|611: Pusey House Chapel, Oxford, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Kentucky Anglican.
The church: Pusey House Chapel, Oxford, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Pusey House and its chapel are on St Giles Street. The exterior is done up like most other buildings in the university, covered in if not composed of dark golden stone.
The church: Pusey House was founded by proponents of the Oxford Movement (a Catholic revival within the Church of England) in 1884 in honour of E.B. Pusey, a leader of the renewal. The house is described as a chaplaincy to members of the university, founded when the university was in imminent danger of secularization. Fortunately, this travesty was averted, and therefore the house is intended to "complement the work of college chapels."
The neighbourhood: Pusey House is situated next to Regent's Park College (which is Baptist, no less) and not far from Mary Magdalene Church and the Martyrs' Memorial.
The cast: Rev. Philip Ursell, Rev. William Davage, and Rev. Barry Orford, assisted by a number of servers and acolytes.
What was the name of the service?
11.00am High Mass, Trinity Sunday.
How full was the building?
There were perhaps 50 of us present. At least half were older graduates and assorted members of the university in some shape or form, while the rest were undergraduates.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
My two friends and I made our way into the chapel about two minutes before the service, so most people were already seated and the priests no doubt doing whatever it is they do before a High Mass; a few people straggled in late after we did. One latecomer paused to genuflect, which when I think about it seems only right to do when you're late. Perhaps I'll recommend it at my church at home when I return, although I don't think it will be enthusiastically adopted.
Was your pew comfortable?
We sat in reasonably comfortable chairs, but the kneelers were something of a trick for me. I'm sure they're fine, but I always fall off of them, not being used to such practices. I never remember to kneel until I see everyone else do it, and sometimes when I fall off the things (and sideways into the floor) I don't bother getting up again. Maybe it makes me look more devoted. I'm sure if I were noticed I'd be thought charismatic and promptly exorcised. If some charismatics I knew saw me kneeling before the blessed sacrament, they'd want to exorcise me as well. So either way...
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Some were talking, others were sitting quietly and others were kneeling an interesting mixture. This made the atmosphere seem somewhat relaxed and free, which made me more comfortable. I spent my time trying to figure out where they'd hidden the order of service. I'd also never been present at a service with incense before, so I was all confused as it began.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all..."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
They used the New English Hymnal, along with a small yellow leaflet announcing the hymns and the lectionary passages. I finally discovered that the liturgy was printed in permanent hymnal inserts by the time we got to the confession and absolution.
What musical instruments were played?
Someone played a quite majestic organ.
Did anything distract you?
This style was all very new to me "poor boys, you must be terribly confused," said Father after mass so being the enthusiastic neophyte wannabe Anglo-Catholic that I am, I was distracted by most of it, such as the incense (I thought the lady up front was going to pass out in the thick of the smoke), the candles, and of course the golden vestments. I was busy trying to remember when to kneel (though it was written in the service inserts) and pondering when to cross myself. I must confess, my only real problem was the fierce organ music during the prayers, which I suppose should have brought to mind the worship in the Book of Revelation, but instead, it brought to mind "Phantom of the Opera". And with all those bright, coloured robes, I was already thinking about Broadway. I didn't get really distracted until they rang the bell at the consecration; we don't do that in Baptist or low-church Anglican circles so it was very surreal and very funny. I nearly swallowed my tongue trying not to laugh; I'll do better next time, I suppose.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
If this got any farther from "happy clappy" we'd be at a papal mass, I think. We were "worshipping the Lord in the beauty of holiness," smells and bells all the way.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 I thought the sermon was well-delivered, and it was unexpectedly spiced with humour directed at T.S. Eliot, the university theology faculty, and other hapless folk.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Father Davage preached on the mystery of the Trinity, bringing to mind the formulations of the ancient church councils and reminding us that the Trinity is a mystery, after all, and not to be explained away or ignored, for it is key to our understanding of God as a relational God.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The majestic music during the mass and the pomp and circumstance that really gave the feel of lifting up praises to a God who is High and Other, yet delights in us.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I hate when I fall off the kneelers!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
My friends and I were greeted by the principal (Fr. Ursell) who was greatly sympathetic to our bewilderment, and then sent upstairs for drinks.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no coffee. We had sherry. We also spoke with an acquaintance from the theology library who very kindly sought us out, and then had an animated and friendly conversation with Fr. Orford on the history of Anglo-Catholic renewal, which we found quite interesting.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 high church all the time makes me tired, but I quite enjoy the structure and aid it gives to community and personal devotion. The people seem friendly, and the sermon was certainly good.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes! I came away with a poignant sense of the organic nature of the church, with a continuity that stretches from Pentecost to the 21st century.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Thinking of the throne of God during the eucharist.