|822: St Mary's, Upton, Wirral, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Joe Nah.
The church: St Mary's Parish Church, Upton, Wirral, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Victorian, built in 1868 on the site of a former church. More attractive inside than out. There are grilles on the windows, presumably as an anti-vandal measure.
The church: St Mary's also has a sister church, The Centre, which was planted in 1976 and holds one service every Sunday. Young people meet in an old bank known as The Bank. The church appears to have a flourishing youth and childrens' work.
The neighbourhood: Upton Village is a largely residential area of some 12,000 inhabitants.
The cast: The vicar, Rev. Rob Shimwell, and a lady lay reader, name unknown.
What was the name of the service?
11.00am Morning Worship. There is also a 9.00am service of Holy Communion, and Evening Praise is at 6.30pm.
How full was the building?
There were about 120 people present, leaving at least one third of the seats empty. Children and young people were being catered for separately. The website states that St Mary's has 600 members of "all shapes and sizes".
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. There were several official greeters on the front door and they did an excellent job. They identified us as visitors and expressed interest in who we were, where we were from and why we were visiting St Mary's. We also received a warm welcome from the two ladies sitting in front of us.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. All the pews were equipped with cushions.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Musicians warming up quietly and a buzz of chatter.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, and a really warm welcome to you."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
St Mary's Services from Common Worship, and the New International Version of the Bible. Words to hymns and worship songs were displayed on a central screen, courtesy of Powerpoint.
What musical instruments were played?
Piano, guitar and I thought I detected a flute.
Did anything distract you?
Children started to filter into the building towards the end of the service for the notices. Parents were turning around trying to see where their offspring were. The whole process seemed to take forever.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It felt like it should have been happy clappy, but given the size of the congregation, the singing seemed far too quiet and subdued.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
22 minutes, including the Bible reading, which came part way through the sermon.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 The sermon didn't really seem to be a sermon, more a motivational talk.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The vision for St Mary's and the community outside the church. Rev Shimwell told the congregation that the prodigal son should be the basis of everything they do. The whole story of the prodigal son is built around the life and love of a family, although the mother doesn't get a mention. St Mary's needs to nurture the family and the extended family outside in the community where the church has to share the love of God the Father.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
There was an incredible sense of God's presence throughout the service. God was most definitely there.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The extended notices at the end of the service with the participation of various people. This section of the service seemed to go on and on and on and on, without clear direction or purpose.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing. Nobody spoke to us. We seemed to have become completely invisible. We loitered in various places for over 10 minutes and not one person spoke to us. Most people seemed to head for friends and stood around in cliquey groups. This was extremely disappointing after the welcome we received when we arrived.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
We did get to the hall where coffee was being served, but having been ignored for 10 minutes decided not to join the queue for coffee, although it would have given one person from the church the opportunity of talking to us.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 this is an average. 10 out of 10 at the beginning of the service, 9 thoughout, dropping to a 3 or less after the service due to the isolation we felt by being totally ignored.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes but the after service hanging about did not.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
God's presence during the service.