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881: St Peter & St Paul, Uppingham, Rutland, England
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Saints Peter & Paul, Uppingham, Rutland, England
Mystery Worshipper: Stiletto.
The church: St Peter & St Paul, Uppingham, Rutland, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
Comment: We have received a comment on this report.
The building: Charming, 14th century building hidden away behind the town's marketplace. A great deal of 1860s restoration, and significant re-ordering by Temple Moore in the 1930s; sensitive and attractive modernisation quite recently. Westward-facing high altar, but no sense of this being too far off; full choir stalls make a sensible link to the chancel arch (no screen) where there's an equally sensible communion rail. Good feeling, both homely and holy. Oh, and the smallest statue of Our Lady of Walsingham either of us has ever seen.
The church: In a small market town we expected a small, senior congregation. We got a large one of very mixed ages, and, judging by the week's notices and the material available on the bookstall, a very lively and active one.
The neighbourhood: The main entrance off the market square is through a small gap between a pub and a chemist's; so the building is hardly visible from the square itself, apart from the tower and the St George's flag which seems to fly permanently. Nice impression of how you must have approached many such churches in the middle ages. There's a prominent noticeboard in the centre of the passageway leading to the door, with full details of what's on and when the church is open. It feels an integral part not only of the life of the square itself, but genuinely at the heart of town life. It's obviously well-used and well-loved, and people pop in frequently to light candles, etc.
The cast: Fr Stephen Evans (rector) was the president and preacher; one of the readers, Dr Joy Widdows, was effectively the "deacon" and introduced the confession, read the Gospel and so forth.
What was the name of the service?
Sung Eucharist.

How full was the building?
It appeared to be mostly full – though we were in a bad place to judge properly. When we first came in and hovered, as one does, one of the sidesmen indicated there were still lots of places right at the front. We shared a joke about its being an Anglican church, of course there were; then took a deep breath and settled in the second row.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Two people said a warm, "Good morning", before we got anywhere near the sidesmen's table. The sidesmen smiled and asked were we visiting, while another joked with us about the seating. A friendly young churchwarden came and had a long chat about how long we were staying in the area, where had we been and did we like Rutland? His wife then came and sat in front of us, turned round and had a longer and more or less identical conversation. Very friendly, very reassuring, very welcoming – but actually what I wanted to do was pray...

Was your pew comfortable?
The cushions weren't very well fixed, and the pews themselves were quite narrow, so if we tried to kneel down the cushions came with us. Otherwise a lot more bearable than most.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A great deal of subdued chat and a lot of moving about, with a general air of busy-ness. Nothing raucous, but it felt more like coffee-time afterwards than preparation-time before (and not helped by the priest sitting in the centre of the chancel, apparently finishing his sermon, wearing a cassock with red piping all round the edges). However, when he finally disappeared into the vestry, and then came out again in chasuble and stole, he welcomed everyone informally, before saying quietly but very firmly that we would now keep silence for a few minutes before the service began, to remember where we were and why. The transformation to an atmosphere of Benedictine meditation was instant and astonishing. Very impressive.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
When does a service start? With, "Our opening hymn is number 52"; or with "O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness", when we stood up to sing it; or with "In the name of the Father..." immediately afterwards?

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The New English Hymnal; customised Common Worship Order One booklet; the Book of Common Prayer (for the responsorial psalm, only it wasn't responsorial, it was sung well by the choir and badly by the congregation to a pretty tough, old-fashioned chant); and two sides of A5 paper with the week's notices.

What musical instruments were played?
An amiable Victorian organ.

Did anything distract you?
Previous scrutiny of the noticeboards had indicated that the curate had left the week before; therefore we imagined the reader was doing her "deaconing" for the first time. She was clearly terrified, and did it with all the calm of a rabbit caught in the headlights. With a bit of luck that won't last long. The curate had obviously been responsible for a sense of order and discipline while "laying the table" at the offertory, too, and nobody had a clue as to what the priest would need or where it was meant to go. The two young girls serving coped with this by increasing their speed of movement and doubling up with fits of giggles. Presumably that won't last long either!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Clearly with an intentional Catholic liturgical bias but in a very gentle and unfussy modern style; in fact pretty middle-of-the-road, well ordered rather even than formal. Two exceptions – the Intercessions were led by an older male reader with a slightly ponderous manner, and almost certainly making them up as he went along, to judge by the number of times he tripped over his words. I think we eventually prayed for the correct diocesan bishop. And it's years since I saw a priest keep his thumbs and first fingers together after consecrating the host; I wanted to offer him some finger-cymbals and a quick course in Indian dance.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
9 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Slightly ponderous, and with a tendency (common to many preachers) to repeat key phrases with additional emphasis – just in case we hadn't got it first time. However, the content and message were both clear and thought-provoking, with appropriate relevance to the day's readings.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
A very simple comparison between first century Palestine and twenty-first century Rutland, illustrating that in terms of "storing up treasures on earth" not a lot has changed. We all fall prey to the promises of salesmen and advertising, hoping that they'll grant us ultimate happiness when we own this car or that item of clothing, when true contentment can only come through God's gifts of the Spirit.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Totally wonderful performance by the choir (small, both sexes, very wide age-range) of Richard Lloyd's "View me, Lord" from the back of the church during communion.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Two things: the preparation for the eucharist being more like a school canteen than the Lord's table; and enduring the rector's complete reading aloud of the notice sheet at the end of the service, which ruined the flow of worship – he didn't say a thing that wasn't already printed there.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We were directed to join in the coffee party "by following the path outside to the east end of the building" – we couldn't find one, so we never made it to church coffee at all. Mercifully, there's an excellent coffee bar just outside. But on the way to return our small library of books, we were warmly greeted by the purveyor of home-made greetings cards, the runners of the Traidcraft stall, and our neighbours in the pew who'd enjoyed being next to people who could sing. We had effectively the same conversation we'd had on the way in all over again, several times.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Well, see above... ours was splendid!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – no question. If we lived locally and were looking for a church to join, we'd be hugely grateful to have found this one. We'd probably be auditioning for the choir, too.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It didn't make us feel depressed about it, which isn't quite the same thing!

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The overwhelming sense of welcome and friendliness, and the ability to worship well in that atmosphere.
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