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990: Sutton St James, Sutton Lanes End, Macclefield, Cheshire, England
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Sutton St James, Sutton Lanes End, Macclefield, Cheshire, England
Mystery Worshipper: Holy Stone.
The church: Sutton St James, Sutton Lanes End, near Macclefield, Cheshire, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: A traditional, small Victorian English Church perched on top of a hill in a little village. The inside is very pretty with nice stained glass windows. A fine, ironwork rood screen seperates the nave from the chancel. The inside of the building had been re-decorated two weeks prior to our visit. You could still smell the fresh paint.
The church: I was intrigued by the bi-weekly "pram service" advertised on the notice sheet. Unfortunately this was more about parent and toddler groups than repair and restortion of buggies.
The neighborhood: Arriving early, we thought we'd find a shop to get ourselves a sandwich for breakfast. We couldn't find one. I was informed there was a store tucked away somewhere – and that it didn't matter anyway as the parish has eight pubs within its boundaries. A fair trade-off if you ask me.
The cast: Rev. EWL "Taffy" Davies led the service, preached and presided over communion. Others read the lessons and led the intercessionary prayers.
What was the name of the service?
Family Communion.

How full was the building?
Mostly full, although enough spare places on the pews for visitors.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were the first ones to arrive at the church and lurked in the car park. We got cheery good mornings from all who passed on their way up to the church. When we entered the church, the warden came over and chatted to us for a while, and as we took our seat those around us all added their welcomes. The lady next to me even offered me a bag of toys in case I got bored during the service. I was tempted...

Was your pew comfortable?
Very. Nicely padded, with a decent angle on the backrest and a bar to put my feet up on.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Noisy. It reminded me more of a marketplace than a church just before a service. The bells were rung enthusistically, a few people prayed quietly, but most wandered around chatting noisily. People seemed genuinely happy to see each other – and us. There was a lot of laughing and smiling. I liked that.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to this morning's service of family communion..."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
We were handed an in-house, laminated service booklet (Common Worship liturgy), a hymn book and a service sheet containing more songs and the Bible readings. There were Bibles (New Revised Standard Version) in the pews.

What musical instruments were played?
Mostly just the organ. An electric keyboard was used for the children's song.

Did anything distract you?
The smell of new new paint relaxes me far too much. The chatting in the pews mostly stopped at the start of the service, but every now and then some people would decide they were bored and ask their neighbour how their geraniums were doing – or whatever it is that catches people's imagination round these parts.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Middle of the road Church of England. There were processions and robes together with a children's song with actions.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
Nine minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Short and sweet (the sermon, not the preacher). Rev. Taffy Davies was refreshingly honest, admitting he didn't know the answers and that he only worked on Sundays.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The raising of Lazarus and the mystery of death, especially the profound effect of Christ's own death. Death can be awful and painful, but somehow Christ can give us comfort and strength to help us through it.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choir's rendition of an Elgar piece was wonderful. Also, watching the choirmaster trying to coerce a group of children and the congregation to participate in the children's song was amazing. Her enthusiasm in a losing cause was an inspiration.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Despite the choirmaster's noble effort, the children's song just made me cringe, especially the 68th time through (it probably wasn't, but it felt like it). Rather than wanting to "jump for the Lord", as the song suggested I do, I wanted to "hide under the pew for the Lord".

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Most people filtered straight out, so we were quite conspicuous hanging around. Someone talked to us about how wonderful the children's song had been. Another told my companion that he was the spitting image of a friend of his, if only he'd shave his head. We were also complimented on our singing, which shows just how nice the people there are, as my vocal skills consist of warbles and screeches nowhere near what anyone else is singing. It made the whole trip worthwhile.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasn't any. Apparently, thay only do coffee once a month and we'd come on the wrong week.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I haven't felt as welcome in a new place for a long time. The people seemed genuinely happy to be in this building together on a Sunday morning, which was wonderful. However, the service was a little too nice, a bit twee. It didn't challenge me or my faith.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Definitely. The service itself was straight-down-the-line Anglican fare, mostly forgettable – but I'd be very glad to think all Christians could be as hospitable as these people.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Apart from being complimented on my singing, the enthusiastic choir leader stands out. She was great.
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