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236: St Michael and All Angels, Maidstone, Kent, England
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St Michael, Maidstone, Kent
Mystery Worshipper: Sarum Sleuth.
The church: St Michael and All Angels, Maidstone, Kent, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Large and dull Victorian by Sir Arthur Blomfield. The church is full of the most horrendous Anglo-Catholic objects of piety, mostly plaster and painted in lurid colours. There are also rather a lot of icons dotted about the place.
The neighbourhood: Quite pleasant suburban, with some nice 1840s cottages along the road to the south.
The cast: The vicar, the Rev. Paul Gibbons.
What was the name of the service?
Sung Mass for the Patronal Festival.

How full was the building?
Pretty sparse congregation: 27, with five in the choir, four servers and the celebrant.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No.

Was your pew comfortable?
OK when sitting, torture when kneeling.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I arrived at the very beginning, so couldn't tell.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father..." However, the priest had already bellowed out the plainsong introit as a sort of solo.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A Church Union eucharist booklet, which bore very little relation to the rite used. New English Hymnal, which wasn't a great deal of use to begin with, as the hymnboard was virtually invisible in the side aisle.

What musical instruments were played?
There should have been an organ, but the organist omitted to turn up. The small choir of women and girls did their best, but given the considerable size of the building, there was little that could be done.

Did anything distract you?
Several members of the congregation behaved rather oddly throughout. One got the impression that they were from local care homes.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Barking mad! Basically Vatican II Roman, but with large chunks of Orthodox liturgy chucked in, and even a few stray bits of Sarum ceremonial. As an example, the MC was draped in what looked like a pair of oven gloves with a fetching tassel down the back: these were used to handle the gospel book and other bits, a practice I have never seen anywhere else.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
9 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – the sermon was preached by a lay reader, called, I think, Irma. Her manner was absolutely terrifying and the sermon was peppered with digs at just about anything modern. However, she was quite effective, if only because she was so frightening!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The ministry of angels.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Just before the blessing, the celebrant made a presentation to a couple who were married in the church 50 years previously. This really provided the only human warmth on offer that evening, and was a genuinely nice touch.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The celebrant bellowing the hymns and assorted musical bits and pieces. And why, O why, did they use a different setting for each part of the ordinary of the mass?

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was totally ignored by everyone except the vicar, who seemed very friendly.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – maybe I was unlucky that particular evening, but it would be very difficult to persuade me here again.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No – rather sad and depressed that Christians are so terrified of change in their own church that they need to partake in this sort of nonsense, which seemed to be related to nothing else in all Christendom.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The bellowed plainsong.
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