Ship of Fools
  Bulletin Boards
  Mystery Worshipper
  Caption Competition
  Gadgets for God
  The Fruitcake Zone
  Signs & Blunders
  Born Twice
  About Ship of Fools
  Support us!
  Contact us!
1134: St Giles, Cambridge, England
Other reports | Comment on this report
St Giles, Cambridge, England
Mystery Worshipper: Mr Ricarno.
The church: St Giles, Cambridge, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: The rector herself described the building as "a barn" from the outside. This, however, belies the beauty of the church's interior. One is greeted by rows of chairs and (shock horror!) a nave altar, which again are somewhat deceptive since this church is fairly Anglo-Catholic. Behind the rood screen there's a wonderful high altar with beautiful iconography all around. Across the north and south walls are stained glass windows depicting various saints.
The church: St Giles is one of several churches, all served by the same clergy, comprising the parish of the Ascension. I got the impression that the church's demographic is mainly older people, with a few members in their twenties and thirties. The rector and curate are both women, which makes a refreshing change from the decidedly Forward-in-Faith atmosphere of many Anglo-Catholic churches.
The neighbourhood: The church is situated right by Castle Mound, which is (rather boringly) a mound which used to be a castle many millennia ago. The parish of the Ascension is in North Cambridge, where you'll find a heady mix of proper townsfolk alongside students living in hostels. This mystery worshipper, for instance, lives a mere 30 paces from the church.
The cast: The Rev. Philipa King, rector, was the celebrant. The Rev. Kate Peacock, curate, served as deacon. Also there were two acolytes whose names I didn't catch.
What was the name of the service?
Sunday Eucharist.

How full was the building?
When I first took my seat, I thought I'd be able to count the congregation on my right hand. However, by the time the service had started, there were about fifteen or so people. Certainly not over-full!

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A gentleman on the door handed me a service book and said hello.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a wooden chair, and it was fairly comfortable, yes. There were no cushions, but the back of the chair in the next row folded out to reveal a kneeler.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Rather quiet, reflective and reverential, I'd say. People were still arriving until just before the service started.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
I didn't quite catch the opening sentence, as it was spoken from the back of the church, but after that the clergy processed to the front and gave the invocation.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Common Worship Order One for Holy Communion, and the New English Hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?
A pipe organ and a choir consisting of two basses and a soprano.

Did anything distract you?
I found my eyes constantly drawn to the beautiful and ornate chancel, clearly visible through the rood screen, and the windows. It was difficult to concentrate fully on the preacher during her sermon, mainly for that reason. And the organist seemed totally to lose it during the final verse of the final hymn. I admit I found it difficult to keep a straight face at that point.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Smells and bells, but quite informal and very quietly done – I usually recite the liturgical responses at my normal speaking volume, but here I had to hold back to a murmur so as not to be conspicuous.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The preacher's stream-of-consciousness style made it seem as if she was trying to cram too many ideas into a short homily.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The preacher took her sermon from the gospel text, which was the parable of the man who built his house upon sand. She took the rather unorthodox but helpful approach of sympathising with the foolish man and constructed her sermon around the idea of the pilgrim nature of the Church. Where are we, as individuals and as the Church, being prompted to move on in our faith? Perhaps this subverted the parable too much but it was a stimulating and challenging address nonetheless.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The anthem during communion was the Taize O Lord hear my prayer – one of my favourites and somehow even more powerful when sung by only three voices – there was an almost plainsong-like quality to it. Beautiful, and moved me to tears.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The organist's wild musical flailings during the final hymn, and having to murmur the responses – it made me feel as if I should somehow be ashamed of saying the words. Perhaps I'm being a bit inconsiderate of the congregation, who are mainly over 50 and probably less inclined to proclaim the liturgy aloud, but that's how it felt.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't get time to do that – directly afterwards, a lady asked if I was staying for coffee. I duly did so and talked to this lady and her husband about my studies. The rector also went out of her way to greet me and find out what I was up to – hope she didn't guess the true purpose of my visit.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Instant (blegh), though served in proper cups with a wide selection of yummy chocolate-coated biscuits!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I appreciated the informality, and any Anglo-Catholic church with female clergy has major plus-points in my book. However, as I'm currently still growing into high church Anglicanism, I'll probably stick to my current church for now – in a year's time or so, who knows?

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Oh yes. But I was also saddened by the low turnout at what must have been the church's main service. Hopefully times will change.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The chancel's ornate iconography and altar-piece. A hidden gem among Cambridge churches, in my view. And the sermon's challenge to the smugness of people who've "built their house upon rock" when we're called to be pilgrims.
The Mystery Worshipper is sponsored by, the internet service provider from Christian Aid. By offering email services, special offers with companies such as and, surefish raises more than £300,000 a year for Christian Aid's work around the world.

Click here to find out how to become a Mystery Worshipper. And click here if you would like to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.

Top | Other Reports | Become a Mystery Worshipper!

© Ship of Fools 2005
Surefish logo