Mystery Worshipper: The Revelator
Church: St Philip's
Location: Chaddesden, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 30 May 2010, 10:00am
One of the ugliest church buildings I have ever seen! The exterior and the surrounding estate resemble something out of Soviet era Russia. The church was built in 1955, a time when public sector architects thought that grey concrete monstrosities were a good idea. Luckily, the inside is quite a bit better. The arched raftered ceiling is Gothic, 1950s style. The pews, pulpit, choir stalls and altar are where you would probably find them in a traditional church, but the plan is a bit more open than usual and there are no screens. A red carpet leads up to the altar, above which is suspended a large, impressive crucifix. On the side walls there are colourful stations of the cross, and on the back wall is a statue of the Virgin Mary.
For better or worse, the church has remained unapologetically Anglo-Catholic since its inception. Their website mentions a Sunday school and a toddler group as well as the Brownies and Guides. They sponsor two pilgrimages to Walsingham each year.
Chaddesden, or "Chad" as the locals call it, is one of Derby's largest suburbs, lying a short distance to the east of the city. Chaddesden is a mixture of private and council housing interspersed with shopping malls. Derby itself has a rich industrial past and a consistently awful football team.
The Revd Alison Roome was the celebrant and preacher. Maureen Tomkins gave the readings and Roy Farthings read the notices. Another lector, the organist and servers went unnamed.
What was the name of the service?Sung Family Mass
How full was the building?
About one-quarter full, with 25 or so in the congregation.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A couple of ladies said hello to me as they handed me my service booklet, but no handshake.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pew quietly and unobtrusively did its job very well, thank you.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was choir practice going on beforehand. There was some chatting. An infant made baby noises.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A green service booklet and a folded sheet specifically for this date.
What musical instruments were played?
An old electronic organ that gave a fair approximation of a pipe organ. There was a blue-robed choir of eight voices.
Did anything distract you?
Infants making loud noises. Yes, I know – it was a family service and children are our future, but all the same... Two ladies in front of me chattered incessantly. The building's acoustics seemed to amplify every extraneous cough, rustle and breath from the congregation, but the choir did not project. In fact, they were drowned out not only by the organ but also by almost every sound that was made.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Ultra high. A bell announced the arrival of the procession, which consisted of torches, thurifer, lectors, the choir, servers in black cassocks with lace cottas, and the celebrant in a long white chasuble with a retro style gold cross on the front. The processional hymn was "Holy, Holy, Holy", but the congregation did not seem enthusiastic about singing. But there were bells and incense aplenty! The collects and psalm were chanted, as was part of the eucharistic prayer. Despite all the pomp, it didn't seem to me that the service flowed particularly well. Rather, it felt in places like a series of discrete segments stuck together, and that all involved were largely there out of a sense of duty rather than of being glad.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The celebrant spoke clearly, almost poetically in places, but to me eight minutes is merely an introduction to a sermon, not a proper sermon at all.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
She described the trinity as an unfathomable mystery. God the Father created man in his own image. His Son became human, the second Adam, both to comprehend humanity and to redeem mankind by sacrifice. The Holy Spirit is the living God on earth, giving new life. But just as she began to describe how the human mind tries to comprehend God, her sermon came to an end.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The celebrant sang well. I also appreciated seeing an altar properly set with a plain white cloth, six candles and a crucifix.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The oppressive ugliness of the church's exterior and the lack of a proper sermon.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A lady from the choir invited me to stay for coffee, which was kind of her, but then nobody from the church spoke to me while I was drinking it.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was drinkable, served in china cups with along with malted milk biscuits.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I visit this area from time to time, so I have been on the lookout for a church to make my own. I'd have to think twice about St Philip's, though. They would benefit from a bigger choir and more enthusiastic congregation. To be fair, they are in an interregnum at the moment. Perhaps when a new vicar is called, things will pick up.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It reminded me that sometimes being a Christian requires duty and loyalty.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The priest's singing voice.