Sunday, 29 May 2022

13. St John's, Buxton, Derbyshire: May 2022

On the first full day of our half term holiday in Derbyshire we attended Morning Service in the spa town of Buxton, at St John's church, in the centre of the town opposite the Opera House.

St John's is a Regency Church, funded and built by The Duke of Devonshire from nearby Chatsworth House.  It is much used during the annual Buxton music festival, when the BBC Radio Four morning service is often broadcast from the church.

These days a lot of thought is often given to church entrances, sometimes doors have been refurbished in glass to make a porch more appealing and accesible.  This is important in a day and age when actually entering a church, for some people, takes a bit of courage.  So, it was significant that we had to walk around St John's, doing a full circuit of the building before we found the entrance door.

About just over forty of us gathered and in the notices we heard that nine of us had been identified as 'visitors'.  Actually, once inside the building the welcome could not have been warmer.

We were told that this service had been put together by a 'Creative Worship Team' from the church - that meant an alternatiove reading (a poem) had been selected to replace the Old Testament lesson, a lay member of the congregation led the intercessions, the work of a new member of the church, a stained glass window maker, was featured and a new setting of the Sanctus was introduced.  As part of this 'Creative Service' were were ushered into the front four rows of chairs rather than spreading out throughout the large nave, and the service concluded with Cheese and Wine.  These services, planned by a lay team alongside the vicar, are now scheduled to take place every month when there is a fifth Sunday.

So many parts of the service were done well such as: the sermon on the the theme of Ascension, the beautiful singing from a choir of just six members and the real sense of friendly welcome.

It must be something of a challenge for St John's to run this church at the centre of the town with a fairly limited (in terms of size) congregation.  So, ten out of ten to them for trying something 'new' in their service. We left hoping they will remain a beacon of Christlike integrity at the centre of this spa town for many years to come.

Friday, 6 May 2022

12. Great Malvern Priory, Worcestershire: May 2022


On the first of May we worshipped at Great Malvern Priory in Worcestershire.

Between 1999-2007 we lived in Malvern with our boys going to Primary School there.  During this period, I was minister of Malvern Baptist Church.  We had good relations with The Priory but, in truth, it was a busy and fulfilling time at the Baptist Church, so my association with them was somewhat limited.

It sits in the centre of Great Malvern, rather like a mini-cathedral on the lower slopes of the Malvern Hills; and it’s been there, in one form or another (initially as a monastery church), for over a thousand years.

Today it has a congregation of around two hundred.

On Sunday morning we attended the 10.30am service of Holy Communion.

As we took our place (on very comfortable seats) there was a definite pre-service ‘buzz’ about the place.  The atmosphere felt friendly, welcoming, and alive.

The vicar, (a new appointment since my day in the town) spent a few minutes before the service pinpointing visitors, like us, and shaking hands.  I was impressed by his welcome to the man in front of us; ‘Ah, you’re the man from the hotel, why don’t you come and sit here next to Pam and Richard’. This, I thought, is a minister with a warm pastoral heart.

It was impressive to see the entry of such a large (all-age) choir during the opening processional hymn.  Indeed, during the service three new girls were welcomed as full choir members.

The sermon was preached by a Lay Reader in training and was excellent.  The Priory is well off for preachers with both a vicar and curate, alongside no less than four Lay Readers (or as they are called these days LLMs: Licensed Lay Ministers).

Although it has something of the atmosphere of a cathedral the Priory is essentially ‘Low Church Anglican’ in the way it does things.  Lots of voices were heard during the service with laughter and a ‘light touch’ characterising the vicar’s welcoming style. Even at the end, when the curate got the order of service completely mixed up, the only response was supportive and empathetic laughter from the congregation.

We came out of the service to a rousing organ voluntary played by Piers Maxim, the Priory’s Director of Music, a truly gifted musician playing a seriously fine instrument.

Now, to balance all this ‘soft grandeur’ of the morning service we went back at 6.30pm for The Gathering – a more informal and contemporary service.  Every month, on a weekly rotation at 6.30pm, the Priory hold two services of Choral Evensong, Choral Communion and The Gathering.

About 30 of us gathered at The Gathering.  The vicar 9impressively) welcomed us with the words: ‘Lovely to see you, you were here this morning too!’. The chairs in the nave had been re-arranged, so we worshipped ‘CafĂ© style’.  The excellent Praise Group band led us in some contemporary songs, we listened to a reflection and then had a couple of discussions around the tables.

It was great to see this breadth in the Priory’s provision, from traditional hymns to modern worship songs (all be it not in the same service).

We left feeling refreshed and uplifted by these two, highly contrasting, services.  Both were beautifully and thoughtfully put together, and in both God was central.

I’m really pleased to have included Great Malvern Priory in this list of Sabbatical Churches.  At both services we encountered integrity, a warm welcome and an obvious desire that God should be honoured in every aspect of these services.  And, perhaps, above all, I cam away (for the first time on this journey) with the impression that here was a church that valued both traditional and contemporary expressions of worship.

14. St James', Piccadilly, London: 19th June 2022

 It’s a weird sensation to be in central London having an al fresco coffee on a Sunday morning because there is hardly anyone about!  Well...