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  1239: St Mary the Virgin, Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Northumberland, England

St Mary the Virgin, Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Northumberland

Mystery Worshipper: Kettle.
The church: St Mary the Virgin, Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Northumberland, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
Comment: We have received comments about this report.
The building: The church sits in the midst of an ancient but well-tended graveyard, and is the oldest surviving structure on the Holy Island. The original Saxon elements are clearly visible amongst later Norman additions. The present layout was probably completed by the 13th century. Some fine stained glass graces the interior. The church is very lovely, but is completely eclipsed by the beauty of its surroundings. Next door are the ruins of the priory founded by St Aidan, which is open to the public. A short walk away is St Cuthbert's Island, accessible only at low tide.
The church: The church receives many pilgrims throughout the year. However, parish life seems to be limited to what my companion terms "typical C of E individualism" – getting Jesus, then getting out. I have no idea if anything happens during the week, as there was no notice sheet or calendar of events.
The neighbourhood: Lindisfarne is an island off the north-east coast of England and is accessible only at low tide via a causeway or a walk across the sand. As the tide rises, the island is cut off from the mainland. It claims to be the cradle of English Christianity. The term "Holy Island" came into use after the Norman Conquest and relates back to the times of Saints Aidan and Cuthbert and the massacre of Christians by Viking invaders in 793. It does indeed feel like a holy place and is truly beautiful.
The cast: Don't know, actually. There was no notice sheet. I'm assuming it was the parish priest. At any rate, she wore stunning vestments.
The date & time: 18 February 2006, 10.45am.

What was the name of the service?
Village Communion.

How full was the building?
Reasonably so, in the style of one pew for you two, one pew for me. I don't think there were many empty pews, though.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. I was handed a hymn book but not welcomed especially. The peace cermony was cordial but functional. No one appeared to be the slightest bit interested in who we were.

Was your pew comfortable?
Quite comfy. A pew with pretty kneelers. The extra padding at the communion rail did raise me up a bit too much, though.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and prayerful.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to St Mary's. Today is two Sundays before Lent, or, if you want the proper name, it's Sexagesima Sunday." After the general welcome, we were told we would have a time of silence before the processional hymn, and we actually had it! A good length of proper silence. Great! An announcement was also made that Thursday was the feast of St Polycarp, accompanied by a brief explanation of who St Polycarp was.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Ancient and Mouldy – oops, I mean Modern – and a service sheet.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, augmented by a very musical crying child.

Did anything distract you?
The crying child, a bit. Trying to work out what symbol was on the headscarf of the religious sisters in front of us. Trying to work out why the priest appeared to be wearing blue in ordinary time (upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a beautiful sea green).

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Wishy washy, almost traditional, but not quite going the whole way. Quite reserved.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
14 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – She spoke very softly, and sounded a bit bored with her own sermon. Which was a shame, because it wasn't actually that boring. It was an inspiring sermon, delivered in an uninspiring way. My companion thought it was an interpretation of the Gospel for a multi-faith society.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was based on the Gospel passage, John 1. She started talking about the nature of Christ as God, making me feel very trinitarian. It was about our search for the light out of the darkness, mentioning those who were doubting or suffering from depression. Both of which had special meaning for me.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The silence. After a hectic weekend, it was heaven indeed. Receiving communion in such a holy place. Getting the chance to belt out some great hymns.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Before the service began, as we looked over the hymn numbers, we didn't recognise any of the hymns based on their titles or first lines. However, we both breathed a sigh of relief when they were played to familiar tunes.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We were practically booted out the door after handing in our hymn books. No one welcomed us or asked us where we were from. I appreciate that they must get a lot of visitors, but I felt distinctly unwelcome. We shook the priest's hand as we went out, but no conversation was offered.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – I'm glad this isn't my regular church, but I'd happily trade all the coffee in Arabia for a chance to live on Holy Island. I was surprised, though, at the lack of welcome.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes! Belting out the hymns, receiving communion, being in such a holy place, no one in those surroundings could not feel glad to be Christian.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Learning who St Polycarp was. Could I get away with naming my child Polycarp, do you think?
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