All Saints, Liverpool (Exterior)

All Saints, Childwall, Liverpool, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: All Saints
Location: Childwall, Liverpool, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 10 August 2014, 10:00am

The building

Tree shaded and secluded, overlooking the area east of Liverpool. Fine sandstone medieval parish church with early 19th century spire and tower containing six bells. Wide nave of two bays and north aisle; south extension (a south aisle without an eastern window) creates more width. Red carpet in nave and sanctuary. Elegant brass chandeliers. Box pews with carved acorn finials (1853) give feeling of age and seem quite in character with the whole building. Church packed with monuments. Much decorative glass. Unusual castellated "hearse house" of c.1810 in churchyard. Table tombs aplenty adorn the churchyard, which slopes down to where the modern marble crosses are. Peaceful and pretty setting. Magnificent specimen tree, Acer platonoides "Crimson King" (Spanish maple). The parish hall (1930s) opposite the church is a fine red brick building. The plan is to bulldoze this building, which looks perfectly adequate and in good repair, and erect an ugly modern building to be used by all the community for a multiplicity of things.

The church

According to the parish information booklet, All Saints Childwall are at an exciting time of change and transition as they "seek to become more open for all." Well, they are, after all, All Saints Church! But are they? More of this later. A lot appears to go on in one way or another: various groups meet regularly – men's fellowship, ladies' group, uniformed organisations, Alpha group, bell ringers, etc.

The neighborhood

Childwall is an affluent suburb to the south of Liverpool and is mentioned in the Domesday Book. The field alongside the church, which has never been built upon (although a chap I spoke with let it be known that this soon may change), has been known as Bloody Acre for centuries, taking its name from a skirmish in 1640 between new landowners and adherents of the church. Childwall Abbey itself is no more, but sepia prints of this magnificent, elegant structure can be seen in the Childwall Abbey public house. I'd hazard a guess that the Childwall Abbey pub is the community centre! It was certainly very busy on that wet Sunday morning. In the late 1950s the pub played host to a new singing group formed by a lad named John Lennon known as the Quarry Men, later to become – well, you know the story.

The cast

No names were given. The celebrant was an elderly male cleric, assisted by two male readers, a male organist, and a choir mainly of ladies up in the gallery.

What was the name of the service?

Commemoration of World War 1 with Holy Communion.

How full was the building?

Good half full: people mainly sitting at the back, wasteland toward the front on both sides. Rumpus from children somewhere at the rear or the base of the tower. About 100 all told; 90 communicants.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

No. A lady with two children skipping down the path said "Hello" more out of astonishment, I think, because I slid from behind a gravestone and surprised her as I headed for the porch. I asked a man standing by the open church door if the service had already started. He looked me up and down and said it had. "Where shall I sit?" I asked. "Oh, anywhere. Please yourself." he replied. So I scuttled up the side aisle and disappeared into one of the box pews.

Was your pew comfortable?

I was very snug in my box pew. Someone has added vinyl covered foam seat pads, for comfort, which sit on the original rather narrow planks. I sat upright and it was not too bad. Ledge in front for books. Blue vinyl long padded kneeler completes the picture.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

I arrived six minutes after kick-off, so I can't comment on that. However, when I arrived it was noisy, with children's chatter from the area at the back. A few people were milling about at the back also.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

Don't know. Sorry.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

All Worship book of services, a spiral home-grown loose-leaf booklet full of marvallous speling misteaks, containing all the services All Saints uses; Mission Praise hymn book; The Holy Bible, New International Version.

What musical instruments were played?

Pipe organ. I noticed a set of drums and an electric guitar and amplifier lurking in the church, out of sight, though these were not used that morning. For the first hymn, the organist struck up loudly, shaking me out of my reverie. I nearly shot out of my box pew!

Did anything distract you?

I found I was so busy leafing through the service booklet trying to find the appropriate bits that I was not concentrating on the service. That and seeing myself on the telly CCTV of altar bringing a live broadcast from a church near you! And available on DVD for those who couldn't make it to church. (Is my hair really that bad, I wonder? Amazing what the camera reveals!) I felt I was being watched – you know, that feeling you get when eyes are boring into the back of your head.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Standard Prayer Book holy communion mish-mash with hymns. Low church but not clappy or particularly happy. The celebrant wore a stole; the chalice was veiled. Altar bread was the old British brand Hovis, "the heart of the wheat." Haven't had this for years! The little pieces distributed reminded me that I hadn't fed the birds that morning. There was two minutes of silence to commemorate the war dead, but no roll of honour was read.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

4 – One of the readers gave the address: a bog-standard delivery, using notes to jog his memory and leaving his top button undone. I've heard some sermons in my time, including the tub-thumping and a good rant to the hell-fire and damnation "if you don't turn, you'll burn" Ian Paisley variety. Comparatively, Mr Lay Reader's effort was somewhat disappointing.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

It was all about stones. The children had made stones with faces in their craft work session (noisily, I might add). They would have made great paperweights. We are all called to faith, he said, a living faith. "Living Stone" was one of Jesus' names (was it? I know Peter called him that in 1 Peter 2:4, and Peter "the Rock" should know). Jesus is the living stone, the cornerstone, and we are living stones bringing the Lord's word to his people, to know the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. But ours must be a living faith and not just mere words.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

A young man sitting in front of me had brought a gardening basket into church and proceeded to spoon dollops of yoghurt into it, balancing the basket on the box pew. Then I saw a little arm reach out of the basket, and the dad held up a tiny child for me to see. I was absolutely delighted as we waved the peace at one another, and she smiled!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

I desperately needed to "make water", and it was a toss-up between staying for the two minutes silence or nipping outside. I stayed. But I was soon to learn that my wandering in the churchyard had resulted in my being bitten by mosquitoes all over! That's what I get for hanging round churchyards taking photographs after it's rained.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

Nothing happened, apart from one of the sidespersons asking me who I was, what I was, where I was, why I was there; I was obviously being interrogated by the WW1 secret police. Like dad, I kept mum. The walls have ears, don't you know, and all that. There was no invitation for coffee in the hall opposite, which is where everyone was clearing off to. I knew where they were going but they didnt ask me to join them. Then I heard someone say, "Are you coming over?" and I was all set to reply, "Why, yes, thank you" when I heard another voice say, "In a minute." The invitation was obviously not directed to me, yet they boast "All welcome" in their parish blurb. As I left the church, I spotted the noble memorial to the fallen, a fine carved cross, possibly granite, at the west end outside. I read all the names and meditated about the ultimate sacrifice that these men had paid.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I wasn't asked, so didn't have any. As I was walking through the churchyard, my eyes downcast in silent contemplation, I spied a £20 note stuck to a gutter. And so I celebrated this stroke of luck by adjourning to the Childwall Abbey pub for a delicious lunch.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

3 – Sadly it seems to be an exclusive club for members only.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

If this is how the good people at All Saints are, then no! I think they have missed the message somehow. It made me feel sad. Were I to return on a regular basis and be a part of their congregation, I would definitely welcome a strange face, including inviting them for coffee in the hall afterward.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

Finding a £20 note on the wet road close by.

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