Mystery Worshipper: Torold
Church: St Mary with St Columba
Location: Liscard, Wallasey, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 4 January 2015, 10:30am
The exterior is in yellow sandstone with red sandstone banding and grey slate roof, dating from 1877 but looking older due to the porch and pointy tower. Inside, St Mary's has the feel of a baronial hall: lofty roofed, with wooden rafters and plain white-washed walls. Raised dais with wooden nave altar. Chancel arch. Semi-circular altar rails. Rust coloured carpet here where Jesus' blood was spilt at the communion (more later). Glassed areas on left and right of sanctuary house Lady chapel and vestry. Chunky decorative font (possibly marble), pink, on little legs. I thought of Little Jack Horner, a small boy with a fat tummy! Pine doors lead through to vestry and function room with kitchen and WC. Colourful Victorian glass throughout. Memorial plaques throughout in brass, stone and other materials. Large memorial to Queen Victoria. Clean and well-kept interior.
In July 1971, by order of the Queen in Council, the two parishes of St Mary and St Columba were united, and today they form the benefice of the Resurrection. The old St Columba's Church was demolished in 1973. They seem not to have a website, and I wasn't able to find out very much information about them.
The church is sandwiched between streets of red-bricked housing and Victorian villas. The shopping centre of Liscard village is close by, with the usual multiplicity of pubs, clubs, chain stores, etc. The area is pedestrianised and parking is a nightmare! Yellow lines all over the place. Having a scout-round later, I discovered a long alleyway that led down to the former site of an establishment known as Mother Redcaps. In the 18th century an elderly lady named Poll Jones, better known as Old Mother Redcap after her favourite attire, ran a bawdy hostelry here, a haven for smugglers and strange goings on. Legend has it that a maze of tunnels and dry wells under the house concealed many a treasure taken from ships that had foundered on the rocks at Egremont; however, none of these have ever been discovered. After Mother Redcap's death, the house long remained vacant but saw a brief rebirth in the 1950s as a cafe and nightclub. It eventually fell into ruin and was finally demolished in 1974. It is said that on a wild winters night, the ghost of Mother Redcap can be seen holding a lantern aloft in the grounds of the home, beckoning unsuspecting sailors to their doom!
The Revd Richard Burton, celebrant. Sister Val Legg of the Church Army, a C of E evangelistic organisation, was preacher.
What was the name of the service?Family Communion with Christingles.
How full was the building?
Virtually empty in such a large baronial hall 33 people including two servers.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No welcome, but it felt friendly. I collected my own book and service sheet, as no one was on sidesperson duty.
Was your pew comfortable?
Old pitch pine pews, knocked about a bit. Bulky old style kneelers and some seat pads. I sat on my coat on top of two pads. So the answer to that was yes, very comfortable. In fact, I am thinking of taking up residence in here!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I love this question. Atmospheric. For so few people you could feel the buzz of the place, the anticipation. A handful of little girls in Christmas outfits (the "Rainbows") were eyeing up the Christingles just out of reach on a side altar shiny orange fruits on cocktail sticks with those lovely sweets and raisins. Mmmm very tempting! Also, people were wishing each other the compliments of the season, dear, and isn't it cold out! Meanwhile, the organist entertained with a selection of music based on the Bethlehem Carol Sheet. (I espied the book on the organ.) All we needed was a minstrel's gallery with sackbut and fiddle! The building was pleasantly warm. One of the old altar boys was lighting the candles; he was Uncle Fester without the light bulb.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Grace, peace and mercy to you all! And welcome on this frosty morning!" The Revd Richard Burton introduced himself as being "not the famous actor; I work out of the diocesan offices in Daresbury."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Complete Anglican Hymns (orange book). Common Praise service sheet/booklet with prayers and everything else. Pews News parish information sheet.
What musical instruments were played?
Pipe organ, played by the volunteer organist, whom I recognised from somewhere else.
Did anything distract you?
My gaze kept returning to the trays of Christingles. That, and the terrific draught around the feet - icy! It was a very cold morning, with glittery pavements and sharp winter sunshine to herald the new year and greet those Wise Men Three. Cold without, warm within.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Relaxed catholic, modern take on the liturgy. You could really have fun in here but one needs a bigger congregation, a band of servers and a choir. Their parish priest is on sick leave currently; listening in at coffee time, I gathered that he is a really nice man, well liked. So perhaps they struggle here to keep the show on the road. The Rainbows were involved as the Magi and carried the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Then Sister Val made a Christingle out of an apple and told us not to eat our oranges until later. We sang a version of "Shine, Jesus, shine" with the refrain in the middle, and then blew out our candles.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Sister Val is a cheery bonny lass with Church Army stamped on her bosom and Faith, Hope and Love on her back. Skirt and sensible shoes. She had her props in a Haribo sweets container and was a good orator who captured the imagination. Sister Val is very good at talking to people.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The origin of Christingles, how long they've been going on, where the tradition originated. Although the derivation of the word is unclear, the custom arose in the 18th century among the Moravians of giving a lighted candle to children at Christmastide. The tradition of including various fruits eventually was included: an orange, representing the world; nuts, raisins and sweets, representing God’s bounty; and a band of red paper, representing the blood of Christ shed at Calvary.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
St Mary's has a special feel about it. If that is what heaven is like, I'd say its here. Once in, you feel like you don't want to leave. It wraps itself round you like a warm blanket, snug and comforting.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The chalice had only begun its circuit of the communicants when it was dropped. I looked on aghast. There was a short pause where you don't know whatll happen next. Uncle Fester retrieved the chalice from the floor and dabbed at the carpet with the purificator. Unfortunately, Jesus had been stood on. Richard Burton had to consecrate some more wine quickly. I had a look afterwards and you could see the stain, the same colour as the carpet; it resembled the shape of a peacock.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Standing there with my mind in neutral, looking at a shepherd masquerading as Joseph in the crib, I heard a voice behind me: "Are you coming in to coffee?" There are mince pies with brandy butter. Now if there's one thing I'm partial to, it's brandy butter.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were hot tea and coffee served in cups, warmed mince pies, biscuits, and juice for the children. The milk had run out but we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless. I brought two mince pies home with me for later. The brandy butter had melted into them.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – An excellent church with homely, friendly people – and Rainbows!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, very glad. But I felt sorry for the server and the chalice mishap. I wonder how often this happens at holy communion?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Those Christingles, and the Rainbows carrying out their banner at the end of the service.