Mystery Worshipper: Blanik
Church: Christ Church
Location: Northampton, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 9 August 2015, 10:00am
A bit of an odd looking building if I’m honest. Typical of buildings of around 1900, but with a modern looking face on the west end. The look of the outside does not prepare you for the gorgeously stunning interior. Local architect Matthew Holding designed the church in the 14th century style. His work is very prominent in Northampton and includes the extension to the Guildhall, St Matthew's, Holy Trinity and St Mary's Churches and the Abington Park Hotel almost opposite. The interior really looks like a mini cathedral. Some superb flower arrangements were also evident.
The parish extends from the boundary of Abington Park toward the town centre. They are part of the St Crispin group of parishes that also includes Holy Sepulchre, Holy Trinity and St Michael's. The congregation includes members from the Caribbean, Africa and Eastern Europe as well as those who have lived in Northampton all their lives. The church actively engages with the local community, which was nice to see. Scouts, a job club, a soup kitchen, prayer groups and cream teas are amongst the many activities.
Northampton lies about 70 miles northwest of London. An important governmental seat in medieval times, the town was almost completely destroyed by the Great Fire of 1675 and was rebuilt by an Act of Parliament. In the 19th century Northampton prospered as a centre for the manufacture of shoes and boots, with its factories supplying over 23 million pairs of boots to the troops during World War I. But manufacturing declined as the 20th century wore on, and during the latter part of the century a vast urban renewal project ushered in significant changes. Christ Church is set in a lovely part of Northampton next to a large park.
The Revd David Wiseman, vicar, assisted by a reader who doubled as crucifer. There were also two people who read the lessons, as well as a robed choir of four adults and two children.
What was the name of the service?Parish Communion and Baptism – Common Worship
How full was the building?
I guess there were around 80-90 people there, which made it feel fairly full, but the side aisles were empty, so the church could easily seat more. It was comfortably full without being squashed! There was also an area off to one side where some youngsters were playing quietly, which was good to see. There was certainly a wide range of both ages and ethnic backgrounds in the congregation.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes and a wonderful welcome it was! The two welcomers said, "Good morning and a warm welcome." This church really has got its welcome in order. So thank you, Jack and Josh, for your excellent welcome. Warm but not intruding. The top of the pew sheet also repeated this welcome.
Was your pew comfortable?
The church is equipped with old style wooden chapel chairs. These, I'm afraid, were really not very comfortable. I did notice afterward, whilst inspecting the organ console and looking around the church, that the Lady chapel has some lovely looking new padded chairs, which I eyed with envy!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I arrived with a friend at 9.50am and there was already a busy atmosphere. Many people were chatting. One young lad was lighting the candles. Several people came up and welcomed us. The congregation hushed when the organist struck up a prelude, and I was able to pray if only briefly.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
They were in Italian, so I have no idea whatsoever. One side of the baptism party were Italian, and the priest made a lovely attempt to make them feel welcome. He did go on to welcome everyone else in English.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
New English Hymnal, an A4 folded weekly news sheet, an order of service, and a worship song called "All are welcome" that wasn’t in the hymn book.
What musical instruments were played?
A fine Aeolian organ, formerly in a private home. The choir were very scruffy looking with ill fitting robes and trainers! But boy, could they sing! Despite their small size, there was not only an anthem during the communion, but three pieces that the choir sang superbly unaccompanied! One of these pieces was O Taste and See by Ralph Vaughan Williams, which was fantastic.
Did anything distract you?
The order of service had numerous typos in it, which was really annoying.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Overall it was slightly lower than middle of the road, without being happy clappy. Certainly not stiff upper lip. Bells but no smells. The service was generally easy to follow, except not all the hymns were announced, so it wasn’t until half way through the first verse of some hymns that everyone joined in as we scrambled for the hymn books! Good hymn singing throughout by the congregation, though. All the parts of the communion service were nicely sung to a setting by David Thorne. The whole service was well balanced and flowed nicely.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The vicar was extremely good. He preached a fantastic, engaging, and thought provoking sermon without notes. It fitted in with both the readings and the fact that there was a baptism.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Father Wiseman started off by comparing all the different breads now available to buy from the supermarket, and then segued nicely into what the Bread of Heaven really is.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choir anthem and the voluntary at the end. Superb. Heavenly with your eyes shut so you didn't see how scruffy they were!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Without doubt, the lack of reverence toward the processional cross. At the top of the church was a fantastic looking processional cross in black and silver. Yet when the procession came in, they used an old small wooden cross that had seen better days. The crucifer then just casually slung the cross against a pillar. I personally found it sad considering the deep significance of the cross for many Christians.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
At the end of the service, the children presented what they had been doing. These included some drawings which, whilst sweet, portrayed Father Wiseman as something similar in shape to the rather bulbous TV comedy character Mr Blobby! As we were going out, the organist played a voluntary, Tuba Tune by CS Lang, which really showed off the organ well. Zero chance of getting lost here! Several people lovingly and gently steered us toward the coffee area at the rear of the church.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was instant coffee served in posh but small paper cups, and also some scones with jam, cucumber sandwiches, and some coconut cake. A very nice spread. I was introduced to people and listened politely to the conversation. Couldn't see if the coffee was fair trade, but it was wet and warm and that's all that could be said! Tea and squash were also on offer.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – They really were very welcoming and are such a lovely group of people. Attracting people to a new church, however, is not only about the welcome or how good their coffee is, but rather it is also about how the love and warmth of Christ shines through the people. Curiously, the pew sheet had no contact details, e-mail addresses, or website details by which one could get more involved in the life of this church. Is it by invitation only, I wondered.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, mainly because of the lovely welcome.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Father Wiseman compared to Mr Blobby! Father good-naturedly replied that he probably needed a diet, but with such lovely scones I can see that a diet may be difficult at this church!