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3014: St Mary's, Walberton, England
St Mary's, Walberton (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Teutonic Knight.
The church: St Mary's, Walberton, West Sussex, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Chichester.
The building: It dates from the 11th century and was mentioned in the Domesday Book along with a named priest. Extensions were added in the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries. Renovations during the 17th and 18th centuries blotted out much of the original design, which further repairs in the 19th and 20th centuries have virtually eliminated. The tub-shaped font was recovered from a local farm in 1903, where it served as a trough. One of the bays has recently been walled up to create a separate church room. A timber frame at the west end supports the bell turret, which houses six bells. The aisles and chancel appear to be 13th century, and the church still has its original lancet windows, now resplendent with Victorian glass. The only non-Victorian stained glass is in the south aisle; this was dedicated in 1968 and depicts scenes connected to the life of the Rt Hon. Frederick James Marquis, First Earl of Woolton, who was Minister for Food during Winston Churchill's World War II government. He is remembered for having popularised the Woolton pie, a savoury meatless pie made with vegetables that enabled people to eat nutritious meals despite wartime rationing and shortages. There are several interesting monuments in the churchyard, including one of a man crushed by a fallen tree while a laughing skeleton looks on.
The church: The parishes of St Mary and the much smaller St Margaret at Binsted are a united benefice. There seems to be a better than usual working relationship between the parish and the local church school. Apart from Sunday school, the church has a small but functional youth group who engage in spiritual as well as adventurous activities. There are the usual other church groups, including a Mother's Union branch and a regular churchyard working party. Their outreach programme has strengthened links with the local community, and they are committed to overseas projects, including Africa and Pakistan.
The neighbourhood: Walberton is a picturesque village situated on the rural coastal plain. Nearby Arundel Castle (a "cocoa castle," with turrets and battlements imitated by the cocoa barons Cadbury and Rowntree) is a tourist magnet, as is the Wildfowl and Wetlands Centre. There is a local golf course, plus a racecourse a few miles to the west.
The cast: The Revd Tim Ward, vicar, dressed in dark clerical shirt and suit. Carolyn Philpott, founder and director of Living Waters Ministries, Tanzania, gave the talk. Also taking part in the service was Agricola Malifa, assistant director of Living Waters Ministries.
The date & time: Sunday, 24 April 2016, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Morning Praise.

How full was the building?
It felt full – about 70 people of a wide age mix, with some children and crying infants scattered among them. Included was a couple whose banns were read.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I approached on the church path, I met some people coming out from the earlier service who all wished me a friendly good morning. It made me think I'd got the time wrong and missed the service. On entering, I was handed the order of service leaflet together with the weekly notes and the high gloss May newsletter of Living Waters Ministries. I was joined in my pew by a couple of the musicians when they weren't playing, but they kept mum.

Was your pew comfortable?
Fairly modern (i.e. post-Victorian) angular pews with a thin pew runner that became decidedly uncomfortable as the presentations went on – and on! Unfortunately I had picked a pew that had a radiator pipe covered by a wire mesh cage running along the floor, which left me very little leg-room.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Noisy – very! The music group were rehearsing an action song and people were chattering. However, just before the start of the service an expectant hush descended on the congregation.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to you, particularly to our visitors from Tanzania. Shall we stand?"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Holy Bible, New International Version, was in the pews, but the readings did not match this translation – always irritating! All the hymns were projected onto a drop-down screen but were also printed in the order of service.

What musical instruments were played?
A music group playing electronic keyboard with organ stop, plus electric guitar and violin – and the vicar on tambourine, which was fun to see. There was also a small vocal group.

Did anything distract you?
The first reading, the story of Daniel in the lions' den, was presented in form of a cartoon video clip on the screen. These contraptions always seem to come with technical glitches, and this time was no exception: For the first minute or so there was no sound at all. I also counted the biblical "big words" (e.g. decree) which never fail to amaze me in such presentations though they are specifically aimed at young children.

St Mary's, Walberton (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It combined elements from several orders for worship with a lot of songs that were totally unrelated to the readings or to each other. The opening hymn was followed by confession and absolution, for both of which we remained seated. Then the Lord's Prayer, followed by the first "video reading." After that came three songs, one after the other – one of them an action song led from the front by two young girls who were clearly enjoying themselves. A short introduction on Living Waters Ministries followed, after which the children departed for their activities. The adults had a second reading with the obvious aim to raise money for Living Waters: God loves a cheerful giver. Then came a talk by Carolyn Philpott, two more songs back-to-back, prayers, notices, offertory and the blessing. We stood only for the opening sentences and to sing.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
26 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
2 – It was a talk and testimony, not a sermon, though it included some sermonising. There was also a video, which was cut short through another technical glitch. Carolyn Philpott gave her lengthy personal testimony in the flattest and most monotonous way I have ever heard: rambling, repetitive, without structure, but but brim full of hyperbole. I lost count of the miracles we were assured she had experienced (thousands of quail echoing the biblical desert experience, manna (or rather money) almost literally falling from heaven, etc.).

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Mrs Philpott spoke on 2 Corinthians 9: God loves a cheerful giver. God will provide. When God opens your heart, be open to the invitation. It might require you to give up your job or your home, but you will never want for anything. You will always receive more than you give. God is in control of your heartbeat and of your life – but only if you let yourself be controlled.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The children obviously had a rip-roaring time with the lions: we could hear the roaring and lion-taming through the closed doors of their den at the back. Also the notices – which, though they went on for some time, clearly showed that this is a caring, fun and spiritually switched-on community.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
What should have been a very inspiring presentation was instead overlong and irritatingly dull. We learnt very little about the people and community Living Waters are serving, but were instead filled with statistics of success and specific sums of money required for various projects.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I queued up for a quick coffee at the back of the church, as I could not stay long due to another commitment. I wandered around with my cup and looked at some of the memorials and glass. No one spoke to me. When I made a dash for the door, the vicar, strategically placed there, collared me; we exchanged a few hurried words. It would have been good to be able to stay a bit longer to give the others a chance.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Instant from proper cups and a variety of biscuits (not just the plain varieties either). Was the coffee fairly traded? I didn't ask, but with their commitment to various overseas projects it seems likely. The biscuits were not.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – Unlikely, if this was their only style of worship. The style is just not for me. I would need to see what they are like at another service. But I might consider a service like this one on occasion if I had young children.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It was inspiring to see a Christian community who are looking beyond their own needs, and who have committed themselves to a demanding overseas project for several years, even engaging in reciprocal visits.

St Mary's, Walberton (Memorial)

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The roaring lions.
 
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