect person like ... ourselves! Peter ran away from Jesus on more than one occasion, but he came back to accept his fate, even death by crucifixion. We don't have to carry Christ's cross; rather, we carry our own. Let us carry our crosses well.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
A banner had been made for the Guild of St Joseph the Foster Father, and it was presented at the service. It was a very well sewn piece of traditional church embroidery, but ...
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
... somehow I had been led to believe that the banner would be more of a modern design than traditional, and I was disappointed to see that I had been wrong. And then there was that incense...
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I went to have a look at the banner, as I have made banners myself. I studied it approvingly, but no one spoke to me. There was coffee at the back of the church, but no one invited me. I was on the point of leaving when a lady finally did come up to me and invited me to have a cup of coffee.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Very strong filter coffee I don't know if it was fair trade. Also biscuits.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – I'm afraid we attend a very low Anglican church and simply couldn't cope with the incense.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The incense and the notices re falling masonry.