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866: The Priory, Lancaster, England
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The Priory, Lancaster, England
Mystery Worshipper: Latecomer.
The church: The Priory, Lancaster, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: It is an old and very beautiful stone building, and has been described as "the Anglican cathedral Lancaster doesn't have".
The church: It is the main Anglican church in Lancaster city centre, but it seems most of the congregation come from the more residential areas of the city or the university, including possibly some tourists. The service sheet included welcomes in 13 languages, at least two of which I didn't recognise.
The neighbourhood: The church is actually just out of the main shopping area of Lancaster, on a hill, next to the castle. There are a few (very expensive) houses on the hill, but it is really a green, park-like area which is popular for relaxing on summer days, but quite quiet the rest of the time.
The cast: Rev. Philip Davison preached, and members of the Mothers' Union did the readings and the prayers. The rest of the service was led by some of the priests, although they were never named during the service or on the service sheet. A bit of detective work revealed them as Canon Peter Cavanagh, Rev. Keith Thomasson, and Rev. Steve McMahon.
What was the name of the service?

How full was the building?
Mostly full – very few spaces in the centre of the church but only a few people sitting in the aisles.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
After the service several people talked to us.

Was your pew comfortable?
Standard wooden pew, with standard kneelers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Sadly, as per usual, I was late.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
After the first hymn, the priest said "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit", to which the people responded, "Amen".

What books did the congregation use during the service?
All the words of the hymns and the eucharist were printed on the service sheet, as were the words of the readings. The service sheet also had most of the notices on, and some rather nice woodcut-style graphics.

What musical instruments were played?
Large traditional organ.

Did anything distract you?
There was a rather crotchety toddler in the pew behind us. The church has no creche but provides toys for small children at the back of the church – some families seem to stay there with their children but this child was in the middle of the congregation.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Traditional Anglo-Catholic, fairly user-friendly (congregational spoken responses for the main, and all the words to all the parts of the service printed on the sheets) but including a large incense quotient, and a choir of men and girls.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
8 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The preacher was quite conversational, using several anecdotes and an actual prop (Coca-Cola's Dasani bottle).

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Free grace versus things being dependent on conditions and price. Dasani bottled water had just been brought out, and this was contrasted with Isaiah 55:1-9 ("Come and buy without money..."). The conclusion talked about not getting what we deserve, either in a positive or negative sense, but getting God's unconditional love.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The singing was beautiful, and the sermon was all the better for being conversational and short!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The incense was a bit much, and the baby was extremely distracting.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The service sheet says there is coffee "in the refectory" but there is no indication where the refectory is – so we went outside to see if the door to it was outside. No luck, and no-one directing us even though we were loitering, so we had to go back in to ask where to go. It turns out the entrance is behind the organ, through a door we couldn't see from where we were sitting, so we would never have even seen where people were going.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Fairly standard instant, but I'm pretty sure it was fairly traded. There were some biscuits made by the Mothers' Union on sale, but they'd all been snapped up by the time we finally found the room, sadly.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – We may well make this our regular – except the service starts at 10am, so we may have to alternate it with the evensong at the same place, or the (very very small) daughter parish that meets at 11am.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes – it was all round satisfying and conducive to worship.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The Dasani bottle.
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