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  1346: St Thomas the Martyr, Oxford, England

Read this report | Other comments

31 January 2007

Ms. McPhee's comments on her visit to St Thomas the Martyr, Oxford, reveal as much about her as about the church. For example, how can she comment on the refreshments after the service (which sound very generous to me) when she didn't have the courage to stay behind and enjoy them? Why does she expect a "cathedral organist" in a parish church?

I have been worshipping at St Thomas's regularly for the last four months and have found there a warm welcome and uplifting services accompanied by a competent and sensitive organist (who hasn't once lent over and shouted from the organ loft!). Far from being "gloomy" the building is ablaze with candles and has a numinous quality all of its own as its medieval shell harbours a wonderful collection of baroque furnishings. The eucharist is accompanied by a simple congregational setting; the sermon is usually brief and to the point; the ceremonies are carried out effectively and without fuss; the service is complete within the hour and the refreshments enjoyed by all.

I'm not sure if Ms McPhee is a trinitarian Christian (can there be any other?) but what better start to a Christian act of worship can there be than an invocation of the Holy and Undivided Trinity? I suppose Ms McPhee would like a jolly colloquial greeting to set the tone of banality that characterizes so much of "worship" these days.

Over Christmas there were services at St Thomas which were attended by large numbers of people, including families. When a new priest arrives to relieve the hard-working Fr Martin, he will I'm sure build on this foundation to increase the size of the congregation and encourage younger people to enjoy this ecclesiastical gem of West Oxford. Meanwhile, the congregation last Sunday already saw over a 100 per cent increase on the number Ms McPhee mentions!

Michael Wright

26 January 2007

Let me start by declaring an interest: I am Churchwarden of St Thomas the Martyr, and also the "woman behind me" who rang the sacring bell, and probably (as Betty points out, we're not a large congregation) the "lady who approached me and asked if I wanted to stay for some champagne". Yes, Betty, I'm afraid it was only Cava, but our refreshments are always free of charge, thanks to the generosity of our members.

No service is ever going to appeal to everyone, but most people who come to us comment much more favourably than Betty. We have been in interregnum since October 2003 and have worked very hard to keep the church open and not to cancel services. Naturally we are sorry that we don't have young families in the congregation, but we do greatly value all our members, many of whom happen to be elderly, and we hope that anyone of any age would always receive a warm welcome at St Thomas's.

Betty comments: "Interestingly the website gives approximate duration times for each service". We think it is quite helpful for people to have some idea of how long a service will last, particularly on weekdays if they have to return to work afterwards.

About the sacring bell: there are occasions when we have no servers, or possibly just one, and so we have got into the habit of ringing the bell from the congregation, except when we know in advance that there will be a full serving team.

If anyone who reads the report would like to visit St Thomas's and see it for themselves, our service times are: Wednesdays and Fridays at 12.30 pm (Low Mass), and Sundays at 10.00 am. All our special services are publicised on the A Church Near You website.

Finally, I'd like to point out that the photo which accompanies the report was not taken on the occasion of Betty's visit. We certainly don't have the Paschal candle lit in September!

Anne, Oxford

24 January 2007

I agree wholeheartedly with Steven's comments about the above report, and likewise have no association with the church or fellow commenter.

I have to add that I don't think Betty knows what she wants from a church. She starts the report saying, "At least there were no crying babies!" and ends, "If they succeed in getting a new priest, he will have to make sure that the worship is livened up a bit and that young people and families feel welcomed and cared for." I'm not sure you'd make them feel very welcome, Betty. And judging by your reaction to the slightly different (bells) bit of the service, and the congregation not being very good at chanting the psalm, I don't think you could cope with livening things up. Families would probably be enough to knock you off your perch.

Lou, Cardiff

23 January 2007

I have no knowledge of the church of St Thomas the Martyr, Oxford. I have no connections with the parish and have never been to the church; indeed I am not a believer! But I cannot help but think that Betty McPhee's report is just a little bit picky, not to mention sweeping.

Betty is indeed greeted with an "hello" and handed books – so "yes" might have been the way to commence this section of her report.

The organist is competent, "but not a cathedral organist by any standard" – well, St Thomas's is not a cathedral.

Betty is shocked to her sensitive trembling core by the ringing of a bell from the back of the church – might I recommend Beta Blockers?

Betty is approached and offered champagne/cava (I suspect it  may even have been offered with a smile), but wishes she could go somewhere where "young people and families feel welcomed and cared for". Give 'em a break, Betty dear!

OK, they were slightly shambolic, not very good at plainsong and the celebrant preached a memorable enough sermon but didn't make eye contact. That doesn't sound like the road to perdition to me, and I'm an atheist.

Drink a little more champagne, Betty. Get out a bit. And if people inviting you to a party to celebrate a milestone in their career still makes you feel thoroughly un-Christian, you might consider a change in religion. The Exclusive Brethren, perhaps?

Steven Rhodes
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