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541: St Mary at Whitkirk, Leeds, England
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St Mary at Whitkirk, Leeds, UK
Mystery Worshipper: Chapelhead.
The church: St Mary at Whitkirk, Leeds, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: A mainly 15th century, brown stone building, with a dour and heavy appearance. Inside it is largely painted white with an oak ceiling, gilt corbels and Victorian stained glass, giving a pleasant, light feeling. Unusually, the choir stalls are behind the congregation's pews.
The church: Adjacent to the church building there is the car park and church hall. This has a stage and licensed bar staffed by volunteers from the church. The hall is heavily used, with five or six bookings in a single day being not unusual. Next to the hall and away from the road is a grassed area which is safe for children to play on.
The neighbourhood: The neighbourhood is a residential area on the outskirts of Leeds with a mixed range of housing.
The cast: Although it was not given I later learned that the priest leading the service was Rev. Ian Black, recently inducted as the vicar of the parish.
What was the name of the service?
Family Service. This is probably the least typical of the services offered: 8.00am BCP communion; 9.30am Common Worship communion (with smells); 11.00am family service (a communion service once a month) and 6.30pm evensong. There are also four mid-week eucharists and evening prayer daily Tuesday to Saturday.

How full was the building?
About 40 adults and 25 children. The main area of pews was about one-third full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The post-service coffee for the 9.30am service also acts as pre-service coffee for the 11.00am service. I arrived about 10.30am and (wandering into the hall to find the loo) was approached by one of the congregation who told me about the services and invited me to have a coffee. On the way into the church I was handed a service sheet and hymn-book with a "Good morning".

Was your pew comfortable?
Standard wooden pews, with long padded wooden kneelers. The pews seemed quite close together so kneeling tended to be of the "perch your bum on the edge of the pew" variety, but they were comfortable enough.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Heavy with the smell of incense from the previous service. There was some chatting among the congregation and the instrumentalist and singers seemed to be in full swing, so it was quite loud.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning." Response: "Good morning."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A service sheet (which included the full text of the bible reading) and "Hymns Old and New".

What musical instruments were played?
An electronic keyboard of some type, with a small group of young people leading the singing.

Did anything distract you?
Not surprisingly, given the nature of the service and the number of children present, there was quite a lot of noise. The church provides alternatives for those who prefer quieter (or simply different) services.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Lively songs with some use of actions, in an informal atmosphere. The church is clearly quite high in liturgical tradition and this is probably the least typical of its normal round of services. This was reflected in the reserved nature of the congregational singing – the children made plenty of noise, the adults seemed a little reluctant to join in.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
Eight minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 The sermon was delivered in a conversational style, with the preacher sometimes on the chancel step and sometimes walking between the blocks of pews as he engaged with members of the congregation. He seemed entirely comfortable with the informal nature of the service, including the delightful little girl who unexpectedly joined him on the chancel step to demonstrate just how much noise one can make by banging two tambourines together. He referred occasionally to his notes but was fluid and ad-libbed to things going on around him. A well-delivered talk, but a more definite "wrapping up" after we had played the game of patting the balloon around the nave would have been helpful.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It is the spirit (breath) of God that gives us life.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I am not a children person, but it was good to see so many children (including many who were very young) enjoying themselves in a service. It was also good to see a local church that clearly acts as a social as well as a religious centre for its community, as demonstrated by the number of activities and services listed on the notice sheet.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It was all somewhat too loud for my taste, but I am not someone who would normally attend this type of service.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Rev. Ian Head, the curate, approached me and said that he did not recognise me. I told him I was a visitor and he invited me to coffee in the hall, where I fell in to conversation with the member of the congregation I had spoken to before the service.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Tea, coffee or squash. The coffee was a little weak for my taste, but the biscuits were nice.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 This church clearly has strong links with the local community and is very active. If I lived locally I would strongly consider worshipping here (although not, I admit, for the family service). A visit to this church for one of the more formal services (which might also give a chance to hear the choir) would be worthwhile.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. Not my type of service, but clearly here is an active church with a strong liturgical tradition which involves a wide range of people in its varied activities. There is much to commend this strong community.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The little girl with the tambourines.
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