Mystery Worshipper: Torold
Church: St Catherine's
Location: Hoylake, Wirral, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 13 March 2011, 11:15am
Attractive, rust-coloured brick building dating from 1928. The windows are clear leaded glass, giving the interior a light and airy feeling. The pews and panelling are of brown wood but the stations of the cross around the walls are blue. Religious statues of Our Lady, the Sacred Heart, St Joseph and St Francis stand at various spots. In the back of the church are a piety stall and library. There is also a children's corner.
This church used to be known as St Catherine's and St Martina's; for some reason St Martina has been dropped in recent years. The parish centre hosts a preschool that is independent of the church. There have been 10 parish priests since 1950.
St Catherine's is conveniently situated on the main road in Hoylake close to the Hoylake Cottage Hospital and Care Home. The local park is behind the church, and beyond that is the sea front. In 2006, the World Open Golf Championship was held here (Tiger Woods, etc.) - the Royal Liverpool Golf Club is in Hoylake. There is a multiplicity of quaint little fishermen's-type cottages blending with neatly kept terraced houses, Victorian semis, and an interesting high street called the Row, full of diverse shops, bars and restaurants. The former Victorian town hall, a handsome sandstone building, now houses the job centre. The railway station on the Quadrant is a fine example of Art Deco architecture.
The Revd Canon Chris Walsh, parish priest, was the celebrant. He was assisted by the Revd Mr Tony Crisp, deacon.
What was the name of the service?Parish Mass.
How full was the building?
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I arrived in time, so I thought, at about 10.45 for an 11.00 mass. However, apart from a young couple having a chat in Italian, the building was empty! And so I sat in solitary splendour for awhile, but at length grew restless and had a wander about. I helped myself to a hymn book and notice sheet, and discovered from the notice sheet that the mass would start at 11.15. By this time a few people had begun to drift in. I popped outside to check that my vehicle was OK. As I returned, a gent standing in the porch handed me a notice sheet and remarked, "Cold, isn't it?" "For the time of year," I replied.
Was your pew comfortable?
Not really, but then they are not supposed to be, are they? I adopted the half kneeling, half sitting pose, much favoured by the church-going fraternity, in an attempt to get comfortable. It only resulted, however, in a crick in the neck.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Noisy, everyone chatting at the top of their voices and climbing over one another. The young Italian couple behind me had gone from sotto voce to fortissimo. The organist was getting drowned out by the cacophony from downstairs.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Parish Mass Book and Laudate hymn book, plus the aforementioned notice sheet.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ and choir, mainly older people.
Did anything distract you?
Yes. Several mobiles went off during the service right from the word go. Three elderly ladies sitting in front of me were having a little conversation on and off. One of them was wearing a hand knitted jumper in a shade of tangerine. I wondered where she had bought the wool from and how she had worked the pattern! The little boy next to me was colouring in a book, totally absorbed in what he was doing.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A rather nondescript mass. The priest's voice was, as my mother would describe it, "dark brown and posh."
Exactly how long was the sermon?
8 minutes, I think. My watch stopped about two-thirds of the way through and I had to count the seconds silently for the remainder.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Father Walsh is decidedly on in years and has doubtless read hundreds of bishops' pastoral letters before, so this was nothing new to him. He just read it out in his bored, posh dark brown voice.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was a reading of the bishop's pastoral letter on the sacrament of reconciliation. Confession, it seems, has largely been forgotten and phased out by practising Catholics, and the bishop was urging Roman Catholics to return to the confessional before it is too late. He himself (the bishop) confesses regularly.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Oh dear. It was all rather bland and not at all heaven-like. I didn't feel the Spirit moving in this place whatsoever.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
As Father began the prayer of consecration, two police cars tore up the main road, sirens blaring. At the Agnus Dei, somebody's phone started to ring and she answered, saying: "I'm in church."
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Someone told me that tea and coffee were being served by the Ladies' Guild, if I'd like to go round, so I tagged on behind. Father Walsh and the deacon were standing on the steps outside saying good-bye, arms folded over their books. They were not of the hand shaking variety obviously.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Rather watery, but hot, in ordinary mugs, with a couple of plates of biscuits. We could help ourselves to sugar.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – A church where they simply go through the motions is not my kind of church.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Father's posh, dark brown voice.