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499: All Hallows, Easton, Bristol, England
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All Hallows, Easton, Bristol, England
Mystery Worshipper: Clothmoth.
The church: All Hallows, Easton, Bristol, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: All Hallows was completed in 1901, being in part the design by Sir George Oatley, also the architect of much of Bristol University. Inside, the chancel is polygonal , with stained glass windows depicting various saints at the east end. The remaining windows are filled with that clouded, greenish, somewhat lavatorial glass so beloved by the Victorians. There is an enormous hanging rood over the chancel steps. Many windowsills house statues of saints, and all had votive lights burning in front of them. The building is spotless and felt much loved. It has great atmosphere.
The neighbourhood: All Hallows is in a slightly run-down part of the city, but the streets immediately around it are pleasant and seemed quiet, consisting of street after street of two-up, two-down Victorian terraced houses. It still serves the very communities it was built to serve, unlike many Anglo Catholic Victorian churches whose catchment areas have become prosperous and fashionable. The east end of the church overhangs an active railway line. The former church hall, opposite the west end of the church is now a gym, and muscular persons were observed coming and going even at 10am on a Sunday. Next to that was a company offering to sew anything you cared to mention, including lingerie. Perhaps they would run up vestments on request.
The cast: Fr. John Morley-Bunker, a retired priest who had been vicar of All Hallows in the 1970s.
What was the name of the service?

How full was the building?
There were 27 people in a church which would have seated 250 in comfort.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The woman handing out hymn book, mass book and leaflets was smiling and friendly. "Welcome to All Hallows!" were her exact words. Everyone exchanged the peace with everyone else.

Was your pew comfortable?
Seating was on linked chairs. Mine was in a row of five. Rows were rather close, making kneeling impossible for anybody over 5'10" tall. Hassocks were old-fashioned and nicely squidgy. These arrangements were comfortable enough.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Most people were whispering to each other, though fairly unobtrusively. The children present were very well behaved before, during and after the service.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
New English Hymnal and a mass book derived from Common Worship.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ. We sang part of the mass and traditional hymns. The responsorial psalm suffered from the lack of a cantor. Apparently half the choir had decamped to Llandrindod Wells for the weekend. It was much missed, as was its other half. The organist was sensitive to the the size and vocal capacity of the congregation and did not do a drowning act.

Did anything distract you?
The sanctuary lamp in the chancel was describing 90-degree north-south arcs when I arrived, but was reduced to swinging in tiny circles by the time the service finished. Perhaps atmospheric turbulence had been generated when the church was unlocked and the heaters (radiant electric, attached to pillars) were switched on. Then again, it might have been recovering from having its oil topped up. There was a small knitted figure of a monk stuck between the legs of the eagle on the lectern, and I wasted part of the post-communion quiet on the pondering of its significance. Was this a reminder of some local legend involving eagle predation on Religious?

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Calm, unfussed Anglo-Catholicism. The celebrant wore a proper alb with amice and rope girdle – none of that polyester and zip business here! – and a purple chasuble over the top. The servers (two acolytes, one thurifer managing his own boat too, all male) were splendidly assured and inconspicuous in black and white cassock and cotta suits. No lace anywhere. Proper ceremonial practices were observed.

All Hallows, Easton, Bristol, England

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was on the Gospel for the day, John 4:5-42, and concerned the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. Fr. John delivered this sermon to the children, sitting on the chancel steps, with all five of them sitting in front of him. He told us about water as a real and spiritual drink, cleanser and growth promoter, using cup, washing up bowl, plant and jug. He spoke to the children as sensible thinking people, and did not underestimate their intellect. He held the adults spellbound too. There are very few people, particularly in this wing of the church, who are prepared to devote this amount of energy to a small group of children, and even fewer who are able to carry it off so well, to the benefit of all.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Watching three little girls arranging the Angelus procession at the end of the service. They lit a special candle, fell in behind the priest and servers and led the congregation to the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham where we sang the Angelus. I also rather enjoyed the resurrection of the charcoal in the thurible after the sermon. The operative had retreated behind a pillar for some serious full-circle oxygenating swinging, and all that could be seen was a furiously wheeling metal sphere.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The realisation that this is the only Church of England church still open in a large, inner city district, and that this is the largest congregation to meet in it each week. They have no resident priest, very limited means and this huge building, yet manage to generate an atmosphere of optimism and a high standard of worship and welcome.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Not a chance! I was invited to the church hall for coffee immediately, and lots of people talked to me. This is a kindly and welcoming congregation.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Instant, supermarket-own label in china cup with saucer. Tea was available also. The biscuit tin looked well stocked.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – if it was within walking distance of home.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. This is an all-age, mixed-race congregation maintaining a brave and strong Christian presence in the area.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The atmosphere of spirituality in the building.

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