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1759: St Wilfrid's, Bognor Regis, England
St Wilfrid's, Bognor Regis, England
Mystery Worshipper: Fluffy Bunny.
The church: St Wilfrid's, Bognor Regis, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Chichester.
The building: This church celebrates its centenary next year. It is a brick Gothic style building, the work of the architect George Fellowes Prynne, who designed or renovated hundreds of churches throughout England. Alas, only the first phase of Prynne's original plan was ever realised. The architectural scholar Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, never easy to please, described St Wilfrid's as "hard and heartless." But the interior is spacious yet peaceful, with good site lines thanks to well placed columns and the absence of a rood screen. Archwork of alternating brick and stone creates a colourful effect. The Lady chapel is rather plain. To the left of the chancel is a white stone pulpit.
The church: There seems to be a thriving community based in the church judging by all the notices in the church hall. Bible study and prayer groups for young people and adults meet regularly. They support several local charities and a mission in Sri Lanka. There are two eucharists each Sunday (one of which, on the third Sunday of the month, follows the 1662 Prayer Book) as well as choral evensong. The eucharist is also celebrated each weekday, with an evening service on Wednesdays.
The neighbourhood: Bognor Regis is a seaside resort town on the south coast of England. In 1929 King George V, never a paragon of health, briefly retired to Bognor Regis to recover from respiratory distress, although it is said that His Majesty had some unkind words for the place as he lay dying seven years later. St Wilfrid's nestles in a plethora of nursing and rest homes but is also very close to the beach.
The cast: The Revd Andrew Wadsworth, parish priest.
The date & time: 12 July 2009, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?

How full was the building?
About half full but it is a very big church. A few people arrived late.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Two sidespeople and the priest, already robed, welcomed us. As we were given our books, I asked if music copies were available, and one of the ladies rushed off to find us copies from the choir area.

Was your pew comfortable?
We had wooden seats fastened together with planks of wood. There were kneelers on some rows but not ours, so we sat through the prayers. Some enlightened people brought their own cushions with them.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a gentle babble of people chatting. There was no organ music until the service started.

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

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Old and New; a booklet prepared in-house entitled The Holy Eucharist; and a weekly news sheet.

What musical instruments were played?

St Wilfrid's, Bognor Regis, England

Did anything distract you?
The sound system for the readers had a loud hum and whistle. The chap reading the intercessions had an unfortunate whistle on his "s" which seemed to make the sound system's foibles increase exponentially!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The priest wore a chasuble but there was no incense or bells. The choir sang most of the service music but I felt it was still an inclusive service. There was a mix of hymns, some of which I knew and some I did not (thank you for the music edition).

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Father Andrew stood in front of the congregation centrally. He had a clear interesting speaking voice. The only negative was that he read rather than spoke his sermon.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He preached on the gospel reading for the day, Mark 6:14-29 (Herod orders the beheading of John the Baptist). Herod recognised the good in John and wished to protect him, although he did not understand him. Herod's wife, however, tricked him into having John put to death. John had these principal strengths: his personality, authenticity, simplicity, and a different way of looking at people and life. We should try to be more like John. We can achieve this by God's good grace, which we will achieve by prayer. Let us be God's instrument in a damaged world.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The friendliness of the people and the lovely choir.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The humming and whistling sound system.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We were given a thick news bulletin to take with us. Coffee had been announced, and so we wandered into the church hall with everyone else.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Lovely tea and coffee in cups and saucers. I don't know if it was fair trade or not; no packaging was in evidence. There were also some ginger nuts (ginger snaps, you call them in America), a personal favourite. A plate had been set out for donations for the choir; I willingly contributed.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – It seemed a very friendly and vibrant church. Father Andrew is to be bingo caller at a ploughman's supper evening in September!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The peace and beauty of the interior of the church.
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