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1118: King Charles the Martyr, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England
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King Charles the Martyr, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England
Mystery Worshipper: Bishop's Finger.
The church: King Charles the Martyr, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: This is a simple red brick chapel, dating in its original form from 1676 (and the first permanent building in the area!). As the nearby spa grew in popularity, it was enlarged during the period 1688-1696. In the 1880s it was enlarged again when the present chancel was added (which involved re-orienting the interior). The chancel itself is very shallow, giving a good view of the altar from most of the nave and galleries. The interior is famous for its fine plaster ceilings by Wetherell and (later) Doogood, who worked on St Paul's Cathedral in London. The credo and paternoster boards in the chancel came from a demolished Wren church in the City of London.
The church: Parochial status was achieved in 1889; previously the church was a chapel-of-ease to Tonbridge Parish Church. The actual parish is very small, but the congregation is drawn from a much wider area. This is one of the few middle-of-the-road churches in a town awash with evangelical parishes, and it has a long tradition of choral services. Young families are not neglected (there is a monthly family service) and efforts are being made to extend the church's youth work.
The neighbourhood: The church is situated at one end of the famous Pantiles, a picturesque Georgian street, and not far from the Common. This is an affluent part of town – a house not too far away is up for sale for a cool 1,000,000. A pleasant area, even if choked with traffic for much of the time.
The cast: The vicar, the Rev. Robert Avery, officiated and preached. The sung parts of the service were in the capable hands of the King Charles Singers, a choir of six women and four men that sings in this church on special occasions (and is often to be heard in cathedrals as well).
What was the name of the service?
Choral Evensong for the feast of Charles, King and Martyr.

How full was the building?
There were about 60 in the congregation – mostly middle-aged (alas, like your reporter) or elderly – but spread evenly across the nave so that the building, which is quite small, appeared about half full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was greeted with a sunny smile and "Good Evening" from the lady handing out books, and shortly after I sat down a lady who was busy changing numbers on the hymnboard came over and welcomed me.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, it was, and there was plenty of space between it and the pew in front for standing or kneeling (and the hassocks were comfy as well).

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The usual Anglican chatter, only slightly subdued by the organist's rather uninspiring prelude (but he made up for that later).

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening, and welcome to King Charles."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Ancient and Modern, New Standard and The Sunday Service Book (a rather odd volume combining the ASB 1980 with the 1662 BCP and psalms under one cover), together with the weekly news bulletin.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ only – to my admittedly inexperienced ear, it sounded slightly shrill.

Did anything distract you?
Ahem.....a most attractive brunette (all in black, but sporting a superb red scarf) in the front row of the choir. Oh, and a strange susurration which I was aware of all through the service. I thought at first it was the sound of rain on the roof, but soon worked out that it was the heating system.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Straightforward Anglican prayer book evensong with (on this occasion) not very much congregational participation, but I was pleased to note that the vicar used the longer form of introduction, confession etc., and also took most of the intercessions from the BCP The singing was excellent, and even the psalm went well.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
About 8 minutes, although I forgot to time it exactly.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Father Avery has a quiet, relaxed but thoughtful style – no histrionics and no assuming from the start that the congregation is intellectually challenged. I must add that his message of forgiveness spoke to me directly, as I work out personal issues in my own life!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He quoted King Charles' words about forgiving those who had brought about his death, spoken shortly before his execution. He then developed the theme of forgiveness, pointing out that it is not a normal part of human nature but rather a sign of God's grace working in us. Any power we have to forgive those who have hurt us reflects our discipleship in Christ. He mentioned the horrors of the death camp at Auschwitz, saying that God himself is ultimately the victim of all human cruelty. However, God's love and capacity for forgiveness is inexhaustible, and we are to be vehicles of this to those who wrong us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The singing was good, and so was the thoughtful sermon, and so was the organist's spirited rendering of a postlude by Jean Alain. French organ music will surely be played often in Heaven, won't it?.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Ouch! Just for a moment, a couple of choir members went wildly off-key during the nunc dimittis. You could see the whole congregation wince!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Most people stayed either in their pews or around the back of the church to listen to the aforementioned postlude. The vicar spoke to me immediately afterwards and – curses! – rumbled me when I carelessly mentioned where I came from. It turns out that he is a lurker on Ship of Fools.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No refreshments on offer (but there are some good pubs and wine bars nearby).

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – If I lived in the area, I would certainly come here. But there is also an Anglo-Catholic church in the town (more my cup of tea), so I'd probably end up alternating (vacillating?) between the two.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, indeed.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Blowing my cover to the vicar. I must be more careful in future!
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