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3318: St Dunstan's, Canterbury, England
St Dunstan, Canterbury
Mystery Worshipper: Little Martyr.
The church: St Dunstan's, London Road, Canterbury, Kent, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Canterbury.
The building: Dedicated to St Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury from 960 to 978 and a great reformer of English monasticism, the building is a typical Kentish ragstone church with a short square tower. It dates from the 11th century and was modified from the 13th to 15th centuries. The tower is 16th century; the porch 17th century. The whole church was restored in 1878-80 by Ewan Christian, known for his design of the National Portrait Gallery and restoration of Carlisle Cathedral. St Dunstan's boasts a ring of six bells, one of which is believed to be the oldest Christian church bell in the world. There is quite a bit of rather interesting stained glass. The St Nicholas Chapel, also known as the Roper Chapel, was dedicated in 1524; in addition to holding the earthly remains of William and Margaret Roper, it is also the resting place of the head of Thomas More. The church will be commemorating the martyrdom of Thomas More at a special service in July. The chancel features some modern touches, including a blue curtain hung in front of the reredos, which is generally regarded nowadays as being too ugly to be displayed. Today's service was held in the church hall, which is just behind the church proper and has its own carpark. The hall is a low, modern building, with accessible entrance, toilets, and a kitchen area as well as the main hall.
The church: In 1174 St Dunstan's was visited by King Henry II on his way to Canterbury to do penance for the murder of Thomas Becket; Henry used the church to change out of his royal attire into sackcloth for the remainder of the journey. Today the parish is part of the Benefice of St Dunstan, St Mildred and St Peter, Canterbury. Each church in the benefice has at least one service each Sunday, and there are midweek services. There are also a Mothers' Union, coffee drop-in, and a foodbank.
The neighbourhood: Canterbury has always been a place of pilgrimage, as St Augustine started the English branch of Christianity here, founding a monastery to serve the people outside the city; and later with Thomas Becket's murder being a source of Christian tourism for many centuries. These days Canterbury is still very much a tourist city, but also houses a growing university campus, whose associated departments are scattered around the city. St Dunstan's is at the junction of London Road and Whitstable Road.
The cast: Brother Kevin, a Franciscan brother and one of the parochial trustees, preached. The service was led by the reader, Terry Wright.
The date & time: Fourth Sunday after Trinity, 24 June 2018, 10.00am. No mention was made of the Nativity of John the Baptist, which feast today also was.

What was the name of the service?
Cafe Church.

How full was the building?
The room was about half full. I counted 44 people in the congregation.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
As we walked in, we were greeted by a sidesperson and a few people milling around. I was offered a tea, but Husband doesn't recall being offered one.

Was your pew comfortable?
The chairs were very comfortable: metal frames with red cushioned seats. I was very surprised to see rows of chairs instead of chairs around tables. When one hears the term "cafe church," one thinks of an informal, cafe-style alternative worship service. It was lovely to get a drink as we arrived, but table-and-chair seating, croissants, cakes, and space to mill around would have made it feel much more welcoming.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was busy. There was friendly chatting and finding seats.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Shall we start? Good morning, everyone."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
We were given the Common Praise hymnbook and a sheet with the informal morning prayer from Common Worship. There was also a notice sheet for the benefice with the readings for the day, but they were for the Nativity of John the Baptist, not for 4 Trinity, and we celebrated 4 Trinity at this service.

What musical instruments were played?
Piano and a choir singing traditional hymns (albeit in street clothes, not robed). For cafe church I was fully expecting worship songs. The hymns included "Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven," which is not a hymn that can be played on the piano in a church hall.

Did anything distract you?
One would expect cafe church to be a hubbub of activity: families and friends enjoying their breakfasts and teas around tables, people getting up to refill their cups, the various parts of the service (including music and readings and the talk) to be interspersed with cafe behaviour. But there was none of that. There were also only two families there, one with a baby and one with a young child who was colouring in for the whole time. I supposed that if I was distracted by anything, it was by the absence of families.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was "informally formal" – definitely not cafe church, but also not a formal church service, although there was an extended peace in the middle. I am told that services in the church proper on most Sundays are middle-of-the-road Anglican eucharists. The congregation may have thought they were attending something different, but to me it was just Morning Prayer in the Hall.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Brother Kevin was enjoyable and engaging, if a little formal for the intention of the service.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The reading was about the calming of the waters for the fishermen. Brother Kevin spoke about calming waters, and linked it to his experience growing up in a fishing town, where the seas were not generally able to be calmed by just talking to them. He spoke about the fact that the fishermen/disciples would have been fully used to storms, which meant that this one must have been especially harsh, and that Jesus calming the storm was illustrating an important point about trusting him.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The people were very friendly, and not off-puttingly so. That made us feel like we weren't strangers or newbies. The tea being served before the service was lovely. A nice clear notice on the church door to say the service was in the hall was a nice touch.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There was no sound system in the service, and we were sitting at the back and could barely hear anything (church halls don't really carry sound). I'm sure that for anyone with hearing difficulties, it must have been uncomfortable.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We didn't get a chance to hang around - Immediately after the service, more drinks were served, and people from the congregation came to talk to us.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The drinks were very nice, served to us in our seats in proper cups from the kitchen. A plate of biscuits was put onto the table in front of our row. The chocolate biscuits on the plate had almost run out, and I asked one of the ladies for more. She replied that I'd have to have a plain one. I did manage to get one of the last remaining chocolate biscuits, but was rather taken aback at the thought of being denied.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – As this wasn't a typical service for this church, I would have to try one of the standard services to decide this.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It didn't sway me either way, but any opportunity to worship is never wasted.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Erm. The lack of cafe-ness about the service.
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