Mystery Worshipper: St Hilda
Church: St Hilda's
Location: Egton, North Yorkshire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 22 November 2009, 10:30am
The building dates from 1879 and replaced an earlier church on another site where the graveyard remains. A lot of the stone from the old building was used in the construction of the new one, which is quite modest in size, in the Norman/Early English style. The interior has white walls, with a few monuments. There is some attractive stained glass, including a west window depicting St Hilda.
The church is part of the parish of Middle Esk Moor, which consists of five small village churches, and appears to be a tightly knit community.
Egton is a small moorland village with an attractive, broad main street containing some traditional pantiled cottages. Like many small villages it is lacking many of the basic amenities of life, but has two excellent pubs, a forge, a bike shop and a doctors' surgery. Egton, and the nearby village of Egton Bridge, have two claims to fame: one of the last remaining gooseberry shows is held locally every year, and the area was a Roman Catholic stronghold in the 17th century.
The Revd Christine Haddon-Rees, vicar.
What was the name of the service?Parish Communion
How full was the building?
Mostly empty – there were 13 of us in the congregation, plus the vicar and the organist.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I arrived at the church I was a little confused as to whether I had found the appropriate means of ingress, as the door was closed. At this point a couple of the congregation arrived, so I asked them if this was the way in. One of them asked me if I was struggling to open the latch, so I tried it and found that it was indeed the right way in. Inside several people were standing round and said hello to me and I was handed a hymnbook and service sheet. Later on several people exchanged the peace with me.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was not uncomfortable, but was rather cold and would have benefited from a cushion.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
When I arrived, everyone was standing around at the back of the church chatting. At almost the exact moment I arrived, the congregation all took their seats (which unnerved me slightly) and things quietened down. There was a recording of organ music playing in the background, which I found uplifting.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"The Lord be with you."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Complete Anglican Hymns Old and New and the Parish Communion Booklet for the Parishes of Middle Esk Moor, Ordinary Time.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
As I sat down in my pew and bowed my head for a few moments of prayer, two people held a loud conversation at the end of my pew, which effectively banished all prayerful thoughts.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was definitely stiff-upper-lip! It was a traditional Anglican service, with the hymns sung quietly and the responses to the liturgy uttered firmly but unenthusiastically. The congregation were all of rather mature years, so the proceedings were very orderly. The vicar ran the whole show with the exception of one reading by a member of the congregation.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The vicar spoke in measured and clear tones, announced the theme of her sermon, and elucidated it well with a helpful illustration from her personal life.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The subject of the sermon was Christ the King. The vicar reminded the congregation that Christ attained his kingship through the cross. The thieves who were crucified with Jesus are our representatives in that they had to choose how to react to Christ – whether to accept or reject him. Advent is approaching, which is not just about the coming of Christmas, but about Christ's second coming as king.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I felt a real sense of Christ's presence. Maybe this was because of the theme of the service or maybe because I was aware of the many Christians who had worshipped in that building before. Despite the slim congregation, I knew Christ was present in that place.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
As the service advanced I felt a growing sense of discomfort as the cold seeped into my legs and feet. I don't know if there was any heating. I certainly couldn't see any evidence of it, but if there was I doubt it was on.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the service finished, an announcement was made that instead of coffee, wine and cake would be served to mark the vicar's first anniversary in the parish. The congregation moved fairly rapidly to the back of the church, and it became obvious that I had inadvertently gate-crashed a private party which happened to have a church service at the beginning. I hung around hopefully for a while, thinking maybe I would be offered a slice of cake but as this didn't happen and I didn't have the cheek to go and help myself, I made a speedy departure.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – I don't think they'd want me. They seemed a very self-sufficient group.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It did, because I felt close to God there.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Sadly, the feeling of not being welcome, and an awareness of how easily churches can turn into private clubs. It breaks my heart really.