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174: St Augustine, Gillingham, Kent, England
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St Augustine, Gillingham, Kent
Mystery Worshipper: Sarum Sleuth.
The church: St Augustine, Gillingham, Kent, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Lovely Temple Moore Gothic revival, obviously designed for Prayer Book Catholic worship.
The neighbourhood: Typical Medway towns – dull!
The cast: The vicar (who was absent) is Rev Chris Van Straten. The NSM who celebrated was referred to as Paul, and rides a motor-scooter like me, but I don't know his surname.
What was the name of the service?
High Mass – except it wasn't, as there was no subdeacon!

How full was the building?
14 in the congregation, 14 in the choir, 5 in the sanctuary. But I gather they get around 100 at the main Parish Eucharist. This service was at 6.30 in the evening.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. The churchwarden introduced herself, and several other people spoke before the service. I was also asked, "Do you want to go up, mate?" at the time of communion.

Was your pew comfortable?
Comfortable chairs. A bit more kneeling room would have been welcome.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People were talking, but not obtrusively. As there was nobody there below the age of ten or so, we were spared the crying babies.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good Evening, and welcome to our High Mass tonight."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Shorter Prayer Book, NIV Bible, Hymns Ancient & Modern (revised) and Mission Praise.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
Some of the top notes of the choir were a bit rough. The east window is ghastly, sort of sub Burlison & Grylls in lurid 90s colours. The fact that a nave altar was parked in front of the high altar where all the action took place was also rather strange, and this wasn't improved by a terrible super-frontal that looked like Lenten array, but was obviously considered the height of festivity!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Dignified Prayer Book Catholic. The Prayer Book itself was used with the customary 1928 omissions, and was not tampered with at all. This was accompanied by dignified ceremonial straight from the "Parson's Handbook". They even knew where to put the thurifer in procession and the right points to cense the altar and the oblations. The smoke even disappeared after the offertory as it should. Some sensible modernisation to allow for the celebrant to face west, but this is one of the most "Sarum" churches I know.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4. The Lay Reader (who was also the organist) preached. Well intentioned but rambling.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The Road to Emmaus.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The building itself, and unobtrusive, functional ceremonial.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The setting that was used – I didn't recognise it, and they would have been better off with Merbecke. Hymn No.1 from Mission Praise was pretty grisly as well.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I must have spoken to just about everyone present, and now have a recommendation for a good local dentist! The celebrant seemed particularly interested in my mode of transport (a motor scooter) as he had one himself.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasn't any, with this being a Sunday evening in Gillingham.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8. If I worshipped near to my home, this is where I would come, but I have commitments elsewhere. Still, if these alter, this church is probably the one I would attend regularly.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
This is one of the friendliest churches I have ever visited.
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