Mystery Worshipper: Bishop of Stortford
Church: Post the Host
Location: YouTube, Internet
Date of visit: Monday, 22 June 2009, 9:35pm
A recording had been made of a eucharist celebrated in what appeared to be a small alcove, painted white, devoid of decoration. A square table had been covered with a white cloth; on the table rested two candles, a crucifix, a chalice, and a paten holding a communion wafer. I viewed the video from the comfort of my own home.
The church is more of a non-community really. It exists to provide holy communion for anyone who wants to receive it without attending a church. The pre-consecrrated communion wafers are dispatched by post (you pay the postage) and the recipient watches the eucharistic celebration via YouTube.
The Open Episcopal Church is organised into six dioceses throughout the British Isles, but I couldn't tell in which of them the recording of the eucharist had been made. The immediate neighbourhood in which I viewed the video was my own home!
The Most Revd Jonathan Blake, Archbishop of London and Southeast England.
What was the name of the service?Inclusive Mass
How full was the building?
I attended the service alone, although my two sons were asleep in other rooms of the house and my wife was downstairs watching television.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
When I arrived home earlier in the evening, my wife greeted me warmly. But there was no greeting associated with the video.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. I sat in my own office chair, which is upholstered in leather and on which the height, back and arm rests can be adjusted.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quite and contemplative. There was just the gentle whirring of the cooling fan in the background as I waited for my computer to boot up.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"May God be with you. Jesus said: 'I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.'"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books were used. When the communion wafer arrived via post, there was included with it a little booklet called I Am With You by Father John Woolley, but it was not used in the service. I also had biblegateway.com open in another browser window in case I needed to look up a passage; but that wasn't required either. The text of the service can be followed along on the church's website, but I did not do so.
What musical instruments were played?
There was no music.
Did anything distract you?
The rather incongruous Prayer Book language of the liturgy, modified to be inclusive, was a constant distraction. For example, the Lord's Prayer began: "Our Father and Mother who art in heaven." But then the archbishop kept on slipping, sometimes saying "sovereignty" and at other times, "kingdom". Also, he was happy to use the word "Son", but "Almighty Father" was changed to "Almighty Parent".
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Well, it certainly wasn't happy clappy. It seemed to be a very straightforward service, even traditional (with thees and thous), despite the inconsistent attempts at inclusivity.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The best part was that I didn't have to travel to get there. No petrol, no shoe leather I didn't even have to put on any shoes. I ordered the wafer online, waited for it to be delivered in the post, and turned my home computer into a place of worship.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The complete absence of other worshippers. Perhaps this is what "the other place" will really be like lonely. Normally, after visiting a service as a Mystery Worshipper, I get to meet some people and have a conversation and usually learn something. This time there was no one but me.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I hung around for ages, but still no one came.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no coffee. I don't drink it that late at night, so I got myself a glass of water.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – I can't really see that I would want to do this again, except perhaps to try out some of the other videos. The archbishop has recorded a dozen different eucharistic prayers of all different flavours, from the trendy "Street Mass" to the straight-laced Latin version. On second thoughts, I would need to send off for some more wafers – would it be worth the trouble? In future, if I want to receive the Body of Christ, I think I'll find a real church.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It made me feel comfortable a bit like when I listen to a familiar poem being read aloud. But it also made the whole business of communion feel a bit odd. Here was a wafer. I had to watch the video until the right point and then eat it. It's a rather strange thing to do when you do it out of context like this. I certainly didn't feel the same joy I feel when attending a real church. I think it could be depressing if this was my only contact with Jesus.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
I'll probably laugh when I think of the contrived wording of the Lord's prayer: "Our Father and Mother... thy sovereignty come."