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88: St Mary & All the Saints, Walsingham, England
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St Mary Walsingham
Mystery Worshipper: Corpus Cani.
The church: St Mary & All the Saints, Walsingham, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Fairly bland 14th or 15th century, but a handy fire in 1961 led to the rebuilding of the interior, which is now beautifully light, airy and spacious.
The neighbourhood: Guaranteed a good Sunday congregation, since both the Anglican and Roman Catholic shrines of our Lady of Walsingham are within genuflecting distance. The best thing the guidebook finds to say about the immediate area is that the house opposite the church has a "very attractive Victorian garden fence".
The cast: Celebrant: Fr Keith (Vicar), assisted by Frs Scott, Nudds, Joyce and Mannall, plus a Swedish Dean called Fr Leif, and I'm sure there were at least a dozen others.
What was the name of the service?
Officially called "the Liturgy for Low Sunday" – it was a Parish Mass.

How full was the building?
Full, but not uncomfortably so.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Some old Norfolk-type leered at us in greeting as we arrived and everybody was very friendly during "the peace". The couple in front had a very sweet grandaughter with them and they talked after the service.

Was your pew comfortable?
Trad. pew, but reasonably comfortable, with bags of leg room – not that we sat down much. The modern Catholic liturgy certainly makes pew-rents redundant.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Pretty quiet – pre-match chat was done in whispers, which is a trial. If you want a seat in the front stalls, you need to get there early. Half an hour of whispering does little to prepare the vocal chords for the 4 million "alleluias" to come.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"The Lord be with you... let us pray" – followed, surprisingly enough, by a prayer.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A home-produced service book, a hymn sheet and a newsletter.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
An ever-so-slightly gorgeous young Swedish pilgrim in Fr Leif's party, and the elderly acolyte who seemed to be resting his candlestick on his beer-belly – both of which were distracting for different reasons, obviously.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Anglo-Catholic, without being spikey. There was more lace in the sanctuary than in the windows of a whole council estate and the service ended with the "Regina Caeli". There was very much a feeling that the shrine has flourished and left the parish church behind – the parish struggles in the shrine's shadow, trying to be as "correct" liturgically, but not quite being able to manage it and ending up being a tad on the embarassing side. A bit like your dad dancing at your 18th birthday party, really.

St Mary Walsingham

Exactly how long was the sermon?
5 minute homily, plus a short and witty speech from Fr Leif as he presented the parish with an icon of some bishop.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – short and sweet (well, short anyway).

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Like St Thomas, we all have doubts in our faith and this is no bad thing. Doubt can be a "growth point" (1970s jargon, but it works).

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The very close, friendly atmosphere... true fellowship here.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Not getting to pass the peace with the Swedish pil... erm ... no, nothing really.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Several very friendly people came across to talk. Being Walsingham, there are generally a few nuns around and they're always good for a laugh.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Fair, but I didn't hang around too long. I was dying for a smoke.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10. A friendly place with a great sense of everybody – visitor, pilgrim and parishioner alike – being part of the same family. This is what all parishes should be like.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. It gave me a wonderful sense of Christian community at its best.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The sense of fellowship.

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