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2383: Our Lady of Sorrows, Bognor Regis, England
Our Lady of Sorrows, Bognor Regis (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Teutonic Knight.
The church: Our Lady of Sorrows, Bognor Regis, England.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Diocese of Arundel & Brighton.
The building: Our Lady of Sorrows is a typical Victorian contraption of yellow brick and stone dressing, with giant proportions, although it is plain compared to some. The foundation stone is dated 1881. The church was opened in 1882 but not completed until 1957. Its architect was Joseph Stanislaus Hansom, son and partner of his better known father, Joseph Aloysius, inventor of the the Hansom cab. It has a gabled frontage and dominates the surrounding residential area. Inside, the focus of the sanctuary is the high altar with reredos depicting two each of popes, bishops, priests and deacons, including Bede the Venerable, Gregory the Great, Thomas a Becket, and others. More recent renovation and adaptations for the modern liturgy were carried out in 1985 by Messrs Ormsby of Scarisbrick, ecclesiastical design consultants.
The church: Our Lady of Sorrows is the mother church of the Catholic parish of Bognor, which is comprised of four worshipping communities – two in Bognor and one each in the nearby villages of Slindon and Barnham. It is also the main centre for mission to Eastern European migrants, with a Polish mass celebrated every week. The church has all the usual prayer, study, support and social groups, and regularly invites guest speakers to give talks on such topics as "the prayer life of Jesus" or "the future of the liturgy". St Mary’s Primary School is just across the road in Lyon Street, named after the Bowes-Lyon Family of the late Queen Mother, who famously spent holidays here.
The neighbourhood: The church is situated in the town centre of the seaside resort Bognor Regis, just off the high street in one direction and a couple of hundred yards from the seafront in the other. The town centre is not spectacular, and seems to consist predominantly of charity shops and pound stores, alongside the usual shopping precinct staples. Within walking distance are two convents, one Benedictine and the other a Servite order.
The cast: The Revd Peter Fitch, assistant priest.
The date & time: The Ascension of the Lord, 20 May 2012, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?

How full was the building?
Well attended, with only a couple of empty pews. About 120 people. There was a good ratio of male to female and a considerable number of babies, toddlers, and young children. I did not, however, see any older children or teenagers. Most of the children departed at the beginning of the service for the children’s liturgy and returned for communion.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Nothing to write home about. I was simply handed a weekly newsletter that included a reference to the readings for the coming Sunday (though not the day’s).

Was your pew comfortable?
Wooden pews with padded kneeling board at the customary height and angle – designed for discomfort, though the soft padding on the board took away the pain.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Generally there was lively chatter, which was nonetheless lost in the grandiose height of the building. There were a few people unselfconsciously kneeling in prayer. One of the servers was busying herself in the sanctuary, and a colourfully dressed gentleman roamed up and down the nave chatting away to people.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
I completely missed those, as right at the moment when a lay gentleman stepped up to the lectern for some announcements, some children began to wail, drowning out any other sound. The service proper opened with the Sign of the Cross, followed by "Welcome on this solemnity of the Ascension."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Celebration Hymnal for Everyone, mass setting supplement, the Order of Mass (People’s Text), a sheet with music score for a couple of psalms.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ and choir, who sang from the loft at the west end. Initially I thought it was a recording, as the pre-service singing was quite divine. Alas, the standard was not maintained throughout.

Did anything distract you?
When the altar party processed in, I spotted the gentleman who had been roaming up and down the nave before the service, now attired in priestly vestments. I wondered for the rest of the service whether he was still wearing the casual sports top underneath.

Our Lady of Sorrows, Bognor Regis (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Relaxed Catholic with moderate use of incense. The young servers seemed a bit rushed as they busied themselves and moved about the sanctuary. The altar party consisted of one adult (thurifer) and five young people (crucifer and acolytes). They were the age group that was missing from the congregation.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
1 minute (the celebrant) plus 5 minutes (a lady from the Lourdes Pilgrimage Trust).

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – To deliver the shortest of homilies and yet have a very clear message is no mean feat.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Father Peter reminded us of the last words of Jesus before his Ascension, and concluded that we are the Good News as we are responding to Jesus’ commission to make disciples of all the nations. This took no more than one minute. He then handed the mike over to the Lourdes Pilgrimage Trust lady, who spoke of the feeling of "Heaven on Earth" permeating the Lourdes pilgrimages. The message to us was pretty clear: she wanted money.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I have not attended a full RC mass in over two decades and was struck by the changes that have taken place since. Even the hymns and musical settings seem to be pretty universal across the denominations these days. It served as a very poignant reminder of the novena with its prayers for Christian unity at this time. The air of hope was palpable. I felt light-headed.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Some of the children were rather noisy and the sound system did not manage to rise above it, so it was difficult to follow proceedings from where I was sitting. And there was only one hymn board, which I did not spot until the third hymn.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
My schedule did not allow me to look lost afterwards, but I did feel a bit lonely in my pew and only shook two pairs of hands during the peace.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The newsletter stated that fair trade goods were on sale in the side porch after mass, so one assumes that the beverages would have been fairly traded.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – If they sorted out their sound system I might consider it. Without that incentive I'd feel lost.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. The obviously multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-national congregation reminded me of una ecclesica catholica where language does not matter.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That we are the Good News, the air of confidence accompanying this message, and a Roman Catholic priest in a rugby top.
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