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2647: St John the Baptist, Boldre, England
St John the Baptist, Boldre (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Scholastica.
The church: St John the Baptist, Boldre, Hampshire, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Winchester.
The building: An ancient church, built on a site that may have been a place of worship in pre-Christian times, since its foundations include three sarsen stones (ancient sandstone blocks found throughout the British Isles) that could be up to 4,000 years old. William the Conqueror decided to turn the New Forest area into a royal hunting forest and he may have caused the church to be built here. Assuming this, the parish celebrated the church’s 900th birthday in 1987. Its architecture is eclectic, with contributions from every century from the eleventh to the present day. The present building is an odd shape, with a long nave, quite a long chancel, a narrow south aisle above which rises a squat tower, and a very large chapel on the north side. It is astonishingly light, with long range of windows on the south side, and some modern stained glass including a millennium window into which is etched a view of the church on its hill. One very unusual feature of the church is its memorial to the battlecruiser HMS Hood, which was sunk by the German battleship Bismarck in 1941. The Hood blew up dramatically and only three men survived of a crew of nearly 1,500. Among the dead was Vice Admiral LE Holland, whose family used to worship in this church. His widow commissioned the memorial and each year the British Royal Navy attend a special service in the church.
The church: St John the Baptist belongs to the Boldre and South Baddesley benefice, a group of three parishes comprising the villages of Boldre, Pilley and South Baddlesley. The aim of this group is to help everyone within the benefice to experience the love of God by giving an unconditional welcome to all, and actively addressing their spiritual and social needs.
The neighbourhood: The church stands on a hill above the village of Boldre, which is located in the New Forest in Hampshire, in the south-east of England. It is surrounded by a large, well-kept graveyard and clumps of trees. The "New" Forest is actually ancient and spreads for some distance in every direction. Worshippers may have to travel several miles as houses are quite scattered, other than in the small village centres. To assist them, the website carries a prominent notice through which they co-ordinate a service between those who need a lift to church and those who can offer to pick them up and drive them home.
The cast: The Revd Canon Andrew Neaum led the service, supported by two unnamed male readers for the first and second lessons, and an unnamed female who led the intercessions. One of the male readers was also the organist.
The date & time: Sunday, 29 December 2013, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Communion.

How full was the building?
Not very full – about 40 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was greeted warmly as I entered, and asked if I was visiting the area on holiday. Another welcomer handed me a collection of books and mentioned that the weekly news-sheet marked the first hymn.

Was your pew comfortable?
Extremely comfortable wooden pews, with wide seats made more comfortable still by attractively embroidered pew-length cushions. Sadly the ledge in front of them, intended to accommodate service books, was not wide enough to support those books, which kept falling off. Eventually I put them down on the seat beside me.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Friendly. People were wandering about asking after the health of friends (and saying hello to me).

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to our Sunday morning worship."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Common Worship – Holy Communion for the service, and Common Praise for the hymns. These were supplemented by the weekly news-sheet, which included the prayers and readings for the day.

What musical instruments were played?
The church organ, an opus of Copeman Hart Organ Builders of Shaw, Lancashire.

Did anything distract you?
The magnificent Christmas flower arrangements. The large one by the altar was superb and wonderfully illumined by the sun streaming through an adjacent window. All the window ledges had festive greenery and candles on them. There was a crib too, tucked under the altar and illuminated by fairy lights. Also very distracting were figures of the Magi perched on the ledge round the pulpit; they looked rather precarious and I wondered if the priest might knock them off while preaching.

St John the Baptist, Boldre (Flowers)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Fairly uncomplicated Anglican worship. Middle of the road, neither one extreme or the other.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
There were two, a total of 17 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – It's quite an art to talk to children at an appropriate level without boring the adults, but the preacher did this well, and then shifted seamlessly to addressing the adults in more complex language. This guy's got skill!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The first sermon was a short child-friendly homily on the flight into Egypt. For this the preacher sat on the chancel step and the children sat on a rug specially put down for them in front of the pews (clearly an accustomed routine). The children were reminded that parents love their children and want them to be safe. This was why Mary and Joseph undertook a journey, on foot, possibly with a donkey, about the distance from Lymington (the closest big town) to Liverpool (250 miles north), in order for Jesus to be kept safe. This section ended with a short prayer for parents and giving thanks for Mary and Joseph. The children then left for their own activities and the preacher went into the pulpit to talk to the adult congregation. His theme was the family, and how within families we can all learn to share love, practise patience and tolerance, and disagree while still getting on with each other. Families come in many different forms, including the church family. Members of the church family may vary enormously, from believers to non-believers and including the wild and wacky, but we are all called to share the love of Christ.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sermon was jolly good, and the beauty of the flowers and the warm sunshine through the windows were also uplifting.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The first part of the service was intermittently interrupted by a squalling baby. After a short time it was either removed or fell asleep and peace was restored.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Hanging around looking lost was not possible. Coffee was immediately served in the church, and shared with all present.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Hot instant, served in mugs, with a generous quantity of biscuits also offered.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – A lovely little building, obviously well-kept; delightfully welcoming people; and it was good to be in a church where the children have their own special niche in the service with the adults before going off for age-appropriate activities.

St John the Baptist, Boldre (Window)

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The children’s sermon and those flower arrangements.
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