The Town Church, St Peter Port, Guernsey

The Town Church, St Peter Port, Guernsey


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Mystery Worshipper: Shaun the Sheep (with assistance from Tirzah and TME)
Church: The Town Church
Location: St Peter Port, Guernsey
Date of visit: Sunday, 4 April 2010, 10:30am

The building

The Parish Church of St Peter Port, usually referred to as the Town Church and also informally known as the cathedral of the Islands, was first referred to in Norman times. The church is built of granite and originally served as a fortress. The present steeple dates from 1721, though there are parts of the existing church that date back to the 13th and 14th centuries (nave and choir respectively). Extensive restoration took place in the 19th century, and some of the stained glass dates back to this time. However, most of the stained glass windows were blown out during World War II when the Allies bombed the harbour, mistakenly believing that there was a German submarine there. The small windows at the top withstood the blast and so they remained the Victorian originals, but most of the larger pieces of glass lower down are post-war in vintage.

The church

As the unofficial cathedral of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, the church is something of a must-see for many of the thousands of tourists who visit Guernsey each year. Unfortunately, due to the lack of an online presence, it has been difficult to find much information about the church as a community, although it would appear that music plays an important role in the life of the church.

The neighborhood

The Bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey comprise the Channel Islands, which lie in the English Channel off the coast of Normandy. They were the only British territories within Europe to be occupied by German forces during World War II, and were not liberated until 1945. The two bailiwicks are Crown Protectorates, independent from Great Britain but relying on the Crown for their defence. Guernsey and Jersey are also independent of each other, sharing no common laws, elections or representative bodies. Guernsey was occupied by the French during the Hundred Years War, and the French influence on the island's culture is strong even to this day. St Peter Port is the capital town of Guernsey. The Town Church is right by the harbour and a focal point in the town. The population of the island is around 60,000, although this is considerably swelled by the tourists who visit each year.

The cast

We did not think to copy this information from the church notice board, as we had assumed we would find it online! However, the celebrant was the rector of the church, whose name we could only work out to be Father Paul. He was assisted by a deacon whose name we could not ascertain; the deacon also preached the sermon.

What was the name of the service?

Easter Eucharist

How full was the building?

Mostly full – we estimated between 150 and 180 people. It wasn't bulging at the seams, but there were few obvious empty spaces.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A sidesperson wished us happy Easter, asked if we were part of a large party they were expecting, and directed us to a pew at the side when he learnt that we were not. With the addition of our party, our pew got quite cosy (see below), so there was some good-natured shuffling going on which punctured the formality a bit.

Was your pew comfortable?

There were in total five adults sitting on a standard wooden pew, which probably would have been more comfortable with four. The kneelers were very large and quite high, which meant that one of our party was unable to fit his feet comfortably between pew and kneeler. As I was sitting at the end of the pew, I got increasingly uncomfortable as time went on and was very aware of the lack of room to change position!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

There was unobtrusive organ music in the background. Mostly the congregation were chatty but not excessively noisy, wishing each other a happy Easter. I could also hear bells, but am not sure that they were from this particular church.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"A very joyful and happy Easter to you all."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A preprinted booklet with the liturgy, hymns and responses all contained therein.

What musical instruments were played?

A fine organ accompanying an excellent robed choir.

Did anything distract you?

One of our party was distracted by the beautiful stained glass window opposite, which in the morning sunlight was really quite breathtaking. There was also a couple with a baby opposite who kept taking the baby out during the service (although she was behaving beautifully), which got a bit distracting. As we were seated behind the pulpit, I also found myself distracted by a rather sour-faced saint (perhaps a bishop, as he was wearing a mitre) carved into the side of the pulpit, pictured above. Every time I looked up, I saw his miserable face and felt his disapproval.

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

One of our party described it as "a good proper reverential Anglican service." It was not stratospheric, and there were no bells or smells, but clergy and choir were robed and the service was very proper. It was no less joyful for this, however.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

5 minutes (we all thoroughly approved).

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

8 – The deacon had a clear measured delivery, straight and to the point. It was very refreshing.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The women who went to Jesus' tomb had intended to embalm Jesus' body. But things did not go according to plan. The graveyard, the place of the dead, was where the resurrection of Christ was first announced. The Church proclaims this same message to us in the Easter liturgy. Jesus Christ overcame death not only for himself, but also for us. There is no such thing as death for the Christian. The dead are more alive than we are, and are not far from us. They are as close as God, and God is very near us indeed! Pray for our dear departed, visit their graves, but don't look for them there. Even if you still have sorrow in your heart, that sorrow is mingled with quiet hope because of that first Easter day.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Most of the service was divine, but particular mention must be made of the wonderful choir (including some very impressive soloists) whose singing of the Schubert Mass in G was absolutely beautiful.

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

Apart from the offputting miserable carved bishop referred to above, probably the only niggle we had was that despite the sermon emphasising that women were the first to learn the resurrection message, pretty much everything in the service felt as though it was led in large part by men.

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

The rector offered us a small Easter egg from a bowl of eggs. At the table where tea and coffee were being served, a member of the choir who had caught Tirzah's eye during a near-gaffe in one of the hymns came up and started chatting. He was a mine of information about the church, especially the stained glass.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

After the service, there was fair trade instant coffee available, and also tea and juice (fair trade status of both unknown) on a side table. These were served in a proper cup rather than plastic. There were also some home-baked goodies on offer: flapjacks (brownies for our American readers), gingerbread and ginger cake.

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

8 – It is difficult to say for sure, as Guernsey is not somewhere "just down the road" for most people, and it was difficult to tell how many of the congregants were tourists and how many were regulars. We felt we'd like to attend a less high profile service to get more of a feel for the church community, but certainly on the evidence of this service we see no reason why we couldn't be happy there.

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

Yes, very definitely.

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

The glorious singing of the choir.

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