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198: St James, Chorley, Lancashire, England
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St James, Chorley, Lancashire, England
Mystery Worshipper: Woody Slim.
The church: St James, Chorley, Lancashire, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Attractive traditional stone church, with an interior that is a blend of traditional and modern. It is carpeted throughout and all the stonework is painted a fetching shade of pink. I particularly liked the huge crown of thorns suspended from the ceiling, although it did mean I spent a good chunk of the sermon wondering if it might fall on the vicar, as he was standing right beneath it!
The neighbourhood: The church is situated at the top of a road of terraced houses just outside the centre of the town. There is, however, a laundrette right next to the church which must make washing all the robes a bit easier.
The cast: Convening, Sylvia Bouskill; worship leader, Susan Witts; preacher, Rev. George Thomas.
What was the name of the service?
Morning Praise.

How full was the building?
About half full. The church could probably seat about 150-200 when it's full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I got a cheery "Good morning!" at the door and another one when I was given my hefty pile of songbooks.

Was your pew comfortable?
It wasn't too bad at all. There was something that looked suspiciously like a rug to sit on, and there was nothing to kneel on except a rather uncomfortable looking fold-down wooden bar. On the plus side, there was plenty of room to store errant songbooks or service sheets – of which there were many.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Low mumble as people chatted with those nearest them.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning everyone. We're a little thin on the ground this morning."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Mission Praise 1 & 2, the church's own songbook which was A4 and about half an inch thick, and a service booklet which appeared to be a slightly modified version of the standard Anglican service. There were also Good News Bibles in the pews.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ and synth.

Did anything distract you?
There was a group of elderly ladies in the pew in front of me and during the prayer time one of them commented to her neighbour in a stage whisper loud enough for half the church to hear: "We'll probably be here till tea time." I found this so amusing that I had to concentrate on keeping a straight face for about 10 mins.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a blend of traditional and modern as evidenced by the use of both synth and organ (played by the same lady). For example, we sang the hymn, "My song is love unknown" and then followed it with the chorus "I Will Worship". There were a few people waving their hands in the air, including the vicar.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
24 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9. This was the vicar's second Sunday back from sabbatical and he was clearly relishing being in the pulpit. He shared his message with energy and enthusiasm. The sermon was very straightforward but there was plenty to get your teeth into.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Based on 1 John 3:3-18, it was titled, "Three Steps to Delirious Joy"! It talked about the importance of obeying God's commands; the need to be aware of the state of our conscience (whether it needed softening so that God could prick it, or whether it was far too sensitive and needed to be toughened up a bit); and finally the need to be confident in our relationship with God.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
There was a wonderful sense of peace throughout the service, but particularly during the worship and prayer time when the vicar very simply asked whether people wanted to come forward for prayer. This wasn't drawn out or sensationalised – people were quietly prayed for. It's really refreshing to see a church that not only uses liturgy, but retains the freedom to step outside it for a time.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The amount of books we had to use. Sometimes even the people up front appeared confused by which songbook to use next! It might have been an idea to use just one songbook, or an overhead projector.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A couple of people said hello and I had a brief chat with the vicar. Everyone seemed friendly, but not effusively so – which came as a bit of a relief.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
A nice cup of tea in a proper cup. Unfortunately, there were no biscuits, which was a bit disappointing.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8. If I was living in this area, I would definitely consider this church. It seems to be healthy and growing despite the sparse attendance when I was there.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes it did. I felt built up by the sermon particularly. As an Anglican myself I felt encouraged by the service and by the church in general.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I'll remember the elderly lady sitting in front of me.
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