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3184: Our Lady and St Joseph's, Stock, England
Our Lady & St Joseph, Stock (Exterior)
Photo: Mazur, Catholic Church in England & Wales
Mystery Worshipper: Mrs Proudie.
The church: Our Lady and St Joseph's, Stock, Essex, England.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Diocese of Brentwood.
The building: This building was originally St Joseph's Catholic School built in 1891. During construction, evidence of an Iron Age settlement was found. When the school closed in 1937 it was converted into a church, being named Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which was the name of the chapel in Lilystone Hall, where mass had previously been celebrated. In 2001 St Joseph was added to this patronage. It is a charming little church. As you enter, the interior takes you by surprise, being filled with light coming through big windows at the back of the building – not what you might expect from the front view of the church. At the rear is a small Catholic cemetery that has been in use since 1898.
The church: Looking around, I noticed that there seemed to be quite a good spread of ages, so I didn't get the feeling of a community tottering on its last legs. I understand that it is a very ecumenically minded congregation and maintains strong links with the two other churches in Stock: Christ Church (Free) and All Saints' (Anglican), as well as its sister Catholic church in the neighbouring town of Ingatestone.
The neighbourhood: Stock is a village six miles to the south of the city of Chelmsford and within Chelmsford borough but part of the Parliamentary constituency of Maldon. It strikes me that it was once a typical Jane Austen village, with the grand house of the nobility, the big houses of the gentry, and cottages of the peasantry – now, of course, extended by the homes of the prosperous middle classes. House prices here are not within the range of lesser mortals these days. The village has a common that serves as a cricket pitch. It also has a windmill and three pubs, together with hotels and restaurants. The church is pleasantly situated, set well back from the road, and is fronted by some magnificent oaks and evergreen trees.
The cast: The pastor, the Rt Revd Thomas McMahon, Bishop Emeritus of Brentwood, was attending an ordination elsewhere. The Revd Anthony Cho, from the neighbouring parish of Ingatestone, was the celebrant. He was assisted by a male server, a lady who served as lector and read the intercessions, and two ladies who were extraordinary ministers of holy communion. There was a bit of comedic interplay at the beginning between the priest, who was very short, and the server, who was very tall – I'll save that for the end, if you'll indulge me.
The date & time: Trinity Sunday, 11 June 2017, 9.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Sung Mass.

How full was the building?
It was mostly full; I counted 51 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Several people wished me good morning as I walked from my car to the entrance. The gentleman who sat next to me said hello and made a comment about the weather. Another man was handing out newsletters with information about both Stock and Ingatestone Catholic Parishes for the coming week: times of services, various activities – you know, that kind of stuff. At the peace, the people nearest to me shook my hand; those further away smiled and nodded and some even gave me a wave.

Was your pew comfortable?
There were wooden pews with hinged kneelers in front, so that you could raise them if you needed a bit of extra leg-room when you were sitting down. I was not uncomfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a buzz of meeting and greeting – people lighting candles in the stands, server and organist preparing for action – so not silent and reverential, but not so noisy that you couldn't attend to your devotions if you were that way inclined.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"A very good morning to all of you. Our entrance hymn will be number 143, 'Firmly I believe and truly.'" This was said by the priest as he and the server emerged from the sacristy at the back of the church.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Old and New and a laminated card containing the order of mass in the new English translation.

What musical instruments were played?
A small organ at the back of the church, which the organist played to accompany the three hymns, together with the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei, all sung in English. There was no choir, but the congregation made more noise than is usually heard in a Catholic church – or maybe it was just the small building that made it seem more.

Did anything distract you?
A niggly point. My eyes were frequently drawn to the window above the sanctuary. It is composed of panes of clear glass, edged with a border of small panes of yellow glass, except for one clear pane in the middle, which spoiled the symmetry. Had the glazier just been careless? Perhaps not – I have read that artists and craftsmen will sometimes introduce a deliberate fault into their work, because only God is perfect.

Our Lady & St Joseph, Stock (Interior)
Photo: Mazur, Catholic Church in England & Wales

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This was not your traditional Old Rite mass, nor was it happy-clappy. Active participation is obviously the watchphrase here, so don't come if all you want to do is Rosary rattling or admiring the fancy needlework on the back of the priest's chasuble. (There wasn't any, or on the front, either.) All the prayers and the sung parts of the mass were in English. The hymns were old favourites: "Firmly I believe and truly," "Breathe on me breath of God," "Come down O love divine." Bells but no incense.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
9 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – only for not attempting a theological explanation of the Trinity on Trinity Sunday: "For this relief much thanks!"

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Father Anthony said he was going to tell us what the Trinity means for us. It is the source of our life and holiness – think of our baptism – and not just a theological concept. It is divine life that makes us a community of living people. God loved us so much that he sent his only Son for us. God is merciful and gracious, and we must also be merciful and gracious to others. In that way we bring the life of the Trinity into the world around us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I thought the care for the frail and disabled showed the spirit of true religion. The main entrance is up some steps but there is a ramp that curves up from the car park to a side door to help people in wheelchairs or who are otherwise disabled. It looks as if it is a fairly recent addition. In the porch there is a sign indicating that a loop system is in operation for the hard of hearing. A short alcove at the back led to a toilet, though you would have to negotiate one step to get to it. It's difficult, though, to see what else could have been done with this building. The eucharistic ministers brought holy communion down to disabled persons who were sitting in front. I understand that communion is also taken to the housebound by arrangement.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I had to strain to hear the reader. I must get my hearing tested again, I know. But voice projection is an important skill for a reader, for which a microphone is no substitute.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Father Anthony stood at the door shaking hands with everyone as they left. An elderly gentlemen stopped me and told me all about the priest, especially his two dogs.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were no refreshments. It is a small building with no provision for a meeting room or a hall, but I noticed that a lot of people hung around chatting in little groups afterwards.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I'd like to come here regularly, provided that the journey doesn't get too difficult as I get older.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, very much so. I had a real feeling of belonging to the Body of Christ.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Priest and server had a couple of friendly tussles. The diminutive Father Anthony had to persuade the server, who was a tall man and obviously used to holding up the book for a tall man, to hold it at the right height for him. Turning aside to the congregation, he explained, "I'm short!" and wobbled with mirth like the proverbial bowl full of jelly! It took him a minute to compose himself before he could carry on.
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