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|1874: St Mary
the Virgin, Oxenhope, West Yorkshire, England
Mary the Virgin, Oxenhope, West Yorkshire, England.
Church of England, Diocese
The foundation stone of this Norman style church, the work of
the 19th century architect Ignatius Bonomi (who designed one
of England's first railway bridges) and his apprentice John
Cory, was laid in 1849. Its low square tower and rounded arches
harmonise with the generally low buildings of the village. The
church sits in a small graveyard. The tower houses a peal of
eight bells. Inside, there is some interesting stained glass
by William Morris, whose colourful and imaginative creations
can be found throughout England. The various church fittings
were gifted at various times.
This is a village church, and the members regard themselves
as a church family – see the website photo. The church acts
as a focal point for social as well as more overtly religious
groups. Non-churchgoers as well as members of the parish family
are welcome at all of the many and varied activities taking
place. Wider activities in the diocese of Bradford are also
advertised. The parish produces an outreach magazine three times
each year that is delivered to every household in Oxenhope.
This is Brontë country, a windswept land of heather and
wild moors, where the Brontë sisters lived and wrote their
famous novels. Despite the much maligned wind farms, in many
respects the area is unchanged since the 19th century. This
especially applies to wind and weather! Buildings are of solid
Yorkshire sandstone, chunky, darkened from old time factory
smoke, and weathered. The traditional building materials still
outnumber modern brick and concrete, at least outwardly. Most
modern builds are required to be faced with stone/stone effect
to match the traditional buildings.
The Rt Revd Colin Ogilvie Buchanan, retired Bishop of Woolwich,
presided at holy communion and administered the order of confirmation.
Assisting were the Revd June Medhurst, priest in charge, and
the Revd Ken Medhurst, associate priest.
The date & time:
Sunday, 6 December 2009, 10.00am.
What was the name of the service?
Confirmation and Holy Communion.
How full was the building?
There were about 30 in the congregation, including confirmand
and family. There were also nine choristers and the three clergy.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Mrs Medhurst shook my hand and asked if I were visiting. A couple
of sidespeople handed me service and information sheets.
Was your pew comfortable?
Well, it was a pew, but it had what I've never seen in a church
before: instead of the long flat cushions, it was equipped with
a long flat rag rug style bum comforter. Quite effective, too.
Altogether fine, even for a slightly elongated service such
as this one. The kneelers were embroidered, one with St George
subduing a rather traumatised dragon.
How would you describe the pre-service
There was a bustle of preparation. I was asked if I was congregation,
the confirmation family, or a visitor. I think the idea was
to keep the confirmation family together. But I was invited
to sit where I chose.
What were the exact opening words of the
Several notices were given, but the true opening was: "We meet
in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the
The service booklet, especially prepared for the occasion. There
were Bibles in every pew, but no hymn books.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ. Digital. An an informational booklet notes with regret
that in 2008 the original Fitton and Hayley pipe organ had been
deemed unfit for repair, and replaced with this instrument.
The church is currently without a choir director, but everyone
carried on bravely.
Did anything distract you?
There was heating, but my feet were cold! And this in spite
of boots and thermal underwear. There's nothing like prolonged
rain and wind to drain heat from an old building. Also (and
I thought this a plus), the main west door remained open during
the service, while a glass inner door – a single sheet
of glass, no frame, with engraved central motif of cross and
dove – was shut. The effect was lovely and light, but
I suspect that a good deal of fresh Yorkshire air whistled in
round the edges.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
An engaging mixture of the traditional liturgy for the second
Sunday of Advent and a fairly jolly confirmation. The mass was
sung – the New English Mass by Patrick Appleford,
and the congregation joined in with the setting. As the Advent
candle was being lit, we sang a variation on "The Holly
and the Ivy," which I enjoyed. The rest of the hymns were
a mixture of traditional and happy clappy, including Sidney
Carter's upbeat hymn "One More Step," which I hadn't
heard since the highly respected British journalist and broadcaster
Rabbi Lionel Blue sang it on the BBC Radio 4 programme Thought
for the Day. Bishop Buchanan seemed especially pleased
when Tom, the teenager whose confirmation was taking place,
renewed his baptismal vows, and the bishop managed to sprinkle
as much of the congregation as he could.
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
6 Bishop Buchanan could be heard clearly without the
PA system, but the latter kept varying its sound level, which
was a bit off-putting. His style was at times serious, at times
jocular. He related his sermon on a personal level to Tom, reminding
him that confirmation was much more than simply an occasion
to throw a party. The bishop referred to notes as he spoke,
and I thought he could have made his point in less time. I come
from a tradition of short sermons!
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
The bishop took as his text Philippians 1:3-11 (St Paul prays
that Christ's followers may remain blameless until the Second
Coming). The order of confirmation is an affirmation of faith.
St Paul did not have to scold the Philippians (unusual for him),
as God's hold on them was sure, as it would be on Tom the confirmand.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
Tom's presentation by his sponsor. This was quite a full speech,
warm and affectionate. I also enjoyed the sprinkling of the
congregation, especially as I was out of reach of the water.
There was a family party element to the service, which made
it real rather than a formality.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
My cold feet and the temperamental PA system.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was approached by a lady who led me to the refreshments and
chatted to me about the church and its activities. People were
interested to know how I came to be there. I was able honestly
to tell them that I had family in the village even though this
was my first visit to the church.
How would you describe the after-service
Coffee served in china cups, and cake served on an Oxenhope
Sunday school china plate! Some fair trade literature was scattered
about, but I don't know about the tea and coffee.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 If I were local, I would build a relationship with this church. It's homely and friendly.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The bishop's devilish glee as he sprinkled the congregation.
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