Mystery Worshipper: St Hilda
Church: Holy Trinity
Location: Drybrook, Gloucestershire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 19 February 2012, 11:00am
Holy Trinity (which is also known as Forest Church) is built of grey stone, with a short tower. It is relatively unadorned, with the interior whitewashed, and enlivened by the odd commemorative plaque and some cheery banners. The only panels of stained glass are in the east window.
There is a mothers and toddlers group that meets in the schoolroom next to the church and an ongoing programme of social activities. The benefice (Drybrook, Lydbrook and Ruardean churches) is running an Emmaus course for Lent. The church also runs the Shop on the Cross, a secondhand shop and coffee shop in Drybrook.
The church stands on the edge of the small hamlet of Harrow Hill, and serves the nearby village of Drybrook. It is located in the centre of the Royal Forest of Dean, and was the first church to be built (in 1817) actually within the central forest area, which at that time was extra-parochial.
No one introduced themselves, so I've had to identify people using the website. The service was led by Ros Greenhalgh, ordinand. The Revd Nick Bromfield, rector, presided at the baptism. Tim Greenhalgh, parish treasurer, gave the sermon.
What was the name of the service?Family Service and Baptism.
How full was the building?
Pretty full - there was a baptism, so most seats were taken.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I entered the church, a woman handed me a service sheet and hymnbook. She greeted me with the news that there was a baptism service. I did speak to a couple of people as well when negotiating access to a pew, which took some time.
Was your pew comfortable?
Standard Anglican pew, designed to keep you awake during the service, but not in any actual agony.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very noisy. The porch was full of Brownies, who were having a church parade, so there was much chatter as I entered. The Brownies were celebrating Thinking Day, which is an annual event in which the girls participate in activities and projects with global themes to honor their sister Girl Guides and Girl Scouts in other countries. The body of the church was full of parents and small children for the baptism. So, as you may imagine, it was pretty lively.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Hello. Welcome to our family service, and especially welcome to the baptismal party."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Complete Anglican Hymns Old and New, plus a baptism service booklet.
What musical instruments were played?
All but one of the hymns were played on the organ. The odd one out was accompanied by a small musical group of piano, guitar and cello.
Did anything distract you?
With so many children, there were bound to be plenty of distractions, such as the point where the baby at the end of my pew kicked off and had to be taken out and briefly playing "peepo" with his sister. Indeed, when the vicar read out some banns of marriage, it occurred to me that if anyone had objected no one would have heard them speak out!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Mostly pretty standard stiff-upper-lip Anglican, though the song performed with the music group had a clapping accompaniment, and some of the congregation joined in! The candidates for baptism were a one-year-old boy plus his father and two other members of the family. The Brownies read out some of their own prayers, which was rather lovely.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Mr Greenhalgh spoke with a northern accent and his talk was pitched at family-friendly level. I thought he did a great job under difficult circumstances. He was accessible and loud and only lost points for a slightly woolly argument.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Referring to the Brownies' Thinking Day, he asked: What are we thinking of when we are in church? What we should be thinking of first is God, whom we see in creation and in everything he has done for us. Second, we should be thinking of others, by praying for them. Finally, we should be thinking of ourselves what God is saying to us through the things we hear in the service, and how we can become the people he wants us to be. This can be summed up by the acronym JOY: Jesus first, then others, and lastly you.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Despite the noise level, I loved being in a church full of families.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It was a bit embarrassing when the time came to pass the peace, as no one wanted to shake hands with me. I waved at a small child and smiled at her mum instead. I considered greeting the gentleman behind me, but he was sitting well back with his eyes closed, so I thought maybe not.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
At the end of the service there was a general exodus to the door. I actually did wait about five minutes before leaving my pew, but no one noticed me. They were all too concerned with leaving. Once out of my pew, I was swept along by the tide of humanity out through the porch. I did manage to shake the hand of Mrs Greenhalgh on leaving.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no mention of tea or coffee, so I initially assumed there was none. Later I passed the church schoolroom and heard a lot of people chatting. Further inspection revealed there were people partaking of beverages, but I was unsure if this was for the general public or not, so I gave it a miss.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I did not feel particularly welcome, but the baptismal party had overwhelmed the church, so on an ordinary Sunday things might be different.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, very. The baptism was great it made me very happy to see a one year old, his dad, and two other family members being baptised.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Admiration for the clergy and laity who had got the service so well organised that despite all the various items involved it came in at only just over an hour.