I entered the building and fought my way past the regulars who were far too busy talking amongst themselves to hand me a hymn book or service sheet; eventually getting one from someone who was getting one for a friend. I managed to sit in a pew without being engaged with or even acknowledged.
Then (five minutes late to make me feel at home I suspect) a disembodied voice from somewhere announced the hymn (from the Ancient and Modern) - well the announced the number, not the book so I started with the newer book before returning to the older A&M - and I sang (pity the others didn't - felt like a soloist!!).
The hymn ends and the greeting follows ('The Lord be with you...') with the regulars standing and the visitors for the baptism siting uncomfotyably (no guidance given - but eventually they too stand because the others are doing so, just in time for the people at the front who were standing to sit!). The cleric enthuses over the ' very special morning for the church as there is a baptism taking place and to make the point rushes to the back and, grabbing the candidate, makes a point of showing the child to everyone.
The there are a couple of readings, neither of which are announced (but as there's no pew bibles it wouldn't have mattered as there were no bibles in evidence anywhere anyway) BUT we were told that the custom was that we stood for the Gospel . The people at the front stood (no acclamation) and then without any response (just me and the priest saying the final 'Praise to you O Christ') they sat whilst the sermon was read verbatim (including the joke - which might have been good when writing it but poor when reheated and reread perhaps) - there was mention made of ' good lectionary readings' but I don't suppose anyone except the cleric, me and perhaps one or two of the faithful knew what was meant.
In case you're wondering, the readings were: Ephesians 4.8 -17 and John 6 24-35
The Sermon - the main thrust being that we were not canibals and having Jesus makes us happy, full and content - lasted just on five minutes (with added short closing prayer) before we sang hymn 113 (great is thy faithfulness - from the new book) after which the family we beckoned to the font (at least there was a Paschal Candle in place - unlit, but it was there).
Just like a proper Anglican baptism the responses throughout were barely audible and almost non-existent at the Decision. Interestingly, in the light of my epiclesis discussion the Chrism featured oil and the sign of the cross on the child's head. The Prayer over water was a sequence of almost soto voce words and the priest splashing the water about throughout the whole escapade - no fear of having an epiclesis (in fact nowhere other than in the chrismation did making the sign of the cross appear anywhere) - then the child is baptised and the peace is reached and yet, strangely, shared by none of those present (expected a hymn but prayers arrived instead - no real direction - they just happened and no one (other than me that is) responded with the obviously required 'hear our prayer; I did enjoy the Prayer for 'the awkward folk we know'
Then we sang a song (from a sheet in the booklet) whilst the plate was passed round (my only encounter with anyone from the place - although there was no eye contact) and the then despite feeling rather Puginesque with a multitude of candles on the altar and stations of the cross surrounding me I was surprised to find that none of what my training incumbent called 'mechanical actions' appeared throughout the consecration. But then, oddly, when communicating themselves and the server, the priest suddenly elevated the chalice and the bread before consuming any of it! The white stole and the green stuff on the altar set each other off nicely!
Not a single soul came forward from the baptism party and where I expected something like a post communion prayer to appear I found the organist strike up a hymn (turned out to be ancient & modern 367: a toe-tapper from 1857: Lord of glory, who hast bought us!). Perhaps unsurprisingly no one (including me) sings and I find myself surprised again as the blessing whizzes past and we sing another hymn from A7M and the deal is done.
Well almost - as if suddenly remembering the candle bit the Paschal candle is lit and a candle is given to the candidate (care of Dad) and everyone rushes off.
No tea and biccies.
No people anywhere!
Just the organist playing various pieces in an attempt to get us to vacate the place.
Try as I might to get any of the regulars to chat they were all to busy (or gone) for me to find out about the place and so I left as I arrived, unengaged with and just a little sadder to boot. I did find someone outside who I collared but they had no answers as they weren't on the PCC. They suggested that I should ask one of the wardens (names in the porch apparently).
Outside the baptismal party were taking loads of photos and enjoying the big family occasion that the Church family had been unable to provide and I left singing the praises of the Reverend Snodgrass* who, in a parody of the Beatle's Eleanor Rigby 'wiping their hands as they walked from the font what did they want? '
Seriously, is it any wonder the ageing and declining church congregations with their erasatz folk religious rites of passage, their begging bowl mentality and their enclosed community reality are in a terminal state?
I went in casual, holiday, clothing to see what others visiting on spec might find and left feeling most unencouraged and unengaged with and as if I had no place, or even right, to be in that place. What makes this worse is that next week I'll be trying another church in another location: Lord have mercy upon me!