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1854: St Peter's, Cringleford, Norfolk, England
St Peter's, Cringleford, Norfolk, England
Photo: John Salmon
Mystery Worshipper: Kingsfold.
The church: St Peter's, Cringleford, Norfolk, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Norwich.
The building: St Peter's looks like a typical Norfolk church, built as it is of clunch (irregular clay rocks) and flint. The site of the church is Saxon, but little of the Saxon building remains today, other than a few decorated stones set in the walls above the font and welcome desk. Most of the building dates from the 15th century, and the south aisle was added in the early 20th century. There is a small tower at the west end that houses the three bells. Inside, the church is whitewashed plaster and has relatively little decoration other than two pictures that hang one on each of the north and south walls.
The church: St Peter's shares its ministry with the sister parish of St Andrew, Colney. The website details the children's and youth work happening in the parish, so probably overall the church community is reasonably mixed in terms of the age ranges. They sponsor midweek groups, a men's breakfast and a Mothers' Union. They maintain close ecumenical ties with the local German Evangelical Lutheran congregation, hosting a Lutheran service in German on the third Saturday of each month, and are a member of Churches Together. Holy communion and evensong are offered each Sunday, with another services alternating between holy communion and a family service.
The neighbourhood: Cringleford is a village right on the outskirts of Norwich, just off the A11. Depending on which way you're going, it's either the last village you pass before you hit the open countryside on the way out of Norwich, or it's the first village you come to as you leave the countryside and come into the outskirts of Norwich itself. The name "Kringelforda" is thought to be of Scandinavian origin, meaning "circle ford" or "the ford by the round hill." The village church stands on that small hill, just above the River Yare. The village has grown quite significantly in size over the last couple of years, due to a new development in Round House park, which itself came hot on the heels of the relocation of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital to a site between Cringleford and Colney.
The cast: The Revd Heather Butcher, rector, was the celebrant and preacher. Mr Philip Talbot presided at the organ.
The date & time: Thursday, 24 December 2009, 11.15pm.

What was the name of the service?
Midnight Communion.

How full was the building?
It's a small church, and there wasn't much in the way of spare space – probably around 100 or so people. The church community at the service I attended was predominantly adult, though that's hardly surprising at a late night service.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I entered the church, there were two or three welcomers/stewards, one of whom said hello and handed me the papers I needed for the service.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a bog standard wooden pew with cushions – neither especially comfortable nor especially uncomfortable!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a certain amount of meeting and greeting going on, but it wasn't noisy or intrusive. Overall, I'd say the atmosphere was calm and expectant.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening to all of you and welcome to our midnight service."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
We were given a service sheet with most of the service on it, or at least the bits we needed to join in, and a copy of the Bethlehem Carol Sheet. Pew Bibles were available (Today's New International Version), but this wasn't the version actually used for the readings.

What musical instruments were played?
Only the organ.

St Peter's, Cringleford, Norfolk, England

Did anything distract you?
I was terribly distracted by the fact that the vicar's voice was very, very similar to that of a friend of mine in terms of accent, timbre and inflexion. And to make it even more distracting, there was a degree of facial resemblance as well, so I could imagine how my friend might look in another 10 to 15 years or so.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I guess the best description would be "middle-of-the-road Anglican" – just the Common Worship liturgy performed without fuss.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The vicar started out sounding terribly nervous, but that settled down. After the first bout of nerves, her delivery was clear, and her start did draw people in to what was being said.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
For children, Christmas is about looking forward – to Father Christmas, presents, etc. However, to adults Christmas is more about recollection. Perhaps as we get older, we lose some of the magic. Perhaps we've been battered by life, or perhaps we grieve for people who are missing. It's at these times, when the excitement is gone, that Christmas carols start to speak of the mystery that is present in Christmas: "Lo, within a manger lies He who built the starry skies" seems to speak of the love, kindness and healing Jesus came to bring. "Born to raise the sons of earth" seems to speak of a second birth, and may become more important to us as we lose people. And it all speaks of the miracle revealed in an ordinary, lowly birth.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The first lesson, Isaiah 52:7-10 (proclaim the good news of redemption), was beautifully read. The delivery was clear and well-paced, and both the meaning and the poetry of the words came over.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I chose my seat poorly and was seated at the back just inside the door, so I spent the service with a cold draft blowing gently around the back of my neck.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I sat in my pew for a while, then took a few photos. All around me, people were filing out of the church, so I handed back my service sheets, joined the back of the queue, and filed out along with everyone else. On the way past, I shook hands with the vicar, who wished me merry Christmas.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none, being the very early hours of Christmas Day! Their website, however, states that they support fair trade.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – There was nothing that would make me say, "That's the church for me!" nor was there any reason to say, "Never again!" I guess if I lived in the area, I would probably look about a bit before making a decision.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes – I was reminded why my faith is important to me, and I was glad of it.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Singing "See amid the winter's snow," having walked/slithered my way through snow and ice to get to the service.
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