Mystery Worshipper: Torold
Church: Holy Trinity
Location: Blacon, Cheshire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 18 December 2011, 10:00am
A red brick building dating from 1960, in what might be called the telephone exchange school of architecture. One sees few adornments save a short tower at the north-east end with calling bell. However, stepping inside gives the visitor a sense of brightness, peace and spaciousness, with uninterrupted views to the high altar and sanctuary. North and south aisles have brick arcades, above which are clerestory windows. A large wooden carving of the crucifixion dominates the sanctuary. Throughout the building is a mixture of modern stained glass the colours are lovely and some from the former parish church. There are plenty of modern carved accoutrements: Christ the King over the door into the nave; St Patrick on the lectern; St Chad on the pulpit. There is a memorial of the Royal British Legion in the north aisle, and a book of remembrance for departed parishioners.
The benefice includes the Chapel of the Holy Family as well as Holy Trinity, Blacon. The parish peaked at over 20,000 in the 1970s but is a little smaller now. The church does not appear to play a very important part in the life of the estate, but I could be wrong. There is a said eucharist each Sunday as well as a parish eucharist that is booked as being family friendly. Sunday school is also available.
Blacon, a suburb of Chester on the Welsh border, was developed on what was once farmland and open countryside. There are substantial council-built properties here at one time Blacon contained one of the largest council estates in all of Europe. The church lies in the middle of a large council estate, with an arcade of shops close by: supermarket, post office, pharmacy, pet shop, beauty salon, butchers, cafe, etc.
Names of the cast members were not given out, neither did they identify themselves. However, on the parish news sheet, the Revd Marian Needham and the Revd Brian Harris were listed. The parish are expecting a new rector early in January.
What was the name of the service?Parish Eucharist.
How full was the building?
Not very full, mainly retired ladies and a few gents, with one or two children. Approximately 60, including altar party, organist, and a choir of nine who sat at the west end next to the organ.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A nice hello was given along with the books for the service. At the peace, a lady in front invited me for coffee following the service.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was fine: light oak with drop-down kneeler and ledges for books.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Having been summoned by one bell, on entering the church I was met with pre-recorded music and the light conversation of catching up on the week's gossip. Christmas cards were being distributed by all to all from all. I made myself comfortable and sat back to enjoy the pre-service ambiance; I was not disappointed. There was some laughter from the back and quite a bit of wandering around. The altar was already set up for communion and the candles were lighted. One of the two sanctuary lamps swung gently to and fro. Then the organ commenced with a selection of Advent music, including one of my favourites: "I Stand at the Threshold", Sinfonia to Cantata 156 by JS Bach.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everyone, and a very warm welcome."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The parish notice sheet and eucharist booklet, plus Hymns Old and New, New Anglican Edition.
What musical instruments were played?
A three-manual pipe organ (c. 1910 by Charles Whiteley & Co. Organ Builders Ltd of Chester) with electric action restored and refurbished in 1989 by George Sixsmith & Son Ltd of Mossley, Lancs.
Did anything distract you?
There was a very large person in the congregation: early 40s, shaven head, specs, tattoos, shirt and tie, dark trousers, shiny lace-ups, ear-ring. Very rotund with an enormous bottom. I was not sure if it was a woman or a man I didn't dare look. My hunch was that she was a woman dressed as a man.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
High of middle Anglican. No smoke, but the church bell was tolled at the elevation. I would say that the tendency here is for eucharistic-based worship. A retired gentleman chorister received his badge of office, viz. his RSCM medal, to a round of applause at the beginning of the service. The unnamed male celebrant spoke with a West Country accent "Mluvvers."
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The preacher used notes at the lectern and spoke in clear, modulating, pleasant tones. It was neither harsh nor grating – very BBC!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The Annunciation: the Angel's good news to Mary, and how she found favour with God. God chooses, and we have a choice also. To say anything other than yes is to reject God's call. We must not miss the opportunity to announce our faith the good news of God's coming to us in Jesus.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The cold hands but warm hearts at the giving of the peace.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
As occasionally happens at the solemn moments of the mass, right on cue, the microphone distorted the celebrant's words, intermittently breaking up for a couple of moments. I thought the prayers went on a bit too long. I became rather bored and began to think of my din-dins.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was spoken to, first by a gent who had parked his motability scooter in the north aisle, and next by a couple of ladies from the sanctuary party who mentioned the coffee and where it was being served, and how to get to the hall. A man gave me a leaflet with details of the church.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Fair trade tea and coffee in cups and saucers, with custard cream biscuits and my favourite Jaffa cakes.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – Yes. I would attend Holy Trinity, Blacon, willingly. This is a church where the regulars clearly know exactly who is going to be there week by week, yet they didn't hesitate to extend a friendly welcome to a newcomer. "Look forward to seeing you again," said someone as I left.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The congregation's friendly welcome.