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1598: St James, Scarborough, England
St James, Scarborough, England
Mystery Worshipper: St Hilda.
The church: St James, Scarborough, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of York.
The building: The church dates from the 1880s when it was built with the aim of serving as a mission chapel for All Saints Church nearby. Eventually All Saints closed in the 1980s and St James was reconsecrated as the parish church. Both inside and out, the church is a red brick building with Gothic Revival touches and some decent stained glass windows. By far the best bit is the unusual tower (see photograph). The church is by a busy main road outside the centre of Scarborough and occupies a roughly triangular site that includes the church hall and vicarage, and some small areas of greenery but, alas no car parking space.
The church: The church has two services each Sunday varying among holy communion, morning worship and all age worship. There are children's groups during morning service, unless there is all age worship. They also sponsor house groups. At the service I attended, most of the congregation were in their 40s or over, though there were a few children attending. However, it was a holiday month, and this may have affected the make-up of the congregation. The church's activities are not restricted to worship. The church made a decision a few years ago to find ways they could become more relevant to the local community, and fulfil the church's original aim of mission. As a result, they have launched their hall and undercroft as a local arts centre and have sliced off the back of their hall which is now the Cockleshell Cafe, which is open to the public every weekday and also exhibits art works. They hold an early morning service every Wednesday in the café, and some evening services are held in more informal settings such as a local nursing home.
The neighbourhood: Scarborough is a popular Yorkshire coast seaside resort, full of holidaymakers and daytrippers at this time of year. Many come year after year, especially those with anti-freeze in the blood, to counter the seriously bracing winds off the North Sea, and those of incurably optimistic dispositions, who believe the sea fret (fog) will definitely lift by lunchtime.
The cast: The service was led by Jeannette White, licensed reader, and the preacher was the Revd Phil White, priest in charge.
The date & time: 3 August 2008, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Morning Worship.

How full was the building?
About a third full – approximately 40 worshippers scattered around the pews. I wondered, as Scarborough has many tourists at this time of the year, if there would be many visitors. However, I rather think I was the only one.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A friendly couple handed me a service booklet and notice sheet as I entered.

Was your pew comfortable?
I've sat in worse. It was a pretty standard pew, no cushions or anything.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Fairly quiet, though some people were chatting, so not really worshipful. However, about five minutes before the service began, the worship group launched into two songs, which did make for a more reverential atmosphere.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Morning, everybody."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A service booklet entitled St James Sunday Morning Worship. The hymn book was Complete Mission Praise and there were also pew Bibles – New International version, I think.

What musical instruments were played?
Keyboards or organ as appropriate to the worship style. There was also a small group of singers to lead worship.

Did anything distract you?
The way people kept going in and out of the vestry. It seemed necessary to do this in the course of just about every other activity in the church, e.g. lighting candles, doing a reading. The priest even popped into the vestry during his sermon to adjust the PA system.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship followed one of the modern forms of Anglican liturgy as printed in the church's service sheet. There were candles and the clergy were robed, but not much outward ceremony otherwise. There was a mixture of traditional and more modern songs, and the singing was led by an enthusiastic singing group (though sometimes they seemed to lose their way in the songs). The congregation seemed engaged but not very animated. As there was no all age worship or children's groups that morning, the service featured activities for the children, including a quiz about the Old Testament involving two teams of children and adults.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
27 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 – A strange mixture. His style was quite matey, but also seemed quite dispassionate. I think this is the only sermon I've ever been to where the preacher asked the question, "What happened in 722 BC?" of the congregation. This was with reference to a timeline he had put up on the overhead projector. I would like to thank the Revd Phil for his detailed sermon notes that were handed out at the end of the service.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was the last in a series on the Old Testament and was based around the book of Isaiah and entitled "Faith for the Future." By looking at the context and message of Isaiah, and concentrating on the "suffering servant"' passages of the book, he showed how Isaiah pointed towards the coming of Christ, who brings hope and expectation into the worst scenarios. This applies for us as well as historically.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sunshine pouring through the east window.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I just didn't feel close to God during the service. I think it was something to do with this being an Anglican morning worship service, which I'd forgotten how much I hate.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After a few minutes, one of the congregation came over and asked if I was visiting, etc. She very kindly gave me lots of information about the church, took me to have a drink, and showed me the church's facilities, including the undercroft.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The after-service drinks were in the Cockleshell Cafe. All tea and coffee were fairly traded; decaf was also available. They were served in cups, piping hot and accompanied by home-made cake. Basically 10/10 for this.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – I love what this church is doing with regard to community outreach, and I hope to visit the Cockleshell Cafe for a meal one day, but the worship did nothing for me.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The service didn't, but the other stuff did.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Not to go to another Anglican morning worship service.
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