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  1441: St Faith and St Laurence, Harborne, Birmingham, England

St Faith and St Laurence, Harborne, Birmingham

Mystery Worshipper: Tartuffe.
The church: St Faith and St Laurence, Harborne, Birmingham, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: The parish was formed in 1933 when two mission churches joined forces. The building was begun in 1936 but was not completely finished until 1960. It's a red brick structure with an imposing front and exquisite stained glass in a variety of styles and by various designers. Nikolaus Pevsner in his Buildings of England (1966) described the interior as "especially successful, and the proportions are very pleasant." It feels quite intimate, with white walls and dark brown spiderweb-like ribbing and shiny wooden pews.
The church: They support missions in Sri Lanka and Chile and are active both in Churches Together and the Edgborne Group of Churches. Several social events such as Family Fun Day, Party in the Park and the Harvest Festival are held at various times throughout the year. They offer two morning services each Sunday as well as an evening service (sung eucharist or choral evensong in alternating weeks), holy communion on Wednesdays, and morning prayer each weekday except Fridays.
The neighbourhood: Harborne is a very pleasant suburb of Birmingham and features the Birmingham Botanical Garden as well as a fine selection of pubs and restaurants. The most unusual thing about the area is that it feels very comfortable – like typical England, going along in a quiet, polite way.
The cast: The Revd Priscilla White, priest in charge.
The date & time: Pentecost Sunday, 27 May 2007, 8.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Communion.

How full was the building?
There was a scattering of worshippers around the church totaling about eight.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was welcomed and handed the necessary papers for the service by a smiling woman who told me how the service worked. I think she was a little taken aback by the fact that I was dripping due to the torrential rain outside.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was a traditional but comfortable one and looked newly polished. It was nice to come to a church where the pews were nicely spaced, giving plenty of room for those of us with longer legs!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
As this was an early service, the church was quiet save for the pounding rain, and very reflective. In a way, as it was so empty, I felt quite alone despite the other worshippers.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." This was followed by a brief welcome and mention of the fact that it was Pentecost Sunday.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
There was an in-house publication: Parish Church of St Faith and St Laurence, Harborne, Order of Service for Holy Communion and the parish newsletter, which contained the collects. The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, was at the end of my pew.

What musical instruments were played?
There was no music.

Did anything distract you?
The rain dripping off me had permeated everything – the booklets, the floor, my glasses – and threatened to put me out of the mood for worship. The sound of the rain outside made me think about the walk back and how much wetter I was going to be. During the service, I was distracted by the chap opposite me as I tried to work out if he was wearing a dog collar (I think he was, but I also think he was disturbed by my staring!). Also, there was a lamp hanging from the ceiling that looked like a huge, red golf ball. It was so low I wondered if I would hit my head on it when I went forward for communion (I didn't!).

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This was a simple, traditional service, reflective and fairly middle-of-the-road. There were some imaginative touches, especially in the intercessions, where the responses seemed more personal than the standard ones.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
7 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – This was a thoughtful if not rousing sermon.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The Holy Spirit gives us power, presence and potential. The Holy Spirit is open to all, and we have to wonder if we are ready for our potential to be released.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The eucharist itself was very moving due to its simplicity and the feeling of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I had missed it when I arrived (perhaps I mistook it for a bucket set out to collect the rainwater), but the collection plate was resting on a table in the middle of the aisle. Later, when I saw it being carried forward, I realised that I had lost the opportunity to deposit not only my offering but also my Mystery Worship calling card. Fortunately, the plate was returned to the back of the church afterwards, so I deposited both as I left.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was greeted by the priest in charge, who made me feel very welcome and insisted I take a parish magazine with me.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no coffee as this was such an early service.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I would want to attend the later service, as this one felt just a bit too small to provide the support I would like and to allow me to become involved.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, because it reminded me of the simplicity of the eucharist and the power of the Spirit.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The warmth and friendliness of the priest in charge. That and the big red golf ball.
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