Mystery Worshipper: Hermione
Church: St Paul's
Location: Grangetown, Cardiff, Wales
Date of visit: Sunday, 12 December 2010, 10:00am
The church building is famous for being used in the filming of the Father's Day episode of the new Doctor Who. However, it is up for sale and we worshipped in the hall, a rather unimpressive building to the side of the church. Mention was made of heating problems being sorted by Christmas.
There is a church school nearby and a Cylch Meithrin (a nursery for Welsh education) that meets each morning in the church hall.
Grangetown is a suburb south of Cardiff. Not far from the church is the old grange. It's a really old building in the midst of much more recent ones.
The Revd Canon Graham Francis, parish priest. The names of readers and intercessors were in the notice sheet, but I'm sure at least one was incorrect, as Nigel is not usually a woman's name!
What was the name of the service?Sung Eucharist and Sunday School followed by Coffee.
How full was the building?
About half full. I counted about 40 in the congregation. Then three adults and about ten children emerged from Sunday school at the end, which was more than had gone out at the start.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. I came in through the gate opposite the west end of the church and was slightly thrown by the fact that the church doors were shut. I saw one person entering the hall and more coming up the side street. I slowed down so that they got ahead of me and they called out that they were in the hall and to come on in. I nearly walked past the books, but headed back and was given them with a smile. The priest emerged a bit later and said hello.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a fairly basic folding chair, but it wasn't exceptionally uncomfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a certain amount of bustle at the front, sorting things out and some level of greeting amongst the regulars, but I was able to prepare myself as I like to by glancing through the liturgy. I failed to spot the pieces of paper with the hymn numbers so I couldn't check out what we'd be singing.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Locally based liturgy booklet for Advent (with a red cover) based on the Church in Wales 2004 book Mission Praise. The words for the readings and the collect were on the notice sheet if you wished to follow them.
What musical instruments were played?
Some form of electronic organ.
Did anything distract you?
I was wondering why one of the servers hadn't been persuaded to remove his blue hoodie before putting on his cassock alb, or at least to hide the hood with the hood of the alb!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Slightly ragged Anglo-Catholic. People knew what they were doing and did it, but presentation could have been sharper. There was a robed choir of eight women, one of whom sang the responsorial psalm. They came in and sat down before the service. Although it was Gaudete Sunday, the priest's vestments were not the traditional pink. A teenaged server looked rather bored. There was a gospel procession to the lectern and that was where the sermon was delivered. This always strikes me as a bit odd, but it's modern Roman. Singing was OK, but not particularly loud and I was frustrated by having no voice due to a cold.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Canon Francis was conversational and I don't think he had a written script. That said, he spent several minutes talking about the bishop's Advent letter and asking if the congregation wanted to hear it (they apparently didn't) – whereupon he mentioned a story he had in his pocket.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The story was about a priest in civvies chatting to people in a pub. When they asked him what he did for a living, his answer was "Guess." After several wild guesses, he admitted to being a priest. One of the pubgoers then said, "You represent what I hate most." There followed a few thoughts about vocation, but I really don't think it went anywhere.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Possibly rehearsing "Creator of the Stars of Night" after communion and before the blessing. They were having their Advent liturgy that night and the organist wanted to make sure it was sung well. It's one of my favourites and getting to sing it at a sensible speed was good, although we only did the first and the last verse.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Probably the awkward feeling over the bishop's letter. I think that it should have been read aloud as the bishop had requested. We are an Episcopal church, after all. But I didn't feel comfortable as a visitor to say anything, especially because of the way the question was asked.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
When I stood up I got drawn into conversation with the people behind, a family of regulars and her mum who was visiting from West Wales. The husband returned with coffee and invited me through to the back room where the coffee was (which wasn't obvious from any other source). I chatted to him and the women serving the coffee about various things, including the Jesse tree that the children had decorated in Sunday school and the acting project I was involved in which had caused me to visit that church rather than my usual church.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were proper mugs (stacking ones from IKEA) but the coffee was a common commercial brand that I certainly wouldn't buy. It didn't even taste nice, and on the ethical scale scores very low.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – It's convenient, but even though I was welcomed, I have friends who had a more unwelcoming experience in the past, and that has me slightly worried.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
On the whole, yes, but I was disappointed in the non-adherence to tradition. They did, however, light the pink candle on the Advent wreath at the end.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The discussion about the Jesse tree.