|Comment on this report, or find other reports.
|Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you'd like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.
|Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.
||1391: St Bernadette, Allerton, Liverpool, England
Mystery Worshipper: Robertus Liverpolitanae.
The church: St Bernadette's, Allerton, Liverpool, England.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: Compact church built of soft brown coloured bricks,
looking very neat and proper on its corner site. The parish was founded
in the 1930s and the exterior has a vaguely art deco look. The interior
is surprisingly austere for a Roman Catholic church. The windows are high
and contain only small roundels of stained glass. The walls are painted
white. The main feature is a great, elegant baldacchino on slim copper pillars
over the high altar and tabernacle. Overall the interior is mostly a refreshing
change from the more common Gothic churches stuffed with pietistic tat.
The church: The noticeboards reveal a number of activities going
on in the parish. There appear to be few parishoners from ethnic backgrounds.
The parish shares a primary school with a neighbouring parish and there
is a large high school nearby which serves all the Catholic parishes in
south Liverpool. The people obviously care about their church, as the newsletter
contained a profuse thank-you from the parish priest, who, having asked
for money to repair the heating system, found the funds given generously
The neighbourhood: Allerton remains a green and leafy suburb of Liverpool.
It is a largely middle-class and prosperous neighbourhood. The parish does
have less well-off areas with the usual urban social problems, but there
are few areas of social housing in the parish. It would confound those who
like to apply the term Scallyland (used to describe areas frequented by
uncouth persons of few social graces) to all of Liverpool.
The cast: The Rev. Joseph Keller, parish priest, was the celebrant
The date & time: Sunday, 11 February 2007, 10.30am.
What was the name of the service?
Solemn Mass for the sixth Sunday of the year.
How full was the building?
By the time that mass started, I would estimate that it was about two-thirds
full, between 100 to 120 worshippers.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Sadly not. I arrived about 15 minutes before the service began, but there
was no sign of anybody on greeting duty. I helped myself to missal, hymn
book and newsletter. The newsletter carried the legend: "St Bernadette's,
Allerton. 'Turning Strangers into Friends.'" But no one greeted this
stranger! During the peace, though, there were lots of firm, friendly handshakes
and big smiles.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, both for sitting and kneeling.
How would you describe the pre-service
When I arrived there were about 20 people already inside. Some were talking
quietly, others just sitting or kneeling, presumably in prayer. The organ
started playing about 10 minutes before the service began, and one or two
members of the choir were to be heard warming up. The congregation began
to swell about five minutes from kick-off. The last person to arrive seemed
to have been one of the altar boys, who ran down the side aisle and into
the sacristy moments before mass began.
What were the exact opening words of the
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
What books did the congregation use during the
The Sunday Missal and Liturgical Hymns Old and New.
What musical instruments were played?
A well played organ was the only instrument. There was a choir, which consisted
only of female voices. Both choir and organ were situated in a loft at the
west end of the church. The choir, shall we say, had some issues (of which
Did anything distract you?
Just a few things! The church architecture, as mentioned above, is deliberately
austere, but the sanctuary was cluttered with unnecessary furnishings (see
photo). The sight lines were obscured by a movable font, pascal candle,
a small lectern directly in front of the altar which served no purpose in
this service, two large chairs and three stools directly in front of the
altar. I wasn't sure why two chairs were required, as the parish priest
is the only cleric attached to the parish. The altar severs were ill matched,
one being much taller than the other. Further, the taller boy wore a cassock-alb
while the younger wore cassock and cotta. I was glad to note that the younger
server upheld a tradition in vogue when I served at mass in this church
more that 20 years ago: shortest possible cassock, longest possible cotta.
We got extra points if we managed to get out into the sanctuary with a cotta
longer than the cassock.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Overall the worship was solemn, but simple. As the mass began, children
were invited to adjourn to "little church" (Sunday school). They
dutifully trotted off and reappeared at the offertory, joining their parents
for the remainder of the service. Fr Keller celebrated mass with a reverence
that avoided being either overly pious or routinely dull. He chanted all
of the appropriate parts in a pleasant voice with only a few minor errors
during the preface. Incense was used appropriately. With only two servers,
some ceremonies, such a full gospel procession, could not be carried out.
A lay reader read both lessons in a good clear voice. There was an offertory
procession. A number of eucharistic ministers assisted with the distribution
of communion; they received the Precious Blood via intinction, which is
unusual in a Roman Catholic church.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 Fr Keller appeared not to be a natural orator, and read his sermon
from notes, but he was an effective enough preacher.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
Father preached on the day's gospel reading, the Beatitutes (Luke 6:17,
20-26), with references to Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, Cardinal
Newman and, somewhat surprisingly, Cockney punk rock protest singer Billy
Bragg. Modern society, and particularly youth culture, is in the thrall
of a money-obsessed celebrity lifestyle. Superficial material possessions
may provide us with security and happiness, but in the process they rob
us of really experiencing the world. This affects younger people more, as
they go to their gadget-filled bedrooms and lose any sense of community
or interaction with their peers and elders. The Beatitudes give us a radically
different approach to how to live. In the past, experiments in an alternative
social order, such as the Diggers in the aftermath of the English Civil
War, were quickly stamped out as a threat to those in power. (This is where
the reference to Billy Bragg came in, as his song "The World Turned
Upside Down" is about the Diggers.) Basically wealth has made us poorer.
Things were so much better a few generations ago, when there was no crime.
(Here the sermon deteriorated into a rant against the "wretched"
Government, for which I deducted one point from his score.)
Which part of the service was like being in
It was nice to see so many children in church, and all so well behaved.
Fr Keller, although by no means a natural comedian, attempted to engage
the children during the announcements with a joke. I liked the solemn simplicity
of this celebration. There was a palpable community atmosphere which became
even stronger at the end of mass, when we were asked to pray for the sick
and housebound of the parish while Fr Keller gave pyxes to three of the
eucharistic ministers. The ministers then left the church via the central
aisle to take holy communion to those unable to attend mass. I found this
a touching ceremony – if only there had been two acolytes with lights
to lead them to the church door. And blessedly, this is the only church
I've been to recently with no latecomers!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Only one, but an important one: the music. Some of the music was just plain
bad! Except for the Kyrie, which was sung in Greek to a proper chant setting,
the remainder of the service music was sung in English in what might be
called a folk idiom. Now religious folk music is OK in its place, but that
place is somewhere back around 1975. The Agnus Dei was so ridiculously jaunty
and silly that it almost made me laugh out loud. The hymns were well chosen
as far as the words were concerned, but musically they were less successful.
The congregation began each hymn with gusto, but as the line rose, more
and more people dropped out so that in the end almost nobody was singing
other than the choir. Indeed, at points the tessitura was too high even
for the choir, and there were some very unpleasant cracking voices. The
choir did sing a nice offertory anthem, though, with a pleasant Celtic lilt
to it, and varied their dynamics in an intelligently musical way. My advice
as a trained musician? Dump the folk and concentrate on the plainchant.
And try hard to recruit some male voices.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A few smiles, but nothing else.
How would you describe the after-service
Sadly, none offered. Looking once more at the newsletter, I saw the following
quotation from the Catholic Bishops' Conference publication "Celebrating
the Mass:" "The idea of strangers gathering for eucharist, and
remaining strangers thereafter, does not sit easily with the Gospel message."
Theory and practice seem to be at odds here.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 Twenty years ago or so, this was my parish church. I would quite
happily come back if I didn't live about 200 miles further south. This parish
has many things going for it and lots of potential.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes, I was glad to have been at this mass.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Despite the overwhelming positive impression, the thing I'll remember is
the awful music.
|We rely on voluntary donations to stay online. If you're a regular visitor to Ship of Fools, please consider supporting us.
|The Mystery Pilgrim
| One of our most seasoned reporters makes the Camino pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Read here.
| Read reports from 70 London churches, visited by a small army of Mystery Worshippers on one single Sunday. Read here.