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||1177: Priory Church of the Holy Trinity, Christchurch,
Mystery Worshipper: Ecclesiastical Flip-flop.
The church: Priory Church of the Holy Trinity, Christchurch, Dorset,
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: The Domesday Book records that during the reign of
King Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) there was a priory of 24 secular canons
on this site, later reconstituted as a priory of canons regular of the order
of St Augustine of Hippo. In 1094 a Norman church was begun where the old
priory had stood. Construction continued throughout the next few hundred
years, and by 1350 the nave roof had been lifted to its present height over
the clerestory. John Draper, the last Augustinian prior, managed to procure
the building from King Henry VIII at the time of the dissolution of the
monasteries as the parish church in perpetuity for the townsfolk of Christchurch;
thus, the building (unlike many other monastic buildings) was spared from
destruction. It is a magnificent building. In recent years the exterior
masonry has been cleaned and now looks very resplendent. The south nave
aisle windows are in the decorated gothic style, as is the quire screen,
although it is probable that this screen was brought in from elsewhere at
a later date. The east end of the building, separated from the nave and
sanctuary area by a stone screen, consists of the quire with its misericords.
Up above the medieval high altar, just below the ceiling, is a small mural
of the Ascension painted in 1967 by Hans Freibusch. A nave altar is used
for the principal Sunday services. At the extreme east end of the building
is the Lady Chapel.
The church: This is the sort of church that offers cathedral-style
Sunday services that attract people from far and near. The choir maintains
a very high standard and sings the eucharist (Common Worship, traditional)
as well as matins and evensong (Book of Common Prayer) every Sunday.
Services are offered daily throughout the week. It is a forward-in-faith
church, opting out of women priests and the liberal tendencies of present
The neighbourhood: Christchurch is situated in the part of Dorset
that used to be in Hampshire, and is between the New Forest and Bournemouth,
in the diocese of Winchester. It attracts many holiday-makers each year
and is a favourite place for retired people to come and live. It is a historic
town and very scenic. The church lies at the end of the High Street in close
proximity to the harbour. It overlooks Mudeford Sandbank and its many holiday
chalets, and the Isle of Wight beyond. The harbour lies at the estuary of
the Rivers Stour and Avon and is a favourite place for boating and fishing.
The scenery is a sight to behold.
The cast: The vicar of Christchurch, the Rev. Canon Hugh Williams,
vested in green cope and matching stole, was assisted by the Rev. Canon
Andrew Hawthorne and by one other priest whose name was not given. There
was a team of three servers (two acolytes and a crucifer who did double
duty as the thurifer) vested in albs and green apparelled amices. A churchwarden,
who I presume was Mike Beams, also took part in the service, but more about
The date & time: Sunday, 25 September 2005, 6.30pm.
What was the name of the service?
Solemn Choral Evensong and Benediction.
How full was the building?
Hard to tell – people were scattered all over the nave. As we shall see
later, the service concluded in the Lady Chapel, which is spacious enough
to be a small church in and of itself. At that point, the chapel was completely
full. I suppose there were 50 or more people in the congregation.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I had arrived earlier that afternoon, hours before service time, to reacquaint
myself with the priory, and a baptism was then in progress. A friendly guide
in a blue gown greeted me and handed me the standard guide leaflet. A little
later a voice said hello, and it was Rosemary the tower captain. If it wasn't
for the fact the ringers would be ringing a quarter peal, I would have gone
up the tower to take part in the pre-service ringing, as on previous visits.
When service time approached I made my entry and received a friendly hello
from a sidesman who handed me the books I would need.
Was your pew comfortable?
There were interlocking padded chairs – yes, very comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service
I stood outside listening to the quarter peal. On this occasion it was being
rung for a couple celebrating their golden wedding anniversary, and consisted
of 1,260 changes of plain bob major (45 minutes of non-stop ringing on eight
bells, and no change can be repeated), faultlessly executed. As I stepped
inside, the organ was playing and the request for silence before the service
was being duly observed.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good evening and welcome to the Priory for evensong on this, the 18th Sunday
after Trinity. We begin with hymn number 265 ('Lord of beauty, thine the
What books did the congregation use during the
The Book of Common Prayer; New English Hymnal; sheets of paper
giving the order of benediction and notices. In the pew was The Holy
Bible, New Revised Standard Version.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ. The service was sung only by the gentlemen of the choir, although
the director appeared to be a woman.
Did anything distract you?
The censing during the magnificat and at benediction always has a tendency
to distract me, but I found nothing to complain of in the vicar's technique.
But whilst the sanctuary party stood in front of the altar for the last
part of the office up to the third collect, one of the acolytes seemed a
little unsure of what to do and which way to face as he held his candle.
The vicar had to whisper instructions to him here and there. (All the dear
boy need have done was to mimic his partner.) At benediction, the divine
praises omitted references to Mary's immaculate conception and assumption,
and the vicar forgot to remove the consecrated host from the monstrance
and return it to the tabernacle before processing out afterwards.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
It was a traditional service of Prayer Book choral evensong. The canticles
were sung to Sumsion in G. The anthem was "In God's word will I rejoice",
by Purcell. The congregation processed out behind the choir and sanctuary
party to the hymn "Abide with me" for benediction in the Lady Chapel.
Immediately before benediction, the vicar blessed the new monstrance, lunette,
tabernacle and pair of outdoor acolytes' candles, given in memory of a sacristan
and assistant verger who had died recently.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Not a proper sermon, but two talks lasting 7 minutes and 11 minutes respectively.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 10 for speaking about stewardship, but only 1 for doing so at the
wrong time and place, making an average of 5.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
Christian stewardship and a reappraisal of strategy and a sense of direction
in the local church community. A churchwarden gave the first talk, and the
vicar gave the second talk on behalf of Richard Hawthorn, the other churchwarden,
in his absence. The churchwarden reviewed parish progress, covering topics
such as other churches in Christchurch, shortage of clergy resulting in
increased involvement of the laity, priory services, young people, plans
to make the priory and visitors' centre more user-friendly, conservation
of the priory building, music and the choir. Even with 76,000 visitors to
the priory last year, sufficient income was not brought in. The vicar then
took over with "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God
the things that are God's." There was a £17,000 deficit, and in order to
wipe that out, would each worshipper consider contributing £2 more per week.
Which part of the service was like being in
The censing of the altar during the magnificat and benediction, which always
speaks of heaven.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The moment the churchwarden mounted the pulpit I was filled with dismay.
I had visions of the service running longer than I could stay (as I had
a train to catch), resulting in my having to miss benediction (which I don't
get that much of a chance to attend). As it turned out, there was plenty
of time. But my point is that stewardship – important as it is – should
be dealt with outside the service, either straight afterwards or at another
time, so as not to interrupt the flow and devotional aspect of the service.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After joining the queue to shake hands with the clergy, I really had to
dash for my train, and so I couldn't linger to see what else would happen.
How would you describe the after-service
There wasn't any.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 Christchurch Priory has been a favourite of mine since childhood.
If I lived in Christchurch, I would go there pretty well every week, with
the possibility of dividing my loyalties with another church if I wanted
to go further up the Anglo-catholic spectrum.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Benediction in the Lady Chapel and the talks on stewardship. That's two
things – oh well!
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