Mystery Worshipper: Wandering Star
Church: Nativity & the Blessed Virgin Mary
Location: Studley, Warwickshire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 29 April 2007, 10:45am
This is a traditional square towered, 900 year old church building, set on a hill so that the tower is visible from miles away. John Marius Wilson's Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72) described the church as "ancient but good". Stained glass windows abound. Three groups of pews plus communion table comprise the nave, and the high altar and choir stalls occupy the chancel. There are a number of child friendly areas: one outside on the church grounds, another inside by the font on the south side, and a third above the vestry and behind the organ loft. This latter space is carpeted and reached via a gated spiral staircase, and affords a grand view of the fields of Studley. A glass partition separates the children from the space where the organ originally stood, now occupied by a drum set. I wonder if the drums are beaten from this position? The organ has been refurbished and moved into the chancel, beside the choir stalls. On this particular Sunday, rugs and and activities were arranged outside in preparation for Junior Church. A beautiful, hand-painted Easter cross hung from the roof.
Their website states: "We aim to avoid being pigeonholed as any particular variety of church, but seek to welcome all who are looking for God." They sponsor a variety of study and friendship groups that meet in people's homes, as well as bellringers, a mothers' group, youth groups, a walking group, and others.
Studley sits on an ancient Roman road, but the earliest evidence of a settlement here dates back to Saxon times. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the town was a major manufacturing centre, producing needles, charcoal, bricks and malt. Today Studley is a heavily populated area, thick with houses. It is also known for its pubs and restaurants. It is said that there are more pubs per capita in Studley than anywhere else in the United Kingdom, save for Blackpool. The church itself is set down a country lane, off the main road, leading into pastureland, a far cry from the nearby M42 and A435 – a surprising oasis.
The service was led by the associate minister, the Revd Margaret Deimel. The Revd Richard Deimel arrived a little later, having taken a service at Mappleborough Green, and was just in time to baptise baby Theo. Licensed Minister Clive Hickman (I believe his name was) preached. The clergy were assisted by members of the ministry team, and several members of the congregation gave the readings and prayers.
What was the name of the service?Celtic Communion and Junior Church at Studley – Wild Flower Sunday
How full was the building?
Almost full, with a good number of young families.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Not personally, but my party and I were welcomed en masse. Plenty of smiles and greetings all round.
Was your pew comfortable?
The wooden pew was comfortable although the bookshelf was a little narrow.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A happy bustle of welcomes and chatter as the congregation entered. The keyboard was played quietly.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Holy Bible, New International Version; Studley Worship 902 (song book); Celtic Communion Order of Service; Order of Baptism; a bulletin sheet and prayer sheet.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard and guitar.
Did anything distract you?
It was a miracle that the preacher managed not to be distracted from his message despite the gurglings and burbling of babies and young children and the occasional dropped book, bottle or rattle. He was totally un-phased. We did have a number of pieces of paper to manage, and it was rather difficult to maintain a prayerful manner whilst rifling through them. However, this did not detract from the enjoyment of the service.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The whole service was held just like a picnic in the park, yet none of the reverence for God or the sincerity of our offering was lost. All the songs were modern. The worship was really enjoyable and relaxed.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – I really like listening to a preacher who holds an open, soft bound Bible across his hand. It was a real joy to see the Word of Truth nestling in willing hands. I loved Clive's easy references to the Word.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
"What is the point of it all – is death all there is?" Nature dies, and we are part of the same natural process. But Peter broke that natural law when he raised Tabitha from the dead (Acts 9:36-43). God has power over nature. His supernatural power overcomes death and gives life everlasting. No one will snatch God's sheep from out of his hand (John 10:22-30). It is bemusing to think that some people choose Frank Sinatra's song "My Way" as a funeral selection. Surely if they had it "their way" they wouldn't be in the box! When we become followers of Jesus, we know the joy of everlasting life. But isn't God alone immortal (Timothy 6:16)? All the rest of us have a termination date. Through God's supernatural Holy Spirit we can have complete trust.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
This was a really busy service. It was during the return to seats after communion that it seemed heavenly. I felt as though I were part of a big family in heaven, where amongst the hustle and bustle there was opportunity to take communion, smell the flowers, praise God, feed someone else's baby, say a prayer, and best of all, enjoy a real feeling of love and care.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Somewhat odd, but here goes. At one point we were invited outside to enjoy the wildflowers, but some of the congregation remained inside. Suddenly those inside the church started singing. As lovely as the flowers were, to hear the singing inside while we were outside was quite hard to bear. Is that what it is like?
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was a general sharing of the joy of the service. The Revd Richard Deimel, divested of his clerical garb, cup of tea in hand, came up and welcomed me.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee and tea were fair traded and served in proper china cups. Plentiful juice was available too.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – Such a lovely feeling of extended family. This should be the ideal for every church. I felt part of a family.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Oh yes. I was so pleased to rejoice in the heavenly Father of this enormous family.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Coming back into the church after praising God for his creation, in his creation, to joyful singing of "See what a morning" by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty.