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168: St Margaret's, Rainham, Kent, England
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St Margaret's, Rainham, Kent
Mystery Worshipper: Windbag.
The church: St Margaret's, Rainham, Kent, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: A really beautiful and imposing 14th-century church, complete with bell tower.
The neighbourhood: Eight pubs within a five-minutes walk. There are a couple of large car parks nearby. One is adjacent to the church and the pub, while the other is across the road. Both are free on Sunday.
The cast: Rev Canon Alan Vousden is the vicar. Rev Noel Beatie was the preacher.
What was the name of the service?
Parish Communion.

How full was the building?
Two-thirds full – about 150 in the congregation.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. A friendly smile and a "good morning, how are you?" Nobody spoke much during the peace but the handshakes were friendly and sincere. Nobody attempted to kiss or hug anybody – thank the Lord.

Was your pew comfortable?
For pews they were OK. I wouldn't like to sit on them for more than a couple of hours, though.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Generally, a quiet reverential atmosphere. One or two small children were making a noise, but it wasn't obtrusive. The organist started to play ten minutes before the service, which helped set the scene.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The vicar introduced the visiting speaker and then wished everyone a Happy New Year. Today is Advent Sunday, the first day of the Church's Year. Nobody responded except the organist. Probably arranged beforehand. The second attempt was much better.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
In addition to the hymnbook, there was a service sheet which contained everything on it, including prayers, hymns, organ voluntary and forthcoming events.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
Not really. The very young children were provided with a small play area with some soft toys.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It certainly wasn't happy-clappy, nor were there any bells or smells. About two-thirds up the ladder, I should think – just on the formal side of middle-of-the-road.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8. The preacher, a prison chaplain, was visiting the church because today was, apparently, Prison Sunday.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The prison service and fostering a spirit of regeneration. It was a well-delivered and polished sermon, starting with a few jokes that were moderately funny. The time passed quite quickly.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The 24-strong choir were in excellent voice, providing a strong lead with very good diction. I did overhear one lady in the congregation complain that she had not been given any notice of a new communion setting and hadn't had an opportunity to practice it. For my money, the choir and organist were confident enough to provide me with a lead which helped me sing it, and I'd never seen or heard it before.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I was surprised and a little frustrated at the end of the service by the constant chatter through the final voluntary. The church is fortunate to have a superb organist and the voluntary at the end was brilliantly performed. He had played well throughout the service and the final piece was the icing on the cake. I felt like applauding at the end but that would have drawn attention to myself. I felt quite sorry for the guy.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I waited around at the end of the service but no one actually came to speak to me. They all huddled together in little friendship groups. The vicar circulated round them, but he didn't actually get around to me. After about 10 minutes, the call of the local hostelry was too great to ignore. The White Horse is better than the more flashy Cricketers, unless you are about 18 years old, or less!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Choice of tea, coffee or orange squash. All free with an honesty plate.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not really.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The music. The singing of the choir was first rate, and this was matched by terrific organ playing that I found really uplifting.
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