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||1163: St Mary the Virgin, Swanley, Kent, England
Mystery Worshipper: Bishop's Finger.
The church: St Mary the Virgin, Swanley, Kent, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Dating from 1901, this brick-built church consists
only of an apsidal chancel, a three-bay nave, and a north aisle, the original
design having never been completed. A narthex and hall were added at the
west end in 1976. The interior is light but austere, albeit oddly proportioned
given the shortness of the nave, with a free-standing altar set prominently
in the middle of the chancel.
The church: This is a Forward in Faith parish under the episcopal
oversight of the Bishop of Fulham, with a long tradition of Anglo-Catholic
worship. The congregation included a number of children and teenagers as
well as the usual middle-aged and elderly types, and appears to have a wide
range of activities going on both for church members and for the community
as a whole.
The neighbourhood: This part of Swanley (as distinct from the old
village a mile or so away) sprung up about a hundred years ago around the
railway junction. Many housing estates have appeared since then, but the
church remains in a prominent position close to the commercial centre of
the area. There is an ASDA (Britain's answer to Wal-Mart) nearby, and their
car park proved very convenient!
The cast: The Rev. James McCluskey, assistant curate, presided, and
the preacher was the Rev. Michael Brundle, vicar. The deacon was Russell
Stagg, a parish reader, and the subdeacon was a prospective ordinand whose
name I didn't catch. There were also two acolytes, a thurifer, and a small
choir of five. The organist, as I was later to learn, was one Dougie Blue,
who plays frequently at this church along with others on a rota basis.
The date & time: Sunday, 24 July 2005, 10.00am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
About two-thirds full. This is a small church, and I reckon that there were
about 100 present.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A sidesperson handing out paperwork smiled pleasantly and said "Good
morning." Several others greeted me after I sat down.
Was your pew comfortable?
No pews – comfy well-padded chairs instead, and nicely embroidered hassocks
How would you describe the pre-service
There was a fair bit of conversation, although nothing too loud or obtrusive.
The organist was playing what sounded like a Bach prelude, and it seemed
a pity that people weren't listening more attentively – he really was good
What were the exact opening words of the
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
What books did the congregation use during the
Just a very well-produced little booklet complete with hymns, readings and
the text of the mass (the Roman rite), together with thoughts on the gospel
and the parish notices for the coming week. I take it that something similar
is produced for each Sunday – today's was apparently given (or financed?)
by one of the ladies of the church in memory of her late husband.
What musical instruments were played?
The organ only, but it is a very fine instrument, not too overpowering,
and was beautifully played by Dougie, who was obviously thoroughly enjoying
Did anything distract you?
Hmmm... the burgundy upholstery on the chairs clashed horribly with the
green vestments of the clergy, but apart from that there was really nothing
to distract one from worship. Even a toddler just in front of me playing
with toys (thoughtfully provided by the church) did so very quietly!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Unashamedly Anglo-Catholic, with a full set of sacred ministers plus the
preacher, bells, incense (lots of it) and well-drilled servers in cassock
and cotta, but with a good deal of active lay participation as well. The
choir, sad to say, did not really make much of an impression, but I understand
that they were rather down in numbers today, the school holidays having
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 Father Brundle spoke clearly, but I think he was reading from his
notes for much of the time, and he did stumble over them once or twice.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
Father spoke about the day's Gospel, the parable of the man who found a
hidden treasure in a field, saying that in a fallen and sinful world (he
cited the recent suicide bombings in London as a prime example) the kingdom
of God is often difficult to find or to see. However, it is not God's way
to hand us the kingdom on a plate, as it were, but to give us His grace
as we continue to discern and search for it – and, indeed, it is this
continual searching that helps us to grow as Christians.
Which part of the service was like being in
The superb organ-playing, together with the clouds of incense – and singing
"Blessed and praised be Jesus Christ in the most holy Sacrament"
immediately after the end of the eucharistic prayer.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Grrr... as is too often the case, the congregation had no access to the
music for the mass setting. It was one I didn't know, and in the end I more
or less gave up trying to sing along.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Well, for once I made the first move. I enquired as to the name of the organist,
but the person I spoke to didn't know. However, she introduced me to a charming
gentleman who had been a member of the church for nearly seventy years.
He answered my questions, took me into the hall, led me to the coffee queue,
and filled me in on the parish's history. He also introduced me to the parish
reader and gave me the church's welcome pack with details of activities,
mission statement and so on.
How would you describe the after-service
Fair trade coffee in a china cup, with a nice selection of biscuits and
home-made buns and things. The coffee was rather lukewarm, as a party using
the hall the previous evening had switched the urn off and it hadn't been
switched back on early enough to heat the water sufficiently.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 I thoroughly enjoyed the service despite the unknown mass setting,
but (and it's a big but) I do not agree at all with Forward in Faith. That,
and only that, might make me think twice about worshipping here regularly
if I lived in the area.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Dougie Blue, the virtuoso organist!
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