Bath Abbey, Bath, Somerset, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Bath Abbey
Location: Bath, Somerset, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 1 September 2019, 3:30pm

The building

The Abbey Church of St Peter and St Paul is a Perpendicular replacement of a Norman abbey, 'restored' by the prolific English Gothic Revival architect Sir George Gilbert Scott. However, the feel is Perpendicular, with huge windows and fan vaulting. Currently it is being done out again, so the whole of the nave is a building site.

The church

Bath has been a spa town and is now a thriving university town, so the abbey has a huge itinerant congregation and a few core worshippers. They do, however, have a full program of musical events and art exhibitions and a brisk tour business.

The neighborhood

Bath is flooded with tourists right up to the abbey, with lots of street music, guided tours, queues to get into the Roman baths, etc. Tourists, beggars, buskers, shops and cafes, all compete for custom. It is almost always noisy and full of the buzz of holiday-makers enjoying themselves.

The cast

A priest led the service and read both lessons. He sat in the chancel before the service began and rose to say, 'Good afternoon and a very warm welcome ...' He then went out and re-entered behind the large visiting choir.

What was the name of the service?

Choral Evensong.

How full was the building?

Only the area under the tower and the south part of the crossing were usable. They might seat 100 and were about three-quarters full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I was given a service sheet and hymn book – and a smile. I felt welcomed.

Was your pew comfortable?

New wooden chair in very pale wood. It was comfortable but hideous, which will become a problem when these chairs fill the nave.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Cheerful organ voluntary.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

'Whoever believes in the Son hath everlasting life.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Service sheet; English Hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?


Did anything distract you?

The priest’s microphone nestled in his beard! It was no longer a distraction once identified – and despite it the sound was excellent.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Traditional Anglican evensong, very well sung by a visiting choir. Because of the building works, the choir sang from behind the congregation, giving a delightful west gallery effect.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

No sermon, but the priest used the spoken prayers to suggest areas to work on: (1) To politicians, a stern warning from Isaiah (the first lesson about walking uprightly and waving away bribes); (2) A plea for courage to do what must be done for the future of our planet; (3) Remembering those in need.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The singing.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The chairs. Getting rid of the pews has enraged a large section the abbey's admirers. The old pews were dark brown with bench ends carved (quite well) to follow the Somerset tradition. The colour change is going to be a huge shock, though the nave may look good when empty (but then the pale chairs will have to go somewhere).

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

The priest shook hands and was friendly. I had a long conversation with a guide about the chairs. Outside the door, someone said, ‘Have a nice day.’

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

No refreshments.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

8 — Bath is beautiful and the abbey interesting. It is full of Regency monuments and I know very few of them.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

I enjoyed it a lot. I feel the C of E is in terminal decline, which makes me like it all the more.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The chairs.

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