|422: Worcester College Chapel, Oxford, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: The Nazarene.
The church: Worcester College Chapel, Oxford, England.
The building: Listed as being "extensively redecorated and refurbished by William Burges in 1864." The style is true high Anglican camp with pink fan vaulting, a small (mock) dome, garish colour and images and ceiling, floors, walls and windows. The chapel is laid out in collegiate style with pews facing each other across the aisle. Most remarkable are the intricately carved animals which adorn the ends of each pew.
The church: On the weekday evening I visited, on what was a momentous occasion for the college, there were less than a handful of people in the congregation. The college has 514 students.
The neighbourhood: Beautiful front quadrangle with raked sides and views across gardens.
The cast: Rev. Peter Doll, Chaplain.
What was the name of the service?
Choral evensong with the first mixed voice choir in the college up until this year it has been all male. Now two choirs run in parallel. A momentous occasion.
How full was the building?
Practically empty. A choir of around 20, two organists, a conductor, a priest and maybe eight in the congregation.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
There was no one to welcome us. The priest arrived at the back of the choir as they processed in.
Was your pew comfortable?
The service was relatively short, so the pew was quite comfortable, though a soft bottom was very necessary.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Nice and quiet. Meditative organ music for about three minutes before the procession entered.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The priest sang the opening response "O Lord, open thou our lips" to which the choir responded: "and our mouth shall shew forth Thy praise".
What books did the congregation use during the service?
College prayerbooks were available (which looked like the old 1928 Book of Common Prayer) as were hymnbooks. No Bibles were available.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The motion of the organists. They swapped places a few times in the service which is quite a distraction as they are on the ground floor by the entrance and very visible to all. Perhaps more so the remarkable camp pink vaulting which took my eye for most of the first reading. Oh, and the emergency service vehicle which screamed past in the Nunc Dimittis.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Pretty straight-laced. The idea was that we should sit back and soak up the music and text. I felt the building was too cold and bright to really settle down into something meditative. The music was pretty jerky, too. Both readings were read from a rather phallic lectern.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
There was no moment which was like being in heaven. Too many distractions. However, the choir did sound magnificent, as one might expect of an Oxford college. As it was, it was the first time they had girls singing on an equal basis with the boys, so I thought they sounded really quite ravishing.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The priest zipped off at the end of the service with the choir, not to return. Most unfriendly.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing at all, I'm afraid. The choir ran in and picked up stuff and ran off again, then cold set in and I gave up.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no after-service coffee.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 Maybe if there were some personal contact between the service (i.e. the choir and clergy) and the congregation (i.e. me) then maybe. But it was, sadly, a rather solitary affair. Sometimes I wonder if the word "fellowship" has ever been mentioned in some places of worship.
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 utterly over-the-top interior decoration.