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2873: St Paul's, Cheshunt, England
St Paul, Cheshunt (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Secret Squirrel.
The church: St Paul's, Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, England.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Diocese of Westminster.
The building: It appears to be an old Victorian hall with attached house, which is exactly what it is – built in 1896 as the parish hall of the local C of E church and acquired by the Catholics only in 1998. It is of red brick, with a projecting porch and a cupola on the roof. The inside is plain, with a curtained off bit separating the altar from the sacristy area. Stained glass over the altar is from the former Convent of Jesus and Mary, Harlesden. There is an upstairs gallery at the back with seating. Through the gallery there’s a sort of upper room/lobby with a sofa, a sink and a wardrobe.
The church: I got to know quite a lot about the community while I stood around hoping to be welcomed, as the notice board covers the whole wall beneath the gallery. I read about the fire officer’s concerns about fire precautions. The safeguarding officer has been given a diocesan certificate for long service. There’s a sponsored cycle race for the Catholic Agency For Overseas Development (CAFOD). Lots of posters for this and that. All this must be quite a distraction for the celebrant, but the congregation have their backs to it through mass. A mention in the bulletin of an inaugural parish council meeting suggests that parish life is starting again with a new priest.
The neighbourhood: Cheshunt is a dormitory town for the greater London urban area and has the dubious honour of being the headquarters of Tesco, the UK's largest and most profitable supermarket chain. The Princess Elizabeth, before she became Queen Elizabeth I, lived here as a girl. Cardinal Wolsey owned land here; the ruins of his manor can still be seen. A fungicide known as Cheshunt Compound, used by gardeners until it was banned in 2010, was developed in a laboratory here. The church is on Churchfield Path, a dead end unsurfaced road – really a track. I didn’t believe my satellite navigation device really wanted me to go down there. At the church there are large signs saying that we shouldn’t park on the path and only park on church property. This parking issue was a bit alarming for a visitor in a narrow lane with limited options. Fortunately I was early, so I parked in a narrow car park area beside the church. This meant I knew I would be last out after mass. I can’t imagine where most of the others parked, who had arrived in the last few moments before mass – maybe they walked.
The cast: The Revd Clement Nyarko, who (according to the notice board) started as parish priest three months ago. The notice asked for prayers as he begins work in the parish, so I prayed for him. He celebrates three Sunday masses and at least one mass every weekday in church and seems to have a big congregation to shepherd.
The date & time: Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi), 7 June 2015, 9.00am.
Comment: We have received a comment on this report.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday Mass.

How full was the building?
There was almost no one there when I arrived. I actually left and came in again to give someone a chance to speak to me (no one did!). By start time, the room was nicely full, with some spare seats (especially around me). The congregation included a fairly large proportion of families with young children.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No one welcomed me. One woman gave me a shy smile when I smiled as we arrived at the door together. People kept a respectful distance from me even though I sat in the centre of the church. (Had I dressed queerly?) I will say, though, that all those I shook hands with at the peace were smiling warmly. And everyone seemed friendly amongst themselves – maybe they were just shy.

Was your pew comfortable?
The chairs were old style wooden seats. They looked like they were the original Victorian furniture for the parish hall. They were very narrow and placed close together so there was no room to kneel down for the eucharistic prayer and consecration. I tried and managed to crouch on the floor. The rest of the congregation stood up. I tried again after holy communion but was the only one attempting this. The carpet was pretty uncomfortable on my knees.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet – as most people arrived in the last moments. There was gentle chat and people were lighting candles by a statue of the Sacred Heart on one side of the sanctuary area. Very few people genuflected or reverenced the tabernacle as they came in.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everyone, and welcome" by the priest – which was nice, as no one else had been very welcoming.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Parish Mass Book plus a laminated sheet with the Creed, Gloria, and other bits that trip up those of us who can't learn the new words. The sheet was rather poorly photocopied – it looked like a temporary fix that’s become permanent. The hymn book was the Celebration Hymnal for Everyone.

What musical instruments were played?
We sang without musical accompaniment, which worked well in the space.

Did anything distract you?
The large number of saints’ statues on every surface. It was distracting trying to work out who they all were. There were large ones and small ones. And lots of little knick-knacks hanging up and on windowsills. They looked like holiday souvenirs from various Catholic places. Someone had pinned Palm Sunday palm crosses around the walls. It must be difficult to dust all this stuff. Frankly, it looked untidy.

St Paul, Cheshunt (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The mass was a lovely calm liturgy. Relaxed in a good way. It really felt like a community worship. The gentle sound of small children was great to hear, as families are clearly encouraged here. We sang with enthusiasm: "Beneath This Veil" as an opening hymn and “Amazing Grace" as a final hymn. Before communion we sang two verses of "Sweet Sacrament Divine."

Exactly how long was the sermon?
9 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Father Clement spoke with enthusiasm. He clearly believed what he was saying – which is always a good thing in a preacher. And he wanted us to believe it too.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The new covenant established by Christ was a more profound relationship with God. Christ changed the dynamic.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Often there’s an unholy scrum at communion as people jostle for first place. But here, everyone’s dignity is important. Everyone was part of this communion. People waited patiently in their seats while Father brought communion to those unable to join the queue. Then people approached the altar calmly and orderly. Father looked at each of us as he gave us holy communion. This made it a very personal encounter with Christ.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
A second collection was taken up for Communication Day, established by Pope Paul VI in 1967 to celebrate the positive opportunities the modern communications media afford for enriching human lives. It is usually celebrated on the Sunday before Pentecost – indeed, the collection had already been taken up previously in my home parish and I wasn't inclined to contribute a second time. Here, it was done at the end of mass while we sat before the final blessing. This created a long pause in the flow of the mass. Some of the power of being sent out to proclaim the Good News was lost while we fumbled for loose change.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The church emptied in seconds. No one stopped to pray. I stayed in church, taking photos and looking as lost as possible, but no one spoke to me. Father Clement was shaking hands at the door but was waylaid by a woman who wanted advice about getting her child into the Catholic school and didn’t believe his reassurances. Why don’t people realise that this is not the time to monopolise the priest? His phone number is in the bulletin.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No after-service refreshments. I wasn’t surprised.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I would have to remove some of the statuary.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, I was sharing the mass with other believers even if they weren't sharing with me. If I were someone seeking Christ for the first time or someone returning to church after a long absence, I would have found this mass difficult.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The lack of any acknowledgement I was there.
 
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