|377: St John the Baptist, Chester, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Sarum Sleuth.
The church: St John the Baptist, Chester, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: A somewhat Victorianized exterior gives way to a splendid early Norman nave with transitional triforium and clerestory. The church was actually a cathedral for a few years at the end of the 11th century, and this is reflected in the scale of the building.
The church: There seemed to be a good range of ages present, with a number of young families, and a very well behaved baby who was being baptized.
The neighbourhood: The church is only a few yards outside the medieval city walls of Chester. There is a Roman amphitheatre next door, so the area certainly does not lack interest.
The cast: The Rector, Canon Alan Poulter.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
The middle of the nave was comfortably full, with about 70 people in attendance.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, both on arrival, when I was given helpful advice on parking the car, and at the Peace, when everyone in the vicinity participated.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, although it was hardly an object of great beauty.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Reasonably quiet, although some subdued conversation was in evidence.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Almighty God, to whom all hearts be open..."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
New English Hymnal, locally produced service book (Common Worship, traditional language order) and a readings sheet. The ledge for books on the pew was too narrow, and these various items kept ending up on the floor.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The organ was not particularly tuneful, and is actually having work done to make it more pleasing. I also thought it most odd that communion was distributed from the High Altar, when the service took place at a perfectly decent nave altar.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Just the sort of thing I like: proper Prayer Book catholic with restrained English ceremonial (no incense) and the clerk and taperers properly dressed in albs and apparelled amices. There was certainly none of the camp mincing around the altar so beloved in certain Anglo-Catholic churches in evidence here.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 Not especially exciting, and I'm afraid that my attention was distracted by architecture and monuments more than once.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The rector related the baptism taking place to the readings for Trinity 8. While this was comparatively easy for the epistle, it required considerable skill with the Gospel.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The building itself and the simple, dignified ceremonial.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Those wretched service papers fluttering everywhere.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The rector greeted me quickly, having just taken the trouble to find a German speaker in the congregation to help a visitor from Germany. I had a slightly longer conversation with him a little later. Several people spoke while I was examining the church, and a very knowledgeable gentleman told me all about a splendid monument featuring a very realistic skeleton.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Regulation instant, without any biccies in evidence. Perfectly drinkable though.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 If I lived locally, I would probably come here. However, I did miss the incense and slightly fuller ceremonial in my own church, which would look marvellous in this setting.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The helpful directions to the car park.