st Mary the Virgin, Shipley

St Mary the Virgin, Shipley, West Sussex, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Mary the Virgin
Location: Shipley, West Sussex, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 29 May 2016, 10:00am

The building

Dating from the 12th century, its one of the oldest Norman churches in Sussex. It was built on the site of a smaller Saxon church by the Knights Templar, soldier-monks who protected pilgrims going to Jerusalem. The church is surrounded by graves, and a flock of sheep (there's one in the photo) keep the grass between the gravestones cropped (see comment below on the village name). The church's six bells attract ringers. Inside, there are many wonderful stained glass windows, six by Charles Eamer Kempe, whose studios produced over 4000 windows that display a unique charm. One window threw beautiful deep red and blue light on the wall to the left of the nave.

The church

They are very involved, and at the heart of the community. I just missed Village Day, which was held on the day after my visit. The church's ringers (most of whom didn't remain for the service) had recently come top in the youth striking competition. A week long scheme "Fun in the Belfry" is being held for 8-14 year olds this summer. Holy communion (family service) is celebrated each Sunday except the third Sunday of the month, when matins is said. There is a Sunday club for children. The bellringers practice each Wednesday evening (well, most Wednesdays anyway, as the bulletin mentions).

The neighborhood

Shipley, a very pretty and peaceful village in the Horsham District of West Sussex, was mentioned in the Domesday Book; the name means "sheep pasture." The comic poet Hilaire Belloc lived in the centre of Shipley and owned the historic Shipley Windmill, built in 1879 and active until 1926; the mill was featured in the BBC mystery crime drama series Jonathan Creek. The composer John Ireland is buried in St Mary's churchyard. The Countryman Inn prides itself on serving authentic country pub fare and fine wines in a cozy, comfortable setting. Not far away is St Cuthman's Retreat Centre, run by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Arundel & Brighton.

The cast

The Revd Pat Sinton, vicar.

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

About a third full. However, this included about 20 members of the Hants Wight Christian Walkers, who were staying at St Cuthman's.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

The vicar and another lady shook hands with me at the door and asked where I was from. "Oh, one of our couples is just about to move there!" I learned. The vicar asked me if I was familiar with the order for matins, and the other lady gave me a book and said I would be able to follow the service.

Was your pew comfortable?

Not bad.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Wonderful peal of bells and organ playing, with a murmur of quiet chatting by the congregation.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Welcome. It's lovely to see so many visitors. You've certainly chosen the right day to come to Shipley. We'll leave the doors open so you can hear the bleating of the sheep in the churchyard."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Mission Praise; Book of Common Prayer.

What musical instruments were played?


Did anything distract you?

The first few pages of my prayer book had been well nibbled by the church mouse! The vicar announced which page to turn to but my copy was not the same as hers so I was completely lost. Twice, when I did find what was being read, my version had more verses.

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

Much of the liturgy was sung by a cantor, with sung responses by the choir and congregation. All the hymns selected from Mission Praise were traditional evangelical.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

9 minutes.

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

7 – The vicar spoke rather too fast, but the content was very good grounding the incident of the centurions servant in the political, cultural and historical background of Judea. I had never considered that the centurion might have been at the Sermon on the Mount, as the site is near Capernaum and he was obviously interested in the Jewish religion.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The centurion was outside the circle of faith. How would the Jewish elders have felt when Jesus said he has not found such faith in Israel? People often say they have prayed for healing but their prayers have not been answered. The word of God always accomplishes what it says, but it may not be in our time scale. The physical symptoms may remain until the end of our life, but we should not underestimate the power of emotional and spiritual healing.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

One of the choristers prayed about friendship, what it means to be a friend, not just supporting and caring for others but sometimes having to cajole.

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

Although I was sitting in the third pew from the front, not a single other congregant was in my line of sight or hearing. This meant I had to keep looking back to check whether I was supposed to sit or stand, as I didnt know whether it was just the choir who were meant to be standing. Afterwards, the lady who had given me the prayer book said she thought I was having difficulty following the service and had considered coming to help me. When I said the page numbers were wrong, she acknowledged that several copies were out of date.

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

The organist played magnificently after the choir left, so I remained seated enjoying the music. But almost immediately two people came forward to remove the hymn boards and microphones and cover the altar rails with polythene sheeting. The lady who had given me the prayer book invited me to take refreshments, and several other people chatted pleasantly with me whilst I did so.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Proper high quality cups for tea, coffee and squash, plus a selection of biscuits.

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

7 – The congregation were very friendly and were taking pains to talk to everyone, which was amazing considering how many visitors were present. In addition to all the walkers, there was a very elderly couple whom I overheard being welcomed as visitors. One lady kindly opened the village hall (about a hundred yards away) to provide toilet facilities.

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


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

The prayer about cajoling. Am I ready to accept when I need to be cajoled by a friend? Do I recognise when a friend needs cajoling?

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