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654: St Eustachius, Tavistock, Devon, England
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Mystery Worshipper: Chapelhead.
The church: St Eustachius, Tavistock, Devon, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The neighbourhood: The neighbouring buildings (town hall, magistrates court and hotel) are built of the same local stone and form a very pretty grouping around Bedford Square.
The cast: The vicar, the Rev. Prebendary John Rawlings, welcomed and blessed. The assistant curate, the Rev. Joanna Abecassis, led the service. There were three readers, one of whom led the prayers, and the sermon was given by Tony Good, a retired clergyman assisting with services in the area.
What was the name of the service?
Patronal festival evensong and annual service for the friends of St Eustachius.

How full was the building?
There were about 40 people in the congregation; the choir, priests, etc. added another 20. The building would probably hold about 400, but as we were almost all sitting in the central part of the nave, it gave the impression of a reasonable level of occupancy.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The person handing out the order of service wished me "good evening".

Was your pew comfortable?
Fairly standard pews with long thin cushions. Quite comfortable enough.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Some fine organ playing with occasional whispered greetings between members of the otherwise silent congregation.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to this service."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A service sheet and Hymns Ancient and Modern New Standard.

What musical instruments were played?
A splendid pipe organ. I particularly enjoyed the pieces which were played as a prelude to the service.

Did anything distract you?
Trying to work out what the assistant curate was wearing (the vicar was wearing the "best" cope). It was either an old cope in a modern design, or a new cope made in a very traditional way. With a mainly cream background and deep red edging, it had stylised flowers interwoven with gold thread. Closer inspection revealed that it was constructed of hexagons (of what I presumed to be silk), hence the stylised appearance. I liked it very much, it was a most interesting piece.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Upper lips were very stiff. This congregation seem to like their evensong taken straight, and then be quietly off home.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
13 minutes

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The sermon was quietly delivered, the main problem being the lack of time to develop the theme (although 13 minutes is fairly long for evensong). I would like to have heard him go on for an hour, or give a series of talks. He seemed to have a thorough and interesting knowledge of the subject, but there just wasn't enough time here to get to grips with it.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Christianity and art. We went on a lightning tour of Jewish, Ancient Greek and Christian attitudes to art, with references to how we perceive and practise art today. This was linked with the work that the friends of St Eustachius do in raising funds for the fabric of the church building and its contents.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Evensong is a beautiful service, and it was good to have a strong choir to lead the singing.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Evensong tends to be a quieter, less "sociable" service, but even so I was disappointed that there wasn't more of an effort to welcome a visitor. Not hellish, perhaps, but not good either.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
It would have been almost impossible to look lost, as it was quite clear that at the end of the service the procedure was that the congregation quietly and efficiently exited their pews, and left the building in an orderly fashion, saying "good evening" and shaking hands with each of the three priests in turn. If I had been a genuine newcomer to the area I might have made more of an effort to engage someone in conversation, but after five hours driving and another hour ahead it seemed easier to leave with the rest.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none, but I would not expect there to be any after evensong.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – the church magazine and notices gave the impression of a church with a wide range of activities, including children's work and adult education – and a sense of fun. If I lived locally, I would look forward to coming here, but I might leave evensong until I knew a few more people.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The combination of the service and remembrance of the martyrdom of St Eustachius made me think of Christianity in terms of grim beauty, which is hardly the same thing as glad; but to each its season.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
As I walked back to my car, I passed the vestry where the choir were removing their robes. I couldn't hear what was being said, but their smiling and laughing faces made me realise that those who had brought most to the service seemed to take the most from it. It also made me think that my impressions of the service, and in particular of the people attending it, might have been very wide of the mark, which was a salutary lesson.
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