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690: St Mary's, Ottery St Mary, Devon, England
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Ottery St. Mary Parish Church, Ottery St. Mary, Devon
Mystery Worshipper: Havilaugh.
The church: St Mary's, Ottery St Mary, Devon, England.
Denomination: Anglican.
The building: The church is a very old and beautiful building made of light grey stone and it has lots of stunning stained glass windows. It is modelled on Exeter Cathedral, with both a spire and a tower, and it is the visual focus of the village.
The church: It seems to be very active in the village, participating in Churches Together and holding lots of weekly events.
The neighbourhood: There is a very high elderly population in the area, and this is reflected in the congregation. The area is quite rural too, being in the middle of East Devon.
The cast: Sheila Walker, a reader who led worship; Rev. Simon Franklin, the team rector and interviewer; Alison Craven, who was interviewed.
What was the name of the service?

How full was the building?
It was quite empty. The church is a big building, but it didn't really feel very empty because people were all sat together in the centre of the building. There were probably not more than 20 people there plus the choir of about eight.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. I got confused by the two handles on the door, so it was opened for me, and I was greeted with a smile, welcome and a contact sheet. It was quite daunting to find the door closed, and I contemplated leaving as I wasn't sure the service was happening.

Was your pew comfortable?
No. It was old and wooden. The pews were close to the floor, and the back of the pew stopped low down my back which was irritating. Also the leg room was affected by having a rest for the kneelers taking up lots of the space. However, it was something I did get used to.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The (mostly) elderly congregation were nattering cheerfully amongst themselves. It seemed to be very much part of the ritual.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening and a warm welcome to everyone."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
We used the contact sheet for information on the psalms, hymns and readings. The worship came from The Shorter Book of Prayer, hymns from Hymns Old and New (Anglican edition) and the Bible readings from the NRSV.

What musical instruments were played?
The bells were rung before the worship started, and during the service an organ was played. There was also a small choir.

Did anything distract you?
There was an incessant buzzing from something electrical which was off-putting. It also felt to me as though I were sitting in a museum. The church is very tall, and made of cold grey stone, so it feels like you have gone back in time, especially when you are using Olde English for the worship. We are in 2003, folks.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was very much stiff upper lip. The worship was conducted from the Prayer Book, complete with sung psalms and responses in old-fashioned English, except for the interview which was quite informal and modern in style.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
18 – But it was an interview rather than a sermon.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The interview was conducted by the team rector in a laid back, informal manner. He was not robed or collared. He interviewed Alison, a member of the choir.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The interview was about prayer life, a theme to be continued throughout Lent. Alison talked about her experiences of prayer in different styles including contemplative prayer, compline and morning prayer groups.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The interview was inspiring. It was different to be able to hear someone talking about their normal, everyday experiences of prayer, in a casual laid-back manner. Alison's advice of going to talk to people about prayer seemed a good plan. It was also such a refreshing break from the rest of the overly formal service.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Trying to sing was not fun. I know it was evensong, but even so... There was a lot more singing than I expected and trying to spend half the time trying to work out where we were in the little book didn't help. We were not told that we were using the little book, let alone the page we were on at the start of the service, so I had to guess. A little explanation for us slower ones would have helped.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
One of the members of the congregation came over to talk to me almost straight away. We chatted for a while, then I went home. I was made to feel welcome.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasn't any. It was the evening so people just went home when they were ready.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – There is nothing wrong with the church – it is really quite nice. It is just about five centuries away from my chosen style of worship.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I don't know. It made me feel glad to be welcomed, but it is hard to remember why one is there when one is so confused by the service. The service was not offensive, but neither was it particularly inspiring; it was just "there".

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
How much the interviewee seemed to be at peace when she was talking about praying (despite initially looking apprehensive).
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