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1988: St Mary's, Painswick, Gloucestershire, England
St Mary’s, Painswick, Gloucestershire, England
Mystery Worshipper: Chris Teean.
The church: St Mary's, Painswick, Gloucestershire, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Gloucester.
The building: The first view of the church, when approached from any direction, is of the soaring spire complete with its gilded weathercock. The ancient Cotswold stone church enjoys a wonderful setting in the centre of the village, where tombstones and a unique collection of 99 yew trees surround it. Legend has it that the Devil will never allow 100 trees to grow! The architectural historian Alec Clifton-Taylor describes the churchyard, with its tombs and yews, as "the grandest churchyard in England". Building of the present church started in 1380, although there is evidence that there was a Christian building on the site before 1066. On entering through the modern porch, the eye is drawn to the rood over the chancel arch that shows Christ crucified, looked on by his mother Mary and John the disciple. A white dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit, is centred in a canopy above it. The high altar is backed by a reredos designed and embroidered by Lady Hyett at the beginning of the 20th century, above which is a magnificent east window depicting a crucifixion scene. On the south side, the founder's window shows Hugh de Laci, Lord of the manor, presenting a model of the chapel to the infant Jesus. Geoffrey Webb designed this window and two others nearby, leaving his sign, a spider's web. On the north side are windows of saints in Whitefriars glass, showing tiny white friars in the bottom right-hand corners. The oldest part of the church is St Peter's chapel to the left of the chancel. It contains an altar with a beautiful Italian mosaic reredos, and a wall-mounted Oberammergau crucifixion scene, both dating from around 1900. It also houses a rather imposing tomb, which has been occupied by three different families, presumably at different times! In the northwest corner, a model of Drake's flagship at the Armada, the Bonaventure, is mounted on the wall (see picture below). The ship is an ancient symbol of the Christian church, and such ship models are common in coastal churches but are rare inland. Nearby is the font, which was in use for today's baptism service, and it dates from 1661. At the back of the church is the bell tower which houses a peal of 14 bells dating from 1686. The church is very proud of its large collection of hassocks, embroidered by local people some 25 years ago; they are all individual designs on a background of blue, the colour associated with Mary. Evidence of civil war skirmishes abound. A Puritan soldier who was imprisoned in the church during the Civil War carved words on a pillar near St Peter's chapel, and the tomb in the chapel was damaged by fire in 1644. Externally the church was damaged by bullets and cannon fire, and this can be seen above the clock in the tower.
The church: Holy Communion is celebrated every Sunday and Wednesday and there are regular morning and evening services throughout the week. The congregation supports many charities, and there are clubs, societies and social events, which makes for a substantial social calendar. Details can be found on the website.
The neighbourhood: Painswick is a pretty village, known as the Queen of the Cotswolds, set in a valley amidst gentle hills roughly eight miles south-east of Gloucester. It was once an important town in the Cotswold woollen industry and several mills can still be located on the banks of the Painswick stream. A busy main road runs through its narrow streets, so there is always heavy traffic congestion.
The cast: Canon Michael Irving was the celebrant, assisted by the Revd Elizabeth Ward.
The date & time: Sunday 16 May, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Communion and Baptism into Christ and His Church.

How full was the building?
I would estimate about 150, including about 30 in the baptismal party.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were welcomed by a young gentleman giving out a weekly news sheet, then by a lady who issued us with all that we needed for the service.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a traditional wooden pew, so was as comfortable as could be expected. The problem was kneeling, which I will come to later.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The baptismal party engaged in quite noisy chatter, while what I took to be the regular congregation sat reasonably quietly. The organist did a little quiet practice before breaking into an anthem in the few minutes before the service started.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We gather in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. The Lord is here. His Spirit is with us."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Common Praise hymn book, an order of service booklet entitled Holy Communion and Baptism into Christ and His Church, the Grapevine weekly news sheet and a sheet containing the collect, readings and post-communion prayer.

What musical instruments were played?
A rather impressive pipe organ was played effortlessly by a gentleman who also accompanied the choir on the piano during the administration of communion. The original organ was built by the firm of Lincoln in 1814, but has undergone several rebuilds. Some of the case work has been attributed to John Snetzler, the renowned builder and designer of the 18th century.

St Mary’s, Painswick, Gloucestershire, England

Did anything distract you?
The lack of direction in the order of service as to whether one should stand, kneel or sit led to some uncomfortable situations when no one seemed to know what to do. At one point, there was a kind of domino effect when people standing realised those behind were kneeling, and changed their stance accordingly.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Although a crucifer led a procession of robed choir and vested clergy into the chancel, the style veered towards low church because of a lack of ceremony or signs of reverence. Modern language was used throughout, apart from the Lord's Prayer.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
8 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – He spoke clearly and did not appear to use notes.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Baptism is always a special occasion. Apparently, Pope John XXIII prayed every day for the priest who baptised him, because he believed his greatest day was when he was baptised. When Paul and Silas were released from prison, the jailer and his family were immediately baptised and became believers in God. We are baptised into the life and glory of God. We must put ourselves in the hands of God so that he can use us, with the gifts he has given us, to further his work of proclaiming his kingdom. Let us thank God for what he has given us at our own baptism into Christ; and as we witness this baptism, let it be a renewal of our dedication to God the Father who has shown himself to us in the life and resurrection of Jesus. As we enter the gates of heaven we shall share in the resurrection of life.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I think everyone enjoys a baptism when the baby is well behaved and doesn't object to being splashed with water. The little girl gave a superb performance, especially when held aloft for all to see.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The fact that the parishioners had gone to so much trouble to make their splendid collection of hassocks led you to believe this was a congregation accustomed to kneeling in worship. Mine featured a particularly delightful scene of the three shepherds looking at the star of Bethlehem. But what a tight squeeze it was! I might add that I am quite small and usually don't have any problems in this department I can fit quite easily into theatre and aircraft seats which are an instrument of torture to my larger companions. However, kneeling in this confined space was rather like being in a straightjacket!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was a lot of congestion at the back of the church, probably because of the baptism. We had a pleasant chat with the priest who was standing in for the regular vicar.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was efficiently served and there was a generous selection of biscuits. People chatted amicably.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – It was satisfying to join a congregation which obviously enjoyed a style of no-frills worship, although my own preference is for a much more traditional service with a lot more ceremony.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. The renewal of baptismal vows and the profession of faith is a strong reminder of our belief in Christ.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I was quite amused when the intercessor prayed, "Father, give us patience and true humour during the forthcoming traffic problems." She had obviously had prior warning, because road works began on the road outside the church the very next day, with traffic lights controlling the flow of traffic from alternate directions. You certainly need the Lord's gift of patience when you encounter the pain of the mile-long queues that extend in all directions from Painswick! Let's hope that the road works have been completed by the time this report is published, so that people may have the opportunity to visit and worship at this most delightful church.
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