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1744: St Mary our Lady, Sidlesham, West Sussex, England
St Mary our Lady, Sidlesham, West Sussex, England
Mystery Worshipper: Fluffy Bunny.
The church: St Mary our Lady, Sidlesham, West Sussex, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Chichester.
The building: A very simple structure, somewhat unfinished in appearance, dating from the early 13th century. The present building stands almost certainly on the site of an earlier Saxon church. By the early 1600s the north chapel and part of the chancel had fallen into ruin. These were rebuilt in a somewhat different pattern (hence the rather unusual T-shape of the building) after the end of the Cromwellian period and the restoration of the Monarchy. The interior is very bright and airy due to lack of stained glass. If one looks carefully, one can see some details of historical significance, such as the remains of a mass dial (to indicate the times of service for parishioners unable to read) carved into the stone near the south door; a battered and weatherbeaten baptismal font with drain to discharge the blessed water to the outside (lest it fall into the hands of witches); and stonecutters' initials chiseled into the walls.
The church: They sponsor a Meals on Wheels program that delivers hot meals to the homebound or those temporarily unable to cook for themselves. They also put on a series of recitals and concerts by local musicians called Music in the Church. Their Sunday school features craft work, drama, investigative activities, games, quizzes etc. There is a said eucharist each Sunday, with an additional Sunday service of sung eucharist or sung matins in alternating weeks.
The neighbourhood: Sidlesham is a quiet village a few miles south of Chichester, featuring an eclectic mixture of dwellings dating from the 17th to the 20th century. The church is rather difficult to find unless you know the area. Parking is almost impossible if you arrive at the last minute.
The cast: The Revd Stephen Guise, priest in charge.
The date & time: Sunday, 21 June 2009, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Sung Matins.

How full was the building?
About half full. There was only one child in the church, the majority of the congregation being middle aged and above.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
We had arrived early because of the parking problem. The priest was busy at readying the church for the service, and when he spotted us he greeted us with enthusiasm. We were made to feel extremely welcome. As the congregation arrived, a few people stopped to say hello.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were old and getting a bit uncomfortable by the end of the service. Pew cushions would have helped.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of quiet chatting. We overheard that the regular organist had phoned at the last minute to say she wouldn't be there, but a replacement had been found. There were only two latecomers who slipped into a pew; the sidesperson found them books and sneaked them over to them.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everyone, and welcome."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
New English Hymnal; Book of Common Prayer; a matins leaflet produced by the church.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ.

Did anything distract you?
At one point there was a very annoying squeaking metallic grating sound. I have no idea what it was or from whence it came! The sound system had a small hiccough as well and crackled for a short period. The single small child was very well behaved on the whole but did go "pew cruising" at one point.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The fact that it was matins suggests it is high church, but in fact the worship was very relaxed.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The priest spoke with humour and a relaxed quiet style. There were giggles from the congregation at points.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He spoke of some mishaps that had occurred at sea. Very rough seas can blow up in a short time, even on landlocked bodies like the Sea of Galilee. It shows the awesome unpredictable force of nature. We need to respect the sea. Bad things can happen to good people, such as the misfortunes that happened to Job. Job remained loyal to God, and God eventually made it up to him. The Book of Job is good to read at times of misfortune. God does not take away our trials. God gave us Jesus, who, having suffered, can share our trials with us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The warm welcome we received. The lovely service which is not a regular in many churches.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The choir lost their way on one set of sung responses, but to their credit got back into the swing very quickly. The psalms were pointed differently in the matins booklet from how the choir sang them, which caused a bit of confusion.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A few people chatted to us.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no after service refreshment.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – Choral matins is a nice way to spend Sunday morning with God.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I loved the service, which is one I don't remember going to in adulthood!

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The warmth of Father Stephen's welcome.
 
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