Mystery Worshipper: Basil the Great
Church: All Saints
Location: Ryde, Isle of Wight, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 11 September 2022, 9:30am
The church was built to a decorated Gothic design of Sir Gilbert Scott and could be described as the crowning glory of that era. In the past it has been referred to as ‘the cathedral of the Island’. The foundation stone was laid in 1870, the church consecrated in 1872, and the tower and spire completed in 1882. An elegant vestry was added in 1891, designed by Pemberton Leach. In the 1960s a modest utilitarian church hall, with kitchen (now improved), committee room and toilets (now with ramp and access for wheelchairs), was built onto the south west of the building. This is concealed from both the north and east elevations which form the building’s frontage.
All Saints has had a major role in the life of Ryde, especially for civic events, and there is now once again a town council with its mayor. The church, which can seat up to 600, is served by a modest but very useful car park within its curtilage, is moderately heated, has excellent acoustics, and is a popular venue for concerts. All Saints is used by different community groups for special services, and the town’s annual remembrance commemoration is held here, and it is where the standards of the Ryde branch of the Royal British Legion are laid up.
The parish includes a proprietary chapel, St James, whose emphatic Reformed tradition and conservative evangelical theology have given them cause to leave the Church of England.
The parish is currently in interregnum, but seems to be regularly served by a retired priest with permission to officiate, who celebrated and preached. Members of the congregation read and led the intercessions. At the end of the service, the mayor, and a gentleman introduced by name but not role, led civic prayers for the death of the Queen and accession of the King.
What was the name of the service?A service of Holy Communion during the period of mourning for Her Majesty the Queen.
How full was the building?
I would estimate there were about 50 people, including the chain gang at the front. As the building could hold 600, it felt very sparse. I had expected more people to be there for the Sunday after the death of the Queen, but I was told over coffee that on an average Sunday there were only about 12 in the congregation, so clearly this was a substantial increase.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
There seemed to be a team of two welcomers, and after a short delay I was handed a hymn book and a service sheet with a warm smile.
Was your pew comfortable?
Pretty good as pews go. Wooden bench pews of a good height and width, with a broad upper rail to support the back. Nicely made, if looking slightly battered.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was muted chatter, covered by gentle organ music. I recognised Ombra Mai Fu by Handel, and Dido’s Lament by Purcell.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
‘Would you please stand.’ [Procession.] ‘Would you please sit down. Welcome to you all for this special service of Holy Communion in this period of mourning.’
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A service sheet was accompanied by the New English Hymnal.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ with a robed choir. The organist clearly made the effort to accompany the hymns, paying attention to the words, although occasionally the timing was slightly erratic. The choir was a little thin in both tone and number, and seemed a bit uncertain of some of the notes. In the Nunc Dimittis during communion, the sole man completely drowned out the three women.
Did anything distract you?
I lost much of the psalm (121, ‘I lift up my eyes to the hills’) through irritation at the man who was clearly determined to show his disapproval of the translation chosen, by saying the few bits of the King James Version that he knew very loudly. If you prefer an alternative version, do it quietly.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Good, old-fashioned, middle of the road Anglican.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 — The sermon was perfectly satisfactory, but nothing earth shattering.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Unsurprisingly, it was about the Queen and her many virtues, drawing out the New Testament qualities she displayed.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I can't honestly say there were any particular high points. If I had to single out one, it would be the building. I found my eye drawn to the reredos in particular.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The aggressive delivery of the intercessions. If I had not been able to hear the words, the manner would have made me conclude the congregation were being berated about something.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The lady in front of me smiled nicely after the service, but didn’t say anything. I was greeted on my way down the aisle and invited to stay for coffee. After getting my drink I stood feeling silly on my own for a good minute or two, but a member of the regular congregation did then come and engage me in conversation.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee was served at the back of church near the main door. A good number of people stayed, given how many were apparently visitors, and the atmosphere was good. As I regard all coffee as horrible, I failed to pay any attention to what was on offer there. Tea was served in a cup and saucer. If there were biscuits, they didn’t catch my eye; the item of real prominence was the tea donations dish. Curiously, this was significantly more noticeable than the main donations dish, which I had to make a real effort to find in order to drop in my donation and Mystery Worshipper calling card.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 — This felt like solid Church of England, with the worship well done, but not particularly inspiring. I can’t really say I felt the presence of the living God, and if I were making an unaccustomed visit to church following the death of the Queen, rather than being a regular churchgoer already, I do not think I would have been inspired to return.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I would say content to be a Christian, rather than glad.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The honest answer is singing ‘God Save the King’ for the first time, but that isn’t really about the church. For something specific to this church, I would say my sadness at being told over coffee that the congregation had been decimated by a short-lived new vicar, who (it was said) had tried to bring about rapid change to the style of worship without taking the PCC or congregation with her – resulting in a mass walk out from the choir and congregation.