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||1463: St Mary the Virgin, Willingdon, East Sussex, England
Mystery Worshipper: Ecclesiastical Flip-flop.
The church: St
Mary the Virgin, Willingdon, East Sussex, England.
The building: Built of stone and flint, parts of this church date
back at least 800 years. The tower, which contains a ringing peal of six
bells, is the oldest part of the building and may be part of an earlier
church, as it is offset at an angle to the present building. The churchyard
and graveyard are quite picturesque. The interior features warm brown and
beige colours and is quite simple. To the south of the chancel is a Victorian
Gothic pulpit. The side chapel at the east end of the north aisle is known
as the Ratton Chapel, which belonged to the Parker family of nearby Ratton
Manor. On the north side of the chancel are the war memorials in stone tablets.
The font is 14th century and is of local green sandstone, but the wooden
font cover dates from 1951. Over the font is an organ balcony, on the front
of which can be seen the Queen Elizabeth II coat of arms from 1953. The
stained glass windows are of some note, variously about the life of Christ
and the Blessed Virgin Mary and some saints.
The church: There are two eucharistic services each Sunday, with
a third (family eucharist) celebrated twice each month. In addition, matins,
either said or sung, is offered some Sundays. Evensong with benediction
is offered once each month. A variety of services, including a Taizé eucharist,
are offered during the week. This is probably a church mainly attended by
the locals; I am not to know whether it attracts regular worshippers from
further afield. There is a school nearby and at least one other Anglican
church in the parish known as the Church on the Trees, where weekly services
The neighbourhood: Willingdon is one of the larger villages in East
Sussex. Although recent development means that the village is now predominantly
urban rather than rural, it is still quite picturesque. The church is located
in a residential area.
The cast: The Revd David Charles, who had been ordained two days
earlier and was celebrating his first mass today, was the principal celebrant.
Concelebrating with him were the Rt Revd David Wilcox, retired Bishop of
Dorking; the Revd Martin Onions, vicar; and about a dozen and a half other
priests whose names I could not ascertain. The Revd Trevor Jones, SSC, vested
in cotta and stole, preached but did not concelebrate. Assisting were two
deacons of honour and a full team of servers, acolytes, torchbearers, thurifer
and boat-bearer, all vested in hooded albs with girdles. The new priest
wore a cloth of gold Roman chasuble, and the two deacons wore matching cloth
of gold dalmatics.
The date & time: Tuesday, 3 July 2007, 7.30pm.
What was the name of the service?
Votive Mass of Christ the Eternal High Priest.
How full was the building?
Comfortably full. I would estimate 100 in the congregation, with vacant
seats in the north aisle (there is no south aisle).
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. Bishop Wilcox and the vicar both said hello. I also spoke with a few
people I had met before in other places.
Was your pew comfortable?
Mattressed box pews; comfortable enough for me.
How would you describe the pre-service
Chatty until the notices before the service, after which silence reigned
supreme. I was hoping to hear the bells, but only three ringers turned up
and so ringing was abandoned.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good evening and welcome" by the vicar from the pulpit, who then announced
the opening hymn ("How shall I sing that Majesty"). Following the hymn,
we heard "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit"
spoken from the back of the church. There followed a procession through
the Ratton Chapel to the statue of Our Lady, Mother of the Church and Mother
of the clergy, where Father Charles laid a wreath of flowers. The hymn accompanying
this was "Ye who own the faith of Jesus."
What books did the congregation use during the
None; everything needed was printed in a specially produced service paper.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ. There was a 20-strong choir in the organ loft in the west gallery.
The male choristers wore blue cassocks without surplices; the ladies wore
blue gowns with white lapels. Medals were worn as appropriate.
Did anything distract you?
Yes, several things. I frequently looked up at the choir behind and above
me. Both deacons of honour handled the thurible left-handed. When appropriate,
a lady and a gentleman opened and closed the altar rail by sliding the golden
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
It was a concelebrated, choral solemn mass as befitted the occasion. The
gloria, sanctus, benedictus and Agnus Dei were all sung to Darke in F. There
were bells and smells, incense having been granted as a one-off concession
at the request of the new priest. The eucharistic prayer that begins "Lord,
you are holy indeed, the source of all holiness" was used. At the consecration,
the principal concelebrant genuflected before and after lifting the sacred
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 Father Jones' message was clear and unmistakable.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
God's judgement was not in the recent terrorist attacks, nor was it in the
recent floods in northern England, as some clerics seem to have suggested.
Jesus shows us the way; his life is how he judges the world. The saints
show us judgment by their way of holiness: St Maria Goretti, who chose death
over rape by an intruder, and who forgave her murderer as she lay dying
in hospital; St Francis, who received the stigmata; St Vincent de Paul,
who worked for the poor in France; St Clare, who taught us to place our
minds in the mirror of the soul, i.e. Christ. We need to reflect Christ
in our lives, becoming more like Jesus every day. Humility, poverty, chastity
and obedience is Jesus' judgement. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.
Which part of the service was like being in
It was heavenly all the way through, but of particular mention, the sanctus
sung to Darke in F – one of my favourite settings – going into the consecration
prayer intoned beautifully by Father David, then the Agnus Dei also sung
to Darke in F.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Not very much, but there has got to be something for the fires of hell.
Very well, then – the words of the hymns were printed on the service paper
as supplied to the congregation, but it seemed that the choir were singing
from a hymn book, and they led the singing using slightly different words
out of harmony with the congregation. For this reason, I had to be careful
not to sing too loudly.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
That seemed rather pointless. Although I was there as a first timer, there
were people present whom I had met before elsewhere, and there was ample
opportunity to chat.
How would you describe the after-service
There was a reception and refreshments in the hall but no coffee. Rather,
there were glasses of wine and nibbles consisting of various savouries.
Yum-yum! During the reception, the new priest was presented with a white
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 My score of 8 is a bit provisional as I have not been present for
Sunday worship, which I am told is lower down the candle than was the case
tonight. If tonight's service were the norm, I would definitely give it
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes, in every way.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The long procession of concelebrating priests.
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