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1732: St Mary's, Funtington, West Sussex, England
St Mary's, Funtington, West Sussex, England
Mystery Worshipper: Fluffy Bunny.
The church: St Mary's, Funtington, West Sussex, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Chichester.
The building: A lovely old building with amazing stained glass and a huge graveyard. The tower contains three bells. There is a vaulted ceiling with lovely ornamental stone supports for the wooden roof. A light and airy interior. A more detailed description of the building can be found on the main page of their website.
The church: Funtington Parish includes two other churches: St Andrew's West Stoke and St Mary's Sennicotts. St Mary's Funtington sponsors a Mother & Toddler group and a Sunday school. Thanks to generous funding by local benefactors, they have recently opened a new parish hall which, it is hoped, will be a springboard for a new round of extra activities. Holy communion is celebrated on three Sundays of the month, with matins read on the fourth Sunday. In months where there is a fifth Sunday, a joint service of holy communion is held in connection with the other churches in the parish.
The neighbourhood: The village of Funtington lies about five miles west of Chichester. Nearby is Kingley Vale, home to one of Europe's most impressive yew forests, whose trees are thought to number among the oldest living organisms in Great Britain. The church is hidden down a long lane.
The cast: There was nothing on the service sheet to indicate who was taking the service, but I assume the officiant was the Venerable John J. Holliman, the incumbent. A guest choir, the St Richard Singers, provided the music, accompanied by James Roriston at the organ.
The date & time: 31 May 2009, 6.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Festival Evensong for Pentecost.

How full was the building?

Did anyone welcome you personally?
There was only one sidesperson when I arrived and he seemed a little flustered. "They've left me all alone," he grumbled as he handed me my prayer book and service sheet. There was a large gathering in a side room where refreshments appeared to have been set out. I was left to find my own way around and into a pew.

Was your pew comfortable?
No. The pews are old and so not very accommodating of modern bottoms. There were no pew cushions.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, but everyone seemed quite friendly. The service started on time.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"The best laid plans of mice and men..." The officiant explained that the bell ringers could not leave as a car had blocked them in.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Book of Common Prayer and a service sheet with the hymns.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
(1) There was a loud crackling from one of the loudspeakers behind me which was quite distracting. (2) One of the sopranos had an odd way of shaping her mouth – it didn't seem that the shapes she was making fit the words she was singing. At times she opened her mouth so wide I thought she would envelop the row in front of her. (3) My bottom started to get quite uncomfortable after about 30 minutes in those old pews.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Standard BCP evening prayer with some really fantastic music: Tallis' Loquebantur Variis Linguis; Stanford's Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis; Haydn's The Heavens are Telling. There was also a presentation of a record of church artifacts that had been undertaken over the previous three years – an interesting interlude in the evening prayer.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
No sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
All of the music (despite the soprano's strange mouthings).

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The crackling speaker – they should get it fixed.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The St Richard Singers were to give a concert after the service had concluded, so there was no hanging around. No one spoke to me.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Refreshments were offered in the interval between the service and the concert, but as I wasn't staying for the concert, I didn't feel it was polite to have refreshments.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – A lovely church with a warm feeling inside. I'll give it another go.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I left church feeling uplifted and certainly glad to be a Christian. It's been a long time since I've heard evensong sung, and it was like meeting an old friend.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The most unusual opening line to a service and the lovely feeling I had at the end.
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