|293: St Agnes & St Pancras, Toxteth Park, Liverpool|
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Mystery Worshipper: Johnny Tambourine.
The church: The Parish Church of St Agnes and St Pancras, Toxteth Park, Liverpool.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: The exterior is rather hefty and red-brick, which is fitting with its being built on Merseyside at the end of the Victorian era. Strangely, it resembles the Unitarian church two blocks along. The interior (to my uneducated eye) looks rather different: Norman, with soft marble, light stone and a few lovely tapestries. No Union Jacks or para-military flags to be seen. It warranted a mention in
The church: Rather wonderfully, the church has experienced growth of about 50 per cent in two years (as measured by attendance at Sunday morning services). Fr. Webb is a young chap who sounds as if he does his pastoral work intensely.
The neighbourhood: Three massive churches (Anglican, Roman Catholic and Unitarian) on one street make it rather unusual. Something of a leafy haven, the surrounding area seems to fit oddly between the student area of Smithdown Road, scruffy Toxteth and Sefton Park (a massive Victorian experiment in landscaping).
The cast: Fr. Stephen Webb SSC (in robes) celebrated, and he was ably assisted by Barney, who also wore robes, which I found rather confusing. Fr. Webb is quite young and I almost thought he was on work experience! Barney was really useful, in that he used his loud voice to remind the congregation when to say their bits. (I needed this as I was rather confused by the fact that the service started at the back of the booklet.)
What was the name of the service?
Mass (Ash Wednesday).
How full was the building?
There were only six of us in a side chapel, but that was a comfortable number as it wasn't particularly cavernous.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Annoyingly, I arrived just as Fr. Webb and Barney had started the service, so it would have been indecorous for anyone to welcome me. The two young ladies hanging round in the church's porch as I walked in were (disappointingly) not going to the service.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, although the chairs were a bit too close for me to kneel without getting hideous cramps in my leg.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Regretfully, I can't really say, although I imagine it was quiet: they didn't look a rowdy crowd.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"The angel of the Lord came to Mary and she conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit" (from the Angelus).
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Just the church service book, the contents of which appeared to be lifted from the Roman Missal.
What musical instruments were played?
None were played.
Did anything distract you?
Wondering whether the rucksack I laid down in the corner would topple over and knock down one of the statues of Mary and Jesus.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship consisted entirely of spoken liturgy and spoken response. I'm seeing this in an increasing number of services and find a great deal of benefit from it: no embarrassing performances, no disputes over the hymns, no cheese. Just simplicity, which allowed a focus on the words and the sentiment behind them (i.e. repentence).
Exactly how long was the sermon?
I suppose I should call it a homily. Anyhow, it lasted five minutes.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 Fr. Webb had just come from a service at a school and I wondered whether he was still in that mode.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The Christian life is a continuous cycle, and this is demonstrated by the fact that the ash used on Ash Wednesday comes from the burning of the previous year's Palm Sunday crosses. At this time in the church calender we are called particularly to remember the need for repentence in our Christian lives.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Receiving the ash on my forehead. As this happened, Fr. Webb said, "From dust you come and to dust you shall return." I felt my own sinfulness, but not in a way that was crushing. It reminded me of the fact of Christ's death and therefore his extraordinary love.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Everyone looked rather embarrassed when we shared the Peace, for some reason. That felt odd, but not really hellish. Which circle of Hell did Dante put reticent Anglicans in?
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone seemed in a hurry to leave the church, but I fell into conversation with Fr. Webb who seemed a friendly and congenial chap. He looks older up close, so I worked out that he probably wasn't on work experience.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee?! This was Ash Wednesday, dammit! Don't you know your Church calender!
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 If I were not already committed to another church, I'd be very interested in exploring this one. To find a High Anglican Church which is actually growing is a rare and encouraging thing. Besides, this is probably about as Catholic one can get this side of the Reformation: handy for those Anglicans eager to go to Rome, but lacking John Henry Newman's (or Ann Widdecombe's) courage.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely. The modest requests for the intercessions of Mary and the Saints were a model of reasonable, sensible invocation.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That God has used our sinfulness to show how much he loves us.