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1778: St Joseph's, Peasedown St John, Somerset, England
St Joseph's, Peasedown St John, Somerset, England
Mystery Worshipper: Byrdwatcher.
The church: St Joseph's, Peasedown St John, Somerset, England.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Diocese of Clifton.
The building: The building was completed in 1989 and is a simple, brick structure, unremarkable from the outside. The interior has a surprisingly high-pitched roof and is white-painted and well-lit via a large skylight above the sanctuary.
The church: This is a new mass centre which the church community financed and built themselves without assistance from the diocese, after the closure of their previous meeting place which had apparently also done duty as a cinema and a retail site. It is an "experimental" church, being largely lay-led without an assigned priest. Priests from the diocese officiate on Sundays to celebrate mass and consecrate sufficient hosts for weekday services.
The neighbourhood: The taxi driver who took me to St Joseph's was forthcoming on the history of Peasedown, which was originally a small coal-mining community a few miles outside of Bath. It has since expanded to a population of just over 6,000 souls, many of whom find the area a pleasant rural location to live while working in Bath, Bristol and environs. Local churches have banded together to dedicate the village to the Holy Spirit, and the symbol of the dove can be found in mosaics on the external wall of the church by the door, as well as on several buildings along the main road.
The cast: The Revd Malcolm Smeaton, chaplain, Prior Park College, Bath, officiated.
The date & time: Sunday, 5 July 2009, 9.00am.

What was the name of the service?
All Age Mass.

How full was the building?
The building can accommodate around 90 people comfortably. I'd say there were about 65 in attendance. I understand it would have been full were it not for a first communion service going on at the main city-centre church, St John's, that morning.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was personally greeted at the door and given a mass sheet and the week's bulletin. A lady in the row behind me also asked where I was from and if I needed anything.

Was your pew comfortable?
There were upholstered chairs and kneelers (hand embroidered and made from local wool by one of the church groups); both were quite comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I was quite an early arrival. As the church filled up, people greeted one another quietly. Prior to the gathering song, a soft medley of hymn tunes was played.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were mass books available for use but, as far as I could see, most people just had the week's mass sheet with songs, readings and responses printed on it.

What musical instruments were played?
Digital piano.

St Joseph's, Peasedown St John, Somerset, England

Did anything distract you?
Above the altar is a very large cross which I thought plain at first glance; then I noticed a tiny gold Jesus, about 10" in height, in the middle of it. I spent quite some time pondering what theological statement was being made here, and my eyes kept straying back to it throughout the service.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was a mixture – mostly modern "worship songs" by the likes of Dan Shute, Matt Maher and Boyce & Stanley, and including, as the final piece, the song we all love to hate, "Shine, Jesus, Shine." This certainly raised a smile from me when I saw it listed. I'm not a great fan of these kind of tunes; however, they were tempered by an old favourite "Be Thou My Vision" and it was hard not to be carried along by the obvious pleasure and enthusiasm with which the congregation participated. There were a few hands raised and waved but this seemed mostly confined to the back rows. Father Malcolm chanted the liturgy, which always pleases me. He also chanted the dismissal and final blessing in Latin (with a bit of instruction to the congregation as to what the response should be).

Exactly how long was the sermon?
6 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
"Are you listening?" Building on the first reading (Ezekiel 2:2-5 – whether or not the Israelites listen, they will know that a prophet has appeared among them), the homily picked out a number of groups who are not listening to the word of God. This included neo-pagans and "secular Sunday worshippers" in the shopping malls and garden centres; the phrase "Tesco ergo sum" was used. To be honest, I was not terribly impressed with what I perceived as this rather negative appraisal of non-churchgoers, rather than offering ways in which people might be encouraged to
want to listen to the word.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The joy and warmth exuded by the congregation, which actually transcended, for me, my prejudices against modern "worship songs."

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
As mentioned earlier, the somewhat condemnatory tone of the homily. Although it could hardly be described as fire and brimstone, to me it jarred with the rest of the service.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't have a chance to look lost. Coffee and biscuits were on offer at the back of the main body of the church. At least four people came up to me, having clearly spotted a new face, to ask if I were new to the area or a visitor and to talk about their church and ask about mine. I discovered that, in fact, the cross which had caught my attention had at first been plain but that the golden corpus – a souvenir from Italy, I believe – had later been affixed to it by a member of the congregation.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Fair trade coffee in a china cup with saucer; it was hot and wet but not particularly flavourful. A variety of biscuits was available – I got one of those raspberry shortbread numbers that we British know as Jammy Dodgers.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – If I lived in the area, I think I could be reasonably happy there, although I would probably want to supplement it with visits to a higher-up-the-candle place from time to time.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, definitely.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The tiny, tiny little Jesus, swamped on his enormous cross.
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