St Mary the Virgin, Mold, Wales (Exterior)

St Mary the Virgin, Mold, Flintshire, Wales


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Mary the Virgin
Location: Mold, Flintshire, Wales
Date of visit: Saturday, 17 March 2012, 2:00pm

The building

This splendid perpendicular church dominates the main street of the market town of Mold. It was built between 1500 and 1570, with the grand tower added about 1770. It has pretty windows, a good timber roof, and plenty of stone carving. Outside as well as within, just beneath the roof level, a multiplicity of carved birds and beasts - cats and bats, dogs, sheep, whales, goats, elephants, pigs, moles, owls - adorn this noteworthy edifice. There is a curious Art Deco floor of coloured encaustic tiles in the War Memorial chapel. On entering, I was struck by the abundance of stained glass. The light at that time of day lit up the whole interior. It had the WOW factor! One curious feature is the swell box on the organ, which opens directly into the chancel on lovely carved hinged doors. I wondered whether a cuckoo was going to pop its head out and hoot at everyone.

The church

The church appears to play a prominent part in town life. Their website is under construction as of this writing, so I was unable to get much information off there. They do have a eucharist on Wednesdays and alternate among Prayer Book eucharist, morning prayer, family communion using a "locally set form", and informal worship that "follows no set pattern" on Sundays.

The neighborhood

Mold is a large, busy market town set in the vale of Clwyd in North Wales. It is the gateway to the Welsh mountains, and is a designated area of outstanding natural beauty. Set on the main thoroughfare through Mold, the church is adjacent to a plethora of shops and businesses.

The cast

The Rt Revd Gregory Ambrose, Bishop of St Asaph, presided and preached. The Ven. Shirley Griffiths, Archdeacon of Wrexham; the rural dean; and a host of local clergy played their parts in the induction of the Revd Rex Matthias.

What was the name of the service?

The Institution and Induction of Fr Rex Matthias as Vicar of Mold.

How full was the building?

Comfortably full for such a large building, about 250.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

This church is not usually open so I was glad to find the door ajar and people going inside. I had heard the bells being rung up as I walked along. "Aha," I thought, "must be a wedding!" I was caught off guard in my Saturday slopping-about garb. I'm happy to say, though, that I got more than a welcome: I got an invitation. "Are you staying to the induction?" enquired a man who appeared from behind a pillar in the nave. "Yes, I'll stay, thank you," I replied, whereupon he thrust a service booklet at me. I sat down in the darkest part of the church behind a column in the Lady chapel and picked fluff off my clothes as I searched for a pencil, specs and Mystery Worshipper calling card!

Was your pew comfortable?

The bench pew was bearable, with a red carpet runner to pad bottoms.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Animated noisy chatter and raucous laughter from the porch entrance and rear of the church. An expectant feel to it. Merry organ music completed the picture.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"We sing our opening hymn!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?

There was a printed order of service and a separate booklet for the induction service (Welsh and English). The service was bilingual, including a Welsh hymn that nearly lifted the roof! I though I was at the old Cardiff Arms Park! There was also a colour post card of St Mary's inside the service sheet. Nice touch!

What musical instruments were played?

Church pipe organ. Robed choir of eight men and two women.

Did anything distract you?

The people in front of me, who were dressed in dark navy blue uniforms, sat down and got up again, disappeared and reappeared. They did this a couple of times. I don't know who they were or where they were going.

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

The tradition here is catholic. However, the day I was there, the service was too formal to be really comfortable. I wouldn't say it was particularly friendly or happy. No one was smiling. In fact, I said out loud, "Cheer up!" just for the hell of it!

Exactly how long was the sermon?

14 minutes.

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

8 – Bishop Gregory is a large jovial man with a good sense of humour and fun. Amusing little anecdotes crept in from time to time. Wales were playing England Rugby International. The bishop's wife, so he said, had told him to keep it short because she wanted to nip out to catch the second half!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

It being St Patrick's Day, the bishop touched on the gospel reading about going out and spreading the word "without purse or bag" – not very practical on the high streets of Mold! Those who are sent out into the world are to be bearers of the peace of the Lord. The word "peace" in the Bible represents the fullness of God's blessing and the fullness of life. This is the Christian vocation, set by the example of Christ. A vicar must be a faithful minister of the sacraments, dispensing the medicine of immortality; and the congregation should support him in all that he does.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The little sleep that I had during the boring bits when no one was looking.

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

The portable toilets, situated in the churchyard opposite the vestry door. They were much in use on this occasion. I have a fear of getting locked in lavatories in general.

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

I hung around in the side aisle admiring the architectural delight of St Mary's Church. I was accosted by a man who enquired if I was a visitor, where I was from and why I was dressed like a scarecrow! "Have you been gardening?" he asked. I just smiled.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

The buffet refreshments were at the back of church and had caused a log-jam of human traffic. I decided not to avail myself of the buffet, the reason being the last church fare I accepted put me in hospital on a drip with a stomach bug. So I was a bit wary. There was, however, a selection of party fare. I managed to make my escape by walking head down toward the porch, to be greeted by the new vicar. He is originally from these parts and has come home to North Wales from the south. Bishop Gregory, a very large man who resembles Billy Bunter, the rather rotund hero of Charles Hamilton's Greyfriars School tales, in episcopal garb, shook me warmly by the hand. I spoke to him in his mother tongue, which he appreciated.

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

6 – But I am sure the new vicar will liven things up. He seemed a good do-it-yourself chap of many facets and ideas.

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

Not necessarily so.

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

The odd design of the organ's swell box.

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