Mystery Worshipper: Chris Teeyan
Church: St Melanus
Location: St Mellion, Cornwall, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 5 October 2008, 11:15am
A quintessentially ancient English village church with a square bell tower and graveyard. It was dedicated by the bishop of Exeter in 1259 and still contains some stonework from this period. The south side is largely 14th century and the tower and the north aisle were added in the 15th century. It makes one wonder how it fared in the strife and battles that happened since it was built. If only those old stones could speak! The interior consists of the nave with altar at the east end and Lady chapel to the south. Benefactors of the church were the Coryton family; there are various monuments to them in the church. The brass on the south wall of the chancel is to Peter Coryton and his wife (who died in 1500 and 1505 respectively) and their 24 children! There are two large canopied monuments, one to William Coryton and his wife Elizabeth, and the other to Sir William and his wife Susannah. The Lady chapel contains many more memorial plaques to members of this family. The stained glass windows above the altar depict Christ's crucifixion and others illustrate the Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd. At the west end is the bell tower with the inscription on the doorway: "To your praise and glory we ring our bells."
The church belongs to the parish of St Mellion with Pillaton, which encompasses the churches of St Melanus, St Odulph, St Dominic and St Indract in a benefice. This means that the churches provide a Sunday eucharist and occasional evensong, matins and other services on a rota system for a cluster of small villages. The congregation could be said to be middle aged to elderly and middle class, and most I think would be locals as well as a few tourists like ourselves.
This is a very rural part of Cornwall with quite a sparse population. The villages are tiny and are connected by narrow roads with high hedges each side, but the properties you encounter are mainly affluent. The church is on a narrow lane branching off a busy main road. There is a primary school next door, and a pub across the main road called the Coryton Arms. There is also a large international golfing hotel under a mile away which must be a source of employment in the area.
The Revd P R J Lamb, rector.
What was the name of the service?Eucharist with hymns
How full was the building?
It wasn't full at all maybe about 25 to 30 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A lady dressed in a black gown greeted me and asked if I would like a hymn book. A few minutes later, a gentleman came over and asked us if we were on holiday and we had a conversation about the bell ringers, the group of churches in the benefice, and the choir.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was as comfortable as you could expect. The pews were cushioned and the kneelers were ample.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
When we opened the big heavy door, I thought we had landed in the middle of a parochial church council meeting because everyone was chatting avidly. It didn't feel very reverential at that stage. However, this all changed with the entry of a procession of six when everyone stood up and all became very still.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Complete Anglican Hymns Old and New, The Holy Eucharist Order 1, and a pew sheet.
What musical instruments were played?
A traditional pipe organ was played charmingly and delightfully throughout the service. The church also has a bell ringing team who were performing magnificently as we entered the church.
Did anything distract you?
Well, there weren't any crying babies or people singing out of tune... but the hymn book was massive and the pew sheet was A4 size, and I had a real job to juggle them all on a little tiny ledge on the back of the pew in front of me. I know the words in traditional language and could cope with "you" and "your" instead of "thou" and "thy", but I was really thrown when it came to saying the creed, which I thought I knew inside out. In modern language it is quite different in parts, so by the time I had done the juggling act they were half way through it!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I would say it was dignified high church – it was certainly not low church, but there was no use of incense or reciting of the Angelus to make it Anglo-Catholic. The service started with a procession of six: a server in cassock and surplice; a reader in cassock, surplice and a blue scarf; three ladies in black gowns, one of whom had acted as a greeter; and the vicar in alb and chasuble with green orphreys. They all bowed to the cross before taking up their places. We stood for the prayers of preparation, the gloria and the collect, and then we sat for the two readings, which were divided by a said psalm. The readings were delivered eloquently and with beautiful phrasing that really brought out the beauty of the English language. The multitasking lady in the black gown went to the back of the church to read the prayers of intercession in a calm, expressive and dignified manner. At the moment of consecration, the host was elevated and the clergy genuflected. People crossed themselves at appropriate times. It was all very solemn and devout.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The vicar didn't mount the pulpit; instead, the server brought him a chair and he just sat at the top of the chancel steps. He did look rather fragile and possibly that was the reason for this rather unusual position. He sat there facing the congregation and it was rather like a wise man telling a story to his flock. He had no notes and just talked to us quietly and eloquently in a lovely resonant voice. He could have been a retired Shakespearean actor!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He related to the reading about a vineyard, which in biblical times was a sign of prosperity, which needed a great deal of attention for it to flourish and produce good grapes. He spoke about the prophets in ancient times, in the time of Jesus and in modern times. They often said things that the people did not want to hear because it made the people feel uncomfortable. They told parables, and in particular the parable about the vineyard, which compared God's love for us with the special care that has to be given to it. He also talked about the pharisees and cited modern examples of them.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Most of it, but especially the singing of the hymns and the Lord's Prayer. The choir of six had lovely voices and produced some lovely harmonies. I couldn't help thinking that worship had been going on in this little gem of a church for over seven centuries. It has survived the violent swings between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism as different monarchs came to power, and has emerged into the 21st century as a church that practises the catholic tradition of the Church of England, which itself is now a very broad church.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
This is a hard question to answer because I felt truly privileged to share the worship in this lovely church. The only thing that niggled me was the response to "The Lord be with you." I am used to responding with, "And with thy Spirit." Instead, the response was, "And with you," which, although introduced into the Church of England as long ago as 1980 in an attempt to modernise the liturgy, I find distasteful. To me it's like saying, "And with you with knobs on!" thus making the silly even sillier. That's just my personal opinion though.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We didn't have a chance to hang around. The vicar came up to us, asked us if we were visitors, and chatted about an evensong service taking place at the nearby church of St Dominic that evening. Several other people spoke to us in a most friendly manner and invited us to the evensong service.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were no refreshments.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I would certainly attend this church if I lived near here, but unfortunately I live over 300 miles away.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Definitely. We left the church glowing and feeling most uplifted.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The dignified and reverential service.