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508: Bath Abbey, Bath, England
Other reports | Comment on this report
Bath Abbey, Bath, England
Mystery Worshipper: Aileen.
The church: Bath Abbey, Bath, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: The present building dates from 1499, when Bishop Oliver King dreamt of angels on ladders, and the front of the abbey has this dream sculpted in Bath stone, creamy coloured. The angels coming down, head-first, look very uncomfortable. Inside, it has beautiful fan-vaulting, a piece of the old Norman cathedral, interesting stained glass windows (one commemorates Edgar, first king of all England), small modern-styled chapels, and loads of memorials to the rich or famous visitors who came to take the waters at Bath Spa. Just outside, at the vaults entrance, is a modern statue of Christ rising from the tomb, full of energy, the grave bindings bursting off him. In the choir area, there is a huge (15 ft long) communion table, covered in maroon and purple with a cross and passion flowers embroidered on it, a modern stainless steel cross and candlesticks, four carved bishops at the sides gazing over us, and the elements to the side on a table with a pretty lace cloth.
The church: Judging from the photos of the congregational groups on display, from children upwards, they are very lively and involved as Christians in the life of the area and in world issues.
The neighbourhood: Outside in the square, there is always a busker, usually playing a flute. The Roman Baths are a few yards away, and Bath is a designated World Heritage Site. It has the only hot springs in England. Almost the whole town seems to be Georgian.
The cast: Revd. Nicola Sullivan, celebrant.
Comment: We have received a comment on this report.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Communion (on a weekday).

How full was the building?
Eighteen of us in the choir stalls. I reckon the building could hold thousands... and the choir about 100, so, nearly empty.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
To get in, we had to go through the door where they let tourists in. The reception man said, "You can't go in just now; there's a service about to take place." We smiled and said, "We've come for the service," and he was all friendly and happy (and surprised?) about that. Once inside, we were directed by a steward to the choir, where a friendly woman gave us an open-at-the-place Book of Common Prayer and told us to sit in the choir.

Was your pew comfortable?
A choir stall, wooden, with a squishy kneeler. We were facing the other half of the stalls, not looking in the direction of where the service took place. We had to sort of sit sideways.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very quiet. Then a tall verger, robed in blue, with red velvet bits and carrying a staff tipped with metal, appeared, followed by the minister in black cassock, alb and stole. We all stood up.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We warmly welcome you..."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Book of Common Prayer.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
Opposite me was a fascinating stained glass window, showing Ruth, Jonathan, Hezekiah, Nehemiah and Esther. A very odd combination, and I couldn't figure out the connections between them. They had little extra bits underneath them, with objects connected with their stories, and Ruth had the shoe that her kinsman took off when he rejected her. I kept wondering what style of shoe he really wore...

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very calm and quietly done. No singing at all. We just read through the service, following as efficiently as possible. Most people seemed to have a fair idea of what to do. When we went up for communion, the verger closed a proper set of gates where we went to kneel.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
No sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Having a woman celebrant in a huge Abbey Church.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The bits in the Prayer Book that tell us off for being "naughty", and the communion rail gates being shut to keep us out.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Rev. Nicola was there waiting to greet us and say goodbye. She was very friendly. And so were a couple of the obviously regular congregants.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None at all.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I'd check it out if I were living here. There seems to be a lot going on. They were going to have a Palm Sunday procession with a donkey. I'm not sure if that was inside the abbey or in the streets outside.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, the people were friendly.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That single shoe in the window. Did Ruth's kinsman wear a trendy mule?
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