|464: St Thomas the Apostle, Heaton Chapel, Stockport, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: The Irregular.
The church: St Thomas the Apostle, Heaton Chapel, Stockport, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Hidden inside a fairly nondescript exterior is a rather wonderful worship area. The overwhelming feeling is of fresh, bright, open space, simply decorated. It felt very welcoming as I stepped into the main church from the deceptively scruffy-looking entrance way.
The neighbourhood: Heaton Chapel is situated on the Stockport side of the metropolitan boundary with Manchester. The area appeared to be a fairly typical Manchester/Stockport suburb; just far enough out from either centre to have left the rows of terraces behind for predominantly semi-detached and detached properties. The church itself is on the main A6, just along from the McVities factory (mmmm... smell those biccies baking!).
The cast: A priest, who I presume was Father Peter, led the service, preached and celebrated communion. Various members of the congregation participated in the service: reading the lessons, leading the intercession and assisting at the altar.
What was the name of the service?
10.00am Parish Communion, Feast of the Epiphany.
How full was the building?
Started off just over a third full, but filled to almost two-thirds full once the Sunday School joined us for communion.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Handshake and hello at the door. During the Peace, one member of the congregation asked if this was my first time, and was interested to know where I was from.
Was your pew comfortable?
The wooden chairs were surprisingly comfortable (but then it was a relatively short service). My only complaint is that there was nowhere to put your hymnbook.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was generally quite quiet. A few people chatted and no one seemed to mind as people drifted in a bit late. The general atmosphere felt friendly and welcoming.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Ancient and Modern and a Common Worship leaflet. The collect and readings (NRSV version) were printed inside the service sheet and the hymn numbers and specific acclamations and responses were to be found on the front. The necessary skipping from source to source and page to page unannounced would, I suspect, be a little excluding if you weren't familiar with the order of service.
What musical instruments were played?
The organ was played well throughout including as an accompaniment to the singing of "Happy Birthday" to two members of the congregation!
Did anything distract you?
It was really nice to see the children come in to join us from the Sunday School, but proceedings were not paused at all to welcome them in and allow them to get to their seats. As a result, the kids and helpers could not help but cause a bit of a distraction as they made their way along rows to their seats.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was fairly straightforward high-ish Church of England stuff: hymn-singing, smells and bells. It was all very accessible (once you found the right sheet/book!) and the readings were particularly well done.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Exactly 10 minutes it was to the point, with no window dressing, but not lacking in depth.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 The sermon was obviously well prepared, with the issue considered from a current-day perspective but also linked into church tradition.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The role of the Magi and the contrasting stance on astrology and associated arts in the rest of the gospel. Diverse views on the subject were considered. The concluding thought was that we should be wary of equating church with kingdomâ and that perhaps the Epiphany story is an example of Pagans finding Christ through nature's revelation.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sermon was a definite high point in my book well structured and put across in a simple, straightforward manner, without fuss or ceremony.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The 10.00am start do these people not realize that Sunday morning comes hot on the heels of Saturday night? It could also explain the apparent lack of anyone in the 18-30 age bracket...
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Several people said hello and the friendly guy who spoke to me in the Peace came over to chat for a short while. Despite overhearing mention of coffee in other people's conversations, I had to hang around for a good few minutes looking lost before the greeter came over to tell me there was coffee in the "school around the back".
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Unfortunately, the "around the back" description turned out to be a little too vague. I hung around looking lost again, hoping to find someone to follow, but the steady stream of people leaving the church building all seemed to be getting off home. Eventually shyness got the better of me and the thought of heading home for a late breakfast won out against the alternatives of going back in and pathetically asking for better directions or continuing to stand around like an idiot on a cold Manchester street. Besides, the coffee can't have been that good given the number of people rushing straight home...
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 The sermon and readings were really uplifting and thought-provoking and the atmosphere welcoming. However the lack of people of my age and the absence of any obvious signs of external community involvement would concern me if I were thinking of becoming a regular. All in all, it probably wouldn't be enough to induce a late night person like myself to get up for 10.00am every Sunday.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It did indeed. It felt really good to be able to just walk through the doors and be welcomed and accepted into their worshipping community. I may just have been passing through, but it's good to know that they're there.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
An engaging sermon that managed seamlessly to reference Ignatius, the Venerable Bede and Kirkegaard, alongside Russell Grant and Harry Potter! Impressive!