Malmesbury Abbey, Malmesbury, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Malmesbury Abbey
Location: Malmesbury, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 28 July 2019, 6:30pm

The building

Photo: ©Adrian Pingstone and used under license The Abbey Church of St Peter and St Paul is a beautiful fragment with unique Norman carving in the north porch. The interior is a portion of the nave of the abbey church, which collapsed shortly before the Reformation. It houses the tomb of King Athelstan; the chapel of St Aldhelm; the Malmesbury Bible, handwritten in Latin and dating from 1407; as well as a café and bookshop. There is a lively tourist trade.

The church

It is the parish church of a traditional town, with lots going on: home groups, summer camp, a carnival, ‘Ride & Stride’ (quoting from the website, ‘an opportunity for families and friends to enjoy a day out’ – participants ‘may cycle, walk, ride a horse or mobility scooter’). There are communion services and evensong on Sundays, plus morning prayer, communion and ‘Time for Chat’ during the week.

The neighborhood

Malmesbury has been a centre of Christianity since the 7th century, and included a flourishing monastery with local historian. Once the centre of the wool trade, the town now is host to Dyson's factory manufacturing household appliances.

The cast

The vicar with visiting preacher.

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

Less than half full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I was handed books.

Was your pew comfortable?

Comfortable chair.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Pleasantly friendly with the choir rehearsing.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Beloved brethren, the scripture moveth us ...’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Hymns Old and New; a printed order for evensong; the words of part of Psalm 150.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ and piano (not together).

Did anything distract you?

Birds flying high up – possibly reflected but they may have been inside.

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

Traditional – but this is clearly not their usual style. They try hard and the large choir sings very well.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

22 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

3 — The preacher was likeable and generated goodwill with many examples and stories, but two minutes would have been ample.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Judgement. He advocated not judging at all, but recognised that we all do, so he advised doing it very quietly.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The birds. The Norman arcading and Gothic vaulting. The anthem was sung with great enthusiasm.

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

Although the sound system is good, the reader brayed the second lesson and I didn't hear a word of it. Also, I had the feeling that, although they tried hard, their heart wasn't in it..

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

They are friendly, but since I can't wholeheartedly encourage them in their mission, that is more embarrassing than being ignored.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?


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

2 — The building covers a multitude of shortcomings but also rubs in the fact that the Church has seen better days.

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

No. Distinctly uncomfortable.

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

The birds.

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