|617: St Mary's, Kingswinford, West Midlands, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Abed-Nego.
The church: St Mary's, Kingswinford, West Midlands, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: It is located in a surprisingly elegant corner of an otherwise un-noteworthy West Midlands town. Although it is basically imitation Gothic, the church has some ancient bits, including a Norman tympanum which is hidden from public view in the vestry.
The church: They are about the friendliest people on the face of the earth. Never have I been so warmly greeted. From the moment I stepped out of my car, until moments before the service began, people were welcoming me into their midst.
The neighbourhood: The West Midlands is not a specially lovely place. One is unlikely to seek out Kingswinford for any tourist reasons. It's an outcrop of 19th century industrialisation, but there's the semblance of a village atmosphere from an earlier age which is quite pleasing.
The cast: Canon John Lungley.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
It was about half-full, which was a sufficiently critical mass to create a warm family atmosphere.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
From the pathway outside, through the church entrance and while seated in the pew, parishioners came and introduced themselves. These included words of welcome from the assistant priest, the lay-reader and the vicar himself.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It would have been quite quiet and reverential if we had been regulars. But the presence of outsiders seemed to create a source of distraction.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Common Worship New Hymns and Worship Songs New English Hymnal. Also an order of service (plus notices) in a little publication called "Contact Weekly".
What musical instruments were played?
Only an organ.
Did anything distract you?
Not exactly distracting, but a lot of people were rather more informally dressed for church than I'm used to. Also, I couldn't figure out who was directing the large choir of boys, women and men. No one appeared to be conducting them even in the anthem.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was straightforwardly Anglo-Catholic in style with quite a lot of lay involvement.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Since this was the church's patronal festival, the subject was "the birthday of our Lady". Based on the text, "Do not be afraid to take Mary home", we were encouraged in the belief that we like her are "God-bearers". Despite the fact that some may be nervous to do so, Canon Lungley invited us to offer petitions to our Lady with confidence.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The most moving part of the mass for me were the intercessions. A young teenage boy led the prayers quite beautifully and poignantly, and his sincerity was very touching indeed.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The youth leader who was invited by the celebrant to tell us about the upcoming harvest festival arrangements provided a pretty peculiar moment. He demonstrated how our food donations should fit exactly into a shoe box for ease of delivery to the aged and inform. A good idea, I suppose, but poorly expressed. Then came the worst moment, as Canon Lungley put the poor chap on the spot by quizzing him about some group that was being put together for bible study and fellowship in people's houses. The idea seemed to be in its early stages, and so the youth leader struggled bravely to outline future plans without many facts to hand. The real problem was that neither he or the priest seemed too clear about details, and so it was a curiously fudgy moment in an otherwise well managed service.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Oh boy, there's no hanging around in Kingswinford! We was ushered into the adjoining hall for tea and coffee, and made to feel very much at home. In addition to grown-up socialising, there was plenty of room for the kids to let off steam. The whole thing was very well organised.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I didn't notice anything about the quality of the refreshments. I was so involved in conversation mostly with Canon Lungley that I didn't judge the quality of what I was imbibing.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 If I lived in the Kingswinford area, I would seriously consider joining this church. I have attended eucharists in three other local parishes, and each time the experience was depressing. This is a lively, loving and active place, and a welcome relief from other local Church of England offerings.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very much so.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Christianity works. I left with the feeling that the Church of England will thrive and grow in places where congregations prioritise liturgy, music and preaching as they do here in Kingswinford, especially when that worship is carried out with energy, enthusiasm and commitment at this level.