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||1296: St John's, North Baddesley, Hampshire, England
Mystery Worshipper: Roundabout.
The church: St John's, North Baddesley, Hampshire, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: The church stands in the middle of Hampshire countryside,
backing onto rolling hills and fronting onto a fairly busy road. It is very
small – according to their website, the church is less than 55 feet
long and only 16 feet wide. The architecture mostly dates back to the middle
ages, when the church was probably part of a larger settlement home for
the Knights Hospitallers (see below). Inside, there is a tiny gallery at
the rear, and the nave is separated from the chancel by a screen dating
from c.1600. The sanctuary is dominated by a huge 17th century memorial
which is entirely disproportionate to the size and style of the rest of
the church. The parish's website gives many more details and even a virtual
tour for those more interested.
The church: Every Sunday, St John's hosts an early morning communion
service (Common Worship) and evening service (BCP evensong or a
monthly Common Worship eucharist). The main Sunday services take
place elsewhere in the benefice. The website describes the various social
activities, home study groups, and other ministries engaged in.
The neighbourhood: According to a conversation I had with one of
the clergy, the most recent census identified North Baddesley as very demographically
representative of Britain. The absence of non-Christian places of worship,
however, points to the village's dependence on nearby Southampton as a focus
of leisure, work and cultural activities. In the late 14th century the village
was headquarters to the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, also known as the
Knights Hospitallers. Indeed, St John's Church is named in honour of St
John the Baptist, patron saint of the Knights. A large population growth
in the twentieth century (the village now has around 7000 residents) saw
the relocation of the village centre about a mile away, together with a
new church. Today, St John's nearest neighbours are farms and the old manor
house. The pretty location, however, clearly attracts those with more long-term
interests, and it has a thriving churchyard awash with flowers.
The cast: The Rev. Paul Sherwood, curate, celebrated the eucharist,
assisted by Ms Sally Kerson, reader, and an unnamed thurifer.
The date & time: Pentecost Sunday, 4 June 2006, 6.00pm.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
I counted, I think, 18 including the organist and sanctuary party. In a
church in which fitting 80 would be a squeeze, this did not feel at all
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Books had been left on the font and I took them and found a pew. No personal
welcomes – but to be honest, this was not an atmosphere for chatty welcomes
and there was no space for a sidesperson to stand without getting in the
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a wooden pew which could, looking at the batteredness of it, tell a story or two. Perfectly comfortable for an hour.
How would you describe the pre-service
The organ played quiety and a bell chimed as I entered the building. All
the congregation were seated and most were in silence until the service
began. Any whispered conversations were audible to the rest of the congregation,
which probably deterred gossiping.
What were the exact opening words of the
"The Lord be with you."
What books did the congregation use during the
New English Hymnal and an in-house folder containing printouts
of the eucharist. There were a few eucharist services to choose from, and
no direction was given, but it was clear that everyone else was turning
to the white pages so I followed suit.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, played pleasingly well, particularly given the evening timing and
the small congregation.
Did anything distract you?
I sat directly under the edge of the gallery, and a rather large but rather
dead spider dangled above my head. That distracted the mind a little.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Now here was a surprise: I was in a mood where I wanted a Pentecost service
that could guarantee both quiet and tradition – which was what I got.
But I wasn't expecting this sleepy country church to have an evening service
with an eastward-facing celebration, eight candles on the altar plus two
at a side setup, as well as a hefty dose of incense. Lovely stuff!
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Well, I noted the starting time, but I was so engrossed in it that I forgot
to stop counting. Judging by when the service ended, I imagine it was between
10 and 12 minutes long.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 The reader, Sally Kerson, preached. And another pleasant surprise:
Her sermon was clear, lucid, had an easy to understand message, and was
delivered eloquently. Had she made a touch more eye contact with the congregation,
I might have even got as far as awarding an 8.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
Linking her sermon to the two doves living in the church porch, she spoke about the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, looking at what the church was, and is, and how we should continually seek to use the gift of the Spirit. Listening to the still small voice of God, listening to people, and communicating within church is a necessary part of our church life together, even if sometimes we're not very good at it.
Which part of the service was like being in
Singing Pentecost hymns in an incense-filled church on a sunny summer evening
really lifted my spirits heavenward that day. "Oh, you're all God-ed up"
was my agnostic partner's response on my return home – and he was right.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Sitting beneath the spider wasn't exactly my idea of heaven. If that was
the size of the dead ones, I was wondering what size of spider could be
running over my feet.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A few people almost made half-eye contact as they left the church and I
sat in my pew, but there was no direct conversation. It was dangerously
close to looking like a no-acknowledgement-of-strangers-here moment, which
would be a shame as I'd enjoyed myself up to that point. However, on leaving
the door I was caught by the reader and introduced to the curate, and we
chatted for about 10 minutes about various things. However, I think that
had I wanted to escape quietly (as I know that some people do), they'd have
been tactful enough to let me go.
How would you describe the after-service
It was an evening service with no refreshments. The glass of wine greeting
me on my return home was probably far nicer than anything they could have
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 Well, that's a funny thing. In my more spiritual moments I am looking
for a church home, and this might just fit the bill.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes, undoubtedly so.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The incense. I've been stuck in middle-of-the-road churches for a lifetime,
and it was nice to see it being used.
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