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2905: All Saints, Godshill, Isle of Wight
All Saints, Godshill (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Isla White.
The church: All Saints, Godshill, Isle of Wight.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Portsmouth.
The building: It dates largely from the 14th century and is in the Transitional Norman style. Legend has it that the church was originally intended to sit on flat ground, but each morning the stones that had been laid the previous day were found to have been transferred during the night to a nearby hill. The builders eventually concluded that God must want the church on the hill and so built it there, calling the place "God's Hill." There is a ring of six bells, one having been cast from the village gun. It is one of the most photographed churches in all of England, probably due to several interesting carvings and murals. Among the carvings are effigies of Sir John Leigh, commissioner for assessment for the Isle of Wight from 1647 to 1648, and his wife Agnes, with weeping monks attached to their feet, praying for their "soles" ("souls" – get it?). A famous 15th century mural on the east wall of the south transept shows Christ crucified on a lily flower, one of only two such depictions known to exist. It represents the belief that the creation of man, the Annunciation, and the Crucifixion all occurred on a Friday – a convergence that happens only one or two times per century. Whitewashed over during the Reformation, the mural was rediscovered in 1842 and carefully restored.
The church: They are noted for their Anglo-Catholic churchmanship. They are part of a benefice that includes St Albans, Ventnor. Quoting from their faith statement: "We hold to the traditional Catholic Faith as taught by the Church of England. As such we hope for our ultimate reunion with the ancient Churches of the East and West. We give honour to the Mother of our Lord, holding especially dear her appearances at Walsingham. Thus we pray that England once again may become The Dowry of Mary."
The neighbourhood: Godshill is one of the main tourist attractions on the island, a typical picture postcard village with narrow streets, disappearing pavements and thatched cottages – including a pub owned by Australians that sports a kangaroo finial. The streets were lighted by gas lamps as late as 1956. The village has long been known for its tea rooms – Queen Mary often took tea here, as did other royal visitors.
The cast: The Revd John Ryder, vicar, celebrated mass. The preacher was Sister Mary Claire (no, not the Irish nurse from the British TV medical soap opera Holby City.)
The date & time: The Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 16 August 2015, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?

How full was the building?
Sparse but varied in age, ranging from an elderly lady who was helped to the front; a middle aged person wearing a full face visor, gloves and a badge, explaining that she was allergic to UV light; through to teenagers and a baby.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Despite a notice by the hymnbooks saying that there might not be anybody on welcoming duty, a lady immediately came up and did so, shaking hands but not asking anything about us.

Was your pew comfortable?
Individual wooden seats, fairly comfortable. There were hassocks but these were never used. The congregation were expected to stand throughout the very long liturgy and prayers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet chatting, with the bells being rung and visitors being shown the famous Lily Cross.

All Saints, Godshill (Lily Crucifxion)

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head." (Revelation 12:1)

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Celebration Hymnal for Everyone plus an eight page service sheet containing all the Bible readings and prayers.

What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard in piano mode only. The first hymn was played with one finger, the rest with slightly more. During the notices, Father John apologised for the poor singing and later told us he was encouraging the teenagers to play once a month, using CDs on other weeks.

Did anything distract you?
Several things. We sang Hymn 74, "Be Thou My Vision", but I noticed that the hymnal also included the "anacrusis version" of this number as Hymn 75. I couldnít stop myself from trying to spot the difference. (The anacrusis version has an extra pick-up note at the beginning of each line.) Also, Father Ryder very much brought to mind the portly British actor with the booming voice, Brian Blessed, if you can imagine Brian Blessed with less hair. He also made theatrical gestures for emphasis, throwing his arms wide at certain points in the liturgy.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Extremely high Anglican: asperges (the holy water splashed on my hymn sheet with a splat), bells rung at various time and places, clouds of incense, kissing of items, and kneeling. Extensive liturgy praying to Mary interspersed with not only traditional hymns but also "ĎKum Ba Yah," "This is the Day the Lord has made" and "Shine, Jesus Shine."

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 – Sister Mary Claire read word for word from a prepared script.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The Virgin Mary directed attention away from herself and toward her son. We, too, should guide others to the Lord. When John stood at the foot of the cross, he was representing all of us. Jesus was saying that all of us are to take Mary as our mother. Who better than Mary to accompany us through life? Since Mary experienced all the ups and downs of life she can support us through her prayers.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Seeing two Asian lads, one in Police Cadet uniform, seated at what I originally thought was the sound system but turned out to be the keyboard.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Chatting and laughter apparently coming from a room at the back of the church during the sermon.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
None of the congregation approached us, although we heard someone talking to other visitors. Eventually Father John came and had a long chat, and later the visiting preacher chatted with us. A very elderly frail lady smiled and tried to pick up the large plate of biscuits to offer to us.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Largest selection Iíve ever seen, including chocolate from the sort of sachets you get in a hotel. Nice large mugs. Very high quality biscuits, again in individual packets.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – Father John was so thankful for my singing that it made me want to help. However, my own religious upbringing did not include Marian devotion, and I really canít cope with it even now.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

All Saints, Godshill (Window)

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The noise of the holy water hitting my service sheet when we were sprinkled.
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