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Church, Milton-next-Gravesend, Kent, England
Photo: David Anstiss
Church, Milton-next-Gravesend, Kent, England.
Church of England, Diocese
A traditional-looking Gothic style building, dating from 1935,
of gray stone blocks with a tower. It replaces an earlier
church dating from 1856 that had to be demolished following
the collapse of the roof. There is a car park at the front,
and a grassed area. Inside, the walls are white, which makes
the wooden beams stand out quite strikingly. The most noticeable
thing was all the classical-looking artwork on the walls –
paintings down each side of the nave that would not have looked
out of place in an art gallery, and were really interesting
to look at. Other than this, there were some boards displaying
children's art work, and a do-it-yourself looking cross on
the opposite side to the pulpit. The cross
had names of other churches written on it in pen, perhaps
local churches. A stone font with a very ornate wooden cover
stands at the rear of the nave.
The church has a huge number of programmes, including Brownies
and Guides, pre-school services, youth clubs, "God's
Gang" (children's church), and family fun days. There
is currently an outreach programme to the parish to encourage
more people to come to the church.
Milton-next-Gravesend is actually part of the town of Gravesend,
a very historic town at the end of the Thames east of London.
The town appears in the Domesday Book as Gravesham and was
at the time owned by Odo, Bishop of Bayeux. Pocahontas, the
native American princess from the Virginia colony who had
married the English settler John Rolfe and had returned to
London with him, died on board a ship returning to Virginia
in March 1617 just as it left Gravesend. She is buried in
the graveyard of St George's church in the town centre, although
the exact location of the grave is unknown.
The Revd Sue Brewer, vicar, led the service, along with the
Revd Jacqueline Littlewood, assistant priest.
The date & time:
Ash Wednesday, 17 February 2010, 7.30pm.
What was the name of
A Service for Ash Wednesday.
How full was the building?
The church is a large one and the congregation of only 17
made it feel even larger! There was also a choir of 12, two
priests, and the organist. However, I'm told that on a typical
Sunday service they get quite a good crowd.
Did anyone welcome you
Yes, there was a sidesman giving out service sheets by the
door. He welcomed me with a friendly "Hello" and
a comment about the cold weather. I then went to sit down,
and a few minutes later he came over to welcome me properly,
asking if I was a visitor, etc.
Was your pew comfortable?
Rows of old-ish wooden chairs. They were surprisingly comfortable
for the hour-long service.
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
I had reason to believe that Mrs Charles might be recognised
by someone, so I let her go in several minutes before I did.
When I finally entered, I found her in quiet contemplation
along with most of the other congregants. There were some
quiet murmurs or polite chatter.
What were the exact
opening words of the service?
"Good evening, and welcome to our service for Ash Wednesday."
What books did the congregation
use during the service?
Two hymn books, a thin one entitled Songs for God's People
and the more traditional Hymns Ancient and Modern, New
Standard. There were no Bibles on the seats.
What musical instruments
Organ. The console was at the side of the chancel, but the
pipes were invisible, hidden in an organ loft, which made
it quite indistinct and hard to hear.
Did anything distract
The wall paintings were a worthy distraction, but I was also
distracted by the organ. It appeared to be a large instrument,
but its effects were wasted because the pipes were tucked
away in an organ loft. This, combined with a tall, long church,
made the sound echo a lot. As a congregation, we couldn't
hear the individual notes, meaning it was very difficult to
follow the organ during the hymns. Sometimes, we found ourselves
nearly half a line ahead of or behind the organ. Finally,
I was struck by the fact that the altar party and organist
were all women, as were the majority of the choir save for
two tenors and one bass.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Pretty formal. The nave was very long, and it was nice to
see that the altar was at the east wall where it should be,
rather than brought forward. I like that – nice and formal
and traditional, so it suited me very well. I guess Ash Wednesday
is a more serious type of service, and this was reflected
in the style of the liturgy.
Exactly how long was
On a scale of 1-10,
how good was the preacher?
8 The vicar is a very competent preacher. Her style
was very clear to follow and she got the message across really
well. The sermon was delivered from the floor rather than
from the pulpit.
In a nutshell, what
was the sermon about?
She compared the corporate salvation of the Old Testament
with the individual salvation of the New Testament. The first
reading was a passage from Isaiah about fasting and people
just going through the motions rather than fasting from the
heart. We should be careful that we don't just go through
the motions in our Christian life. She went on to talk about
making some sort of a personal commitment for Lent, and also
about the church as a whole praying for each other.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
The paintings on the wall were lovely.
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
The first hymn! Perhaps the intention was not to have too
rousing a hymn at the beginning of a contemplative service,
but they took it too far. I didn't know it, no one else seemed
to know it, and it was a pretty dreary hymn as well, mostly
just on one note. Add to that the poor acoustics, and you
have four verses of nice organ harmonies and lots of people
awkwardly looking at their hymn books and not joining in!
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
I'm afraid the vicar did recognise Mrs Charles, as I had feared
would happen, so I joined the two of them as they were chatting
away. We weren't exactly your lost strangers, but based on
the welcome I received, I imagine people would have been pretty
friendly had we been.
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
There was none – it was an evening service and people left
to go home.
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 =
7 It's hard to judge what it would be like on a Sunday
morning, but everyone seemed friendly and welcoming, the sermon
was very good and gave me things to think about, and the style
of service matched my preferences. If I lived in the area,
I would certainly visit on a Sunday and see what it was like
with a larger congregation.
Did the service make
you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, particularly the part of the sermon where the vicar talked
about outreach programmes of the parish.
What one thing will
you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Wondering whether the men occasionally feel a little left
out surrounded by all those women!
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