|288: St George, Letchworth, Hertfordshire, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: +Alguhas.
The church: St George, Letchworth, Hertfordshire, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Imagine a folded napkin placed beside a dented biscuit tin. St George's is an extraordinary 1960s concrete and glass creation consisting of a weird five-sided shape next to an open-sided spire. The interior consists of a choir gallery above the door at the back, in front of which are four clusters of pews facing inwards towards the altar at the base of the spire. The grey concrete walls are almost completely devoid of decoration although there is a rather impressionistic bronze crucifix of Christ in majesty behind the altar.
The neighbourhood: The concrete St George's replaces the original church building which still exists on the other side of the car park and now has a second career as the church hall.
The cast: The parish is currently in the middle of an interregnum and is run by the curate, Rev. Anne-Marie Watson. However, she wasn't there that weekend and the service was being led by the Diocesan Ministerial Development Officer, Rev. Canon Dr Anders Bergquist.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
I counted over 100 worshippers, although there still seemed to be plenty of empty seats.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No one talked to me at all until the end of the service. I had to wait quite a while to exchange the peace while everyone else greeted each other.
Was your pew comfortable?
It started off all right, but became gradually more uncomfortable as the service progressed.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet to start with but the noise levels gradually built up as more people arrived.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning everyone!"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
ASB Rite A booklet and Ancient & Modern hymnbook.
What musical instruments were played?
An organ at the back.
Did anything distract you?
The explosive sound of the host being broken, amplified through the celebrant's microphone. I thought the building was collapsing. Also people talking before the service and much more annoyingly people talking during the communion.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was strangely at variance with the modern architecture. It included a rather uninspired middle-of-the-road liturgy with neither clapping nor genuflecting, dull hymns and the occasional flashes of ritual. There was a pre- and post-service procession for all the choir and clergy, plus a short procession with candles for the Gospel reading.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6. The sermon was preached without notes (which gave it immediacy), had three points (which made it easy to remember) and was brief (which meant that there was no time for our attention to wander).
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was based on the Gospel reading about the wedding at Cana. Three parallels were drawn between the events of the story and the nature of God: 1. The wedding guests were presented with an additional 240 gallons of wine demonstrating God's generosity. 2. Jesus transformed the wine, just as he can transform our lives for good. 3. Mary told the servants to obey Jesus as should we.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Before the service started and it was quiet, with the sun streaming in through the windows.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Assorted distracting noises during the communion including people having conversations in loud voices, opening plastic bags and scolding their children.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was greeted by a very nice lady who asked me whether I was a visitor and invited me to come over to the church hall for coffee. She quite made made up for being ignored earlier on.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was tea, coffee and biscuits. The tea was over-strong, church hall standard issue, but the biscuit was fine.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5. I would if there was no other choice it was adequate but uninspiring.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
All the elements were there, but the church seemed to be lacking in enthusiasm and in devotional silence. I came away feeling no different from when I arrived. In fact, if hadn't been for the efforts to greet me shown by the lady at the end of the service, I would have come away with an negative impression.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The weirdness of the architecture.