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2075: St John the Baptist, New Alresford, Hampshire, England
St John the Baptist
Mystery Worshipper: Polypheme.
The church: St John the Baptist, New Alresford, Hampshire, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Winchester.
The building: The Domesday Book of 1086 mentions a church on this spot named for St John the Baptist. That church was rebuilt in the 13th century; some fragments of the rebuilt church survive to this day. It was ravaged by several fires during the 17th century but was again rebuilt. Galleries, the Lady chapel and a vestry were added over the next 200 years. The building we have today is the result of a major renovation undertaken in 1897, the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, by the eminent Victorian church architect Sir Arthur Blomfield. It is a stone church with stone and brick tower. The rector at the time described it as "plain and neat, built with brick and flint and covered with tiles." The tower houses a ring of eight bells hung for full circle ringing and tuned to the key of E. Over the door is a small medieval cross, quite rare. The church stands in a very large, well-groomed churchyard, part of which is being allowed to grow up naturally for conservation purposes.
The church: They support missionary work in many places throughout the world, including India, Israel, Rwanda and Uganda, as well as the Winchester Churches Nightshelter and a prison ministry. The bells are rung before the main morning and evening Sunday services, for special occasions, and for weddings and funerals by request. An audio clip of the bells can be heard on the church's website.
The neighbourhood: New Alresford is a flourishing and posh bedroom community. The town sponsors a number of noteworthy events each year, including the Alresford Music Festival; Watercress Festival; and Alresford Show, one of the most important agricultural shows in England. The church stands behind a row of buildings on the high street, with the tower rising behind them. It is reached by a small lane between two buildings.
The cast: The Revd Pat Clegg, benefice priest.
The date & time: Sunday, 31 October 2010, 9.30am.

What was the name of the service?
All-Age Communion Service: Peacing [sic] Together One World with All the Saints.

How full was the building?
Half full, about 100 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A greeter gave me a cheery smile along with the leaflet.

Was your pew comfortable?
This church has had all its pewing removed and there were rows of chairs hooked together. Comfort about average.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Eight bells ringing for 25 minutes, then a five-minute bell. There was a pleasant organ prelude during the five minutes and everyone was quiet. The chancel was mostly dark, except for two candles on the altar and a disgusting floodlight shining up behind the altar to illuminate the cross on the reredos. Very bad effect.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Thank you all so much for coming today." (The leaflet had "Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you," which must have for some reason been deemed not suitable!)

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Ancient and Modern and Mission Praise (words only edition for both) and a service leaflet with all the prayers and readings.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ and choir vested in powder blue cassocks, no surplices.

Did anything distract you?
The worship included a PowerPoint show on a screen mounted on a crane-like device in the chancel arch. The whole contrivance was motorized; I watched with bemusement as they deployed it during the prelude. The screen hung off-center and was slightly more than half as wide as the arch. Any 14 year old could have made a better PowerPoint show. I was sitting about midway in the congregation and have excellent distance vision, but I was unable to read any of the tiny, dim text. There was a very verbal baby in the crèche in the south aisle; I took this as a good sign.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The eucharist was celebrated from a table in front of the chancel arch. The worship was intended to be happy-clappy, contemporary, and inclusive, but the priest apparently felt that the text as given in the service leaflet was too lame. She had to provide a chatty explanation of each paragraph before she read it. Invariably her explanation was even lamer. The Mission Praise music, with hooty organ accompaniment, sounded like a bad imitation of bad Stephen Sondheim. The old dears did try to give it their best, though, but didn't really shine until we came to "For All the Saints" from Hymns Ancient and Modern. Good old Vaughan Williams saved the day!

Exactly how long was the sermon?
9 minutes but it seemed much longer.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
2 – The effort of combining Peacing Together with All Saints' Day and incorporating the PowerPoint show taxed the reverend lady – and her listeners – to the limit. She wandered a good bit physically as well as mentally. I'm not sure whether it was a plus or a minus that I could understand what she was saying.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was an effort to concatenate "all the saints" with modern trendy saints like the father of an Enniskillen victim, Desmond Tutu, and Mother Teresa. (Enniskillen, in Northern Ireland, was the site of a bombing that took place on 8 November 1987, killing eleven and injuring hundreds. The Enniskillen bombing is regarded by many as a turning point in the Troubles.)

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The bells before the service were a call to worship at its best, but "For All the Saints" was the high point of the service for me.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The illegible PowerPoint projection was hellish. The words of the liturgy itself were nauseating, inane, inept. If this is the best the Church of England has to offer, they'll all be museums in another five years.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the service, a man thought he recognised my tie and asked me about it. Once he had satisfied himself that it was what he thought it was, the conversation was over. The priest shook my hand as I left. She recognised that I was a stranger and thanked me for coming, but did not engage any further. I got some cursory nods, but most people seemed intent on hastening away. I gave it two minutes and hastened away myself.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
If there were refreshments, I did not see them; there was no invitation to such during the service.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I understand that they only have this "All-Age Communion Service" once a month. I could worship here three out of four Sundays and give this a miss.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
"For All the Saints" always makes me glad to be a Christian. Bell ringing always makes me glad I'm Anglican.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
"For All the Saints."
 
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