|721: St Edmund's, Hunstanton, Norfolk, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Hermione Chasuble.
The church: St Edmund's, Hunstanton, Norfolk, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: The church was opened in 1866, and dedicated to Edmund, king of East Anglia. The main events of his life are recorded in stained glass windows all around the church, from his landing at Hunstanton in AD 885 to his martyrdom at Hoxne. The bulk of the building is of local flint and red chalk, with dressings of Jurassic limestone. Inside, one finds a striking rood, and flanking floor-level statues of St Edmund complete with criss-cross leg bands, and of our Lady. Lights burn at each, and at several other strategic points round the church. The altars are surrounded by considerable expanses of cream carpet of the kind that makes the mothers of small boys nervous.
The neighbourhood: Hunstanton is a Victorian seaside town, complete with caravan and chalet parks, bungalow developments, B&B establishments, funfair, chip shops and England's most vulgar joke and novelty emporium. There is a significant elderly population, an increasing drug problem and spectacular stripey red chalk cliffs.
The cast: Celebrant: Fr Michael Penny; Preacher: Fr John Bloomfield.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
About half full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, there was a "Good morning" as I was handed the necessary books.
Was your pew comfortable?
Not bad for a standard pine pew. There were a mixture of needlepoint and vinyl hassocks. All were perfectly adequate.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Hushed whispering, quiet, and reverential.
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?
An order of service taken from common worship and the English hymnal (revised).
What musical instruments were played?
Organ and a robed, all-age choir who sang with great competence and assurance. A rare surprise in these rural parts. A couple of the hymns were dreary and unfamiliar to most of the congregation.
Did anything distract you?
There was one server who did everything with unobtrusive skill. What puzzled me hugely was that he and the celebrant went through all the motions with thurible and boat without producing a single puff of smoke. Hypoallergenic incense or crisis with resin or charcoal supply? Much attention was paid to those unsound of limb: people with real mobility problems shuffled to the south-eastern-most pew to receive, and those who were slightly nervous, or extremely ladylike, were manhandled down the chancel steps by a watchful gentleman in an anorak, who remained at his post for the duration of the distribution. The procession came and went from what seemed to be a small cupboard in the side of the war memorial in the north aisle.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was rather restrained anglo-catholicism, though whether this was due to a shortage of sacristy rats, or by design, I couldn't judge. There were six candles alight on the high altar, and all was done with great reverence and decorum. The celebration was largely conducted from a modern altar, with a rather flamboyant crown-shaped cutout, at the junction between the chancel and the nave. Communion was taken at the high altar. Nobody made an exhibition of themselves.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 The vicar was doubling as organist, and appeared from his organ seat, sporting a crisply-pleated cotta.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was based on the Gospel, the story of the wedding at Cana. The vicar began with various semi-humorous reminiscences about weddings he had conducted before getting to the point: that our Lord can transform ordinary things: water to wine, ordinary people to exceptional.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The intercessions: these were splendid, and were made by a member of the choir on a day when the armed forces were on their way to the Gulf. He petitioned for them and for the international situation in a completely detached and unpreachy way, something which is notoriously difficult to do. The Sunday school children trooped in at the offertory, and laid their worksheets at the altar.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I suppose the fact that nobody looked particularly happy or turned out to be friendly.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Absolutely nothing, although I gave it six minutes. I was desperately sad that day, and had been hoping that going to mass in a church with a familiar tradition would fill the gap that the rather plastic chapel in the local hospital had failed to plug. I was desperate for some sane, kind conversation. The celebrant did speak to me as I filed out, but it really wasn't the place for more than a word. The vicar remained resolutely in the war memorial cupboard.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 The delight I had felt when I went into the building, and when the procession came in, soon went. I would have to return in happier times to judge whether the fault was mine, or whether the other players were just going through the motions.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The chill of the congregation.