St Peter's, Winchcombe

St Peter's, Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Peter's
Location: Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 19 February 2012, 10:30am

The building

St Peter's was begun in 1454 and completed in 1468. A major restoration was undertaken in 1870-73. It's a nice ornate building from the outside. The nave, north and south aisles, and two-storey porch all have embattled parapets, with pinnacles and a series of grotesque heads. Inside has more ancient stonework and wooden ceilings. Of particular note are some of the old artifacts dotted around, including a 16th century alms box (vandalised, unfortunately, although I don't know whether that was recently), a beautiful 15th century door from the church that was moved to a town building during the dissolution of the monasteries, and a tapestry attributed to Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's first wife.

The church

There's a lot going on, including a very large choir, scouts, bell ringers, and a Sunday school. They also have special events, such as Fairtrade Fortnight, pancakes at the Methodist church, and a forthcoming children's service with blessing of animals (bring your own!). The church is part of the Winchcombe Ecumenical Partnership, and today's service was shared with the Methodist church.

The neighborhood

Winchcombe is a pretty village with lots of little boutique shops. It's an affluent area in a very beautiful part of the Cotswolds.

The cast

The Revd Julia Hook, curate; and the Revd Steve Ward, pastor of Winchcombe Methodist Church.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Communion

How full was the building?

Pretty full. The centre section was about 80 per cent full, but the edges were emptier. Overall it felt like a good crowd, and the sound during the hymns certainly was impressive.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Well, we were a couple of minutes late. However, we were given a hymn book with a smile.

Was your pew comfortable?

It wasn't bad, and had a cushion on it, but it was the kind of pew designed to keep you awake during the sermon!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Sorry, we were late so we can't say.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

Missed these.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Complete Anglican Hymns Old and New, an order of service, and a printed sheet with the words to "Breathe on me, breath Of God" – which wasn't that at all, as I found out after belting out the wrong words for a line or two!

What musical instruments were played?

A nice organ, played very well by their organist.

Did anything distract you?

As previously mentioned, we were a little late, yet somehow we ended up sitting in the very front row in full gaze of the clergy and choir. I found it quite distracting trying to write notes in such an exposed situation. I felt the vicar found this a little distracting too! Or perhaps I only imagined I was being watched?

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Somewhere in the middle. The mannerisms of the curate and minister were very relaxed. The order of service was a little mixed up compared to what I'm used to. Some of the locals doing the readings were quite "proper." A real mixture. At communion we were given a choice of proper wine or the alcohol-free version (presumably for the Methodists). At the altar rail, there was one person giving out bread, one with a chalice of wine, and one with little individual glasses of alcohol-free.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

13 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

7 – Pastor Ward from the Methodist church was quite a good preacher with a nice conversational manner. My only negative is that he jumped around a number of topics during his sermon, so it seemed a little disjointed.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

First he spoke about the Transfiguration, then said we should be nice to other people as we're all "immortals." Then said we should try to see God in others. Finally he moved on to persuading people to stay for the "short annual general meeting followed by a long lunch" at the Methodist church afterwards.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

There were a few things as the service progressed. At first I thought it would be the choir, who were wonderful. Then I thought I'd say that it was using real bread rather than wafers. But in the end it has to be that they chose one of my very favourite hymns ("Shine Jesus Shine") and sang it brilliantly, at the perfect tempo, with great up-beat organ playing and loads of enthusiasm.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

I get quite wound up when churches change the words to hymns and prayers we know so well in their traditional form, like in those Kevin Mayhew books where they ruin "Onward Christian Soldiers." In the Lord's Prayer we asked God to "save us from the time of trial" instead of "lead us not into temptation." And in the creed we proclaimed not that Christ "was made man", but rather that he "was made fully human." As far as I remember from the last time I opened my Bible, Jesus was a man, so I don't know why they felt they couldn't say so.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

The congregation adjourned to the annual general meeting, so we had a look at the artifacts around the walls and then made our way out. We spoke briefly to a couple of people as we left, and they were very friendly.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was no coffee due to the lunch.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

7 – I liked the friendly people, I liked the music, and I liked the building. It just wasn't quite a high enough church for my taste, and it annoys me when people mess with the words!

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

Yes, definitely!

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

Being given a choice at communion. The chalice was very full and perhaps they were trying to persuade people to take this as first choice to save the vicar from a hangover?

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