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461: St Mary The Virgin, Witney, Oxfordshire, England
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St Mary The Virgin, Witney
Mystery Worshipper: Chris Churchcrawler.
The church: St Mary The Virgin, Witney, Oxfordshire, England.
Denomination: Church Of England.
The building: St Mary's is a complex building and has many sections not visible to the eye. The exterior has a magnificent 13th century tower and broach spire. There is a Norman door. The rest of the church is a real hotch-potch and is not symmetrical. The east end is 13th century Early English while the west end is 14th century, but with a perpendicular clerestorey and a nice wide timber roof. There is a definite medieval air about the place, with hidden chapels and monuments, and even some mason's marks. The only Victorian additions are the poor pews and the fine central communion table.
The church: This is one of the parish churches of Witney. It is situated at the end of a long grass vista lined by Cotswold stone townhouses. The town is an affluent place and has that Oxford feel about it.
The neighbourhood: There are some almshouses adjacent to the church. Also on the north side of the church are some high-tech companies which juxtapose the antiquity of the church.
The cast: Rev. Cameron Butland and another minister who is a hospital chaplain.
What was the name of the service?
Common Advent Worship with the Christening of Martha Langley.

How full was the building?
Pleasantly full, which makes a change for this Mystery Worshipper! I was there to join in the celebration of Martha Langley's christening.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The book chappie at the door with a goatie beard. Goaties seem to be all the rage here as the minister also sported one. My friends from Lampeter University, who were there to witness the ceremony, also greeted me.

Was your pew comfortable?
Reasonably comfortable Victorian affair. Initially, we chose a pew right behind a pillar, but then we moved.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was very cheerful. Obviously our little group was glad to see each other, but there also seemed to be an air of Advent excitement about the place, too.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to St Mary's."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Book of Common Worship, a separate Christening sheet and an advent worship book.

What musical instruments were played?
The organ. This was a computer job but managed to fool nearly everyone as the pipes of the old organ remain in part and it sounded very authentic – although occasionally some reverb did give it away a little bit. An excellent instrument worthy of such a noble setting – this comming from someone who is not overly keen on non-pipe instruments.

Did anything distract you?
There was an interesting monument to a Rev. Friend in the 18th century, which I read. Apparently he was pastor to a Reformed church near Paris but had to go into exile and later became prebendary of Westminster. Also there was a bloke leading people to communion who looked just like Blake Carrington out of Dynasty. I was half expecting an American drawl and a cigar to appear when he asked, "anyone for communion?"

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Middle of the road Anglicanism – neither high nor low. The organ music was inspirational. The organist launched into a Star Wars theme just before the Christening, and then Finlandia. I seriously thought we were going to take off during the last verse of a couple of the hymns and was prepared to bolt myself to the floor! Baby Martha looked very cute as she was being baptized and was quiet until the minister did the deed... maybe it was that goatie! The choir were excellent but the sound was lost to the nave for most of the time. If the church was to be reordered it would be wise to bring the choir from the stalls to new stalls in the nave so that all can appreciate the sound they produce.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
Quite short, 15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The minister preached without notes and was thus able to communicate in a more engaging fashion.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Christ came not in spite of evil in the world but becuase of it. He referred to the events of September 11th saying he had not preached about it because he had nothing to say or that could be said. He then said that God works through Advent in spite of all the evil in the world at the moment.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The wonderful moment when baby Martha was Christened: the first step in a life-long journey. Also the excellent organ playing, which showed a wide imagination, and the wonderful colours of the vestments. The solo choir stuff really brought about the sense of age to this place. Also being in the company of good friends.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Trying not to laugh when "Blake Carrington" invited us to the communion table. Good job there was no one there who looked like Alexis Carrington. Also it was a little chilly, but nothing to complain about.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
All of us in the Christening party stuck together.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was "a nice cup of coffee," says Jo, my friend, as I cannot drink tea or coffee.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I think everyone who was there felt that way.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Martha being baptized.
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