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2151: St Peter and St Paul, New Brighton, England
St Peter & St Paul New Brighton (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Torold.
The church: St Peter and St Paul, New Brighton, England.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Diocese of Shrewsbury.
The building: A well-known landmark, the "Dome of Home", a cathedral-like domed building dating from the early 1930s and standing high above the River Mersey opposite the Liverpool shoreline, and which got its name from sailors returning to their Scouse homes. At present the main body of the church is closed and mass is celebrated in the day chapel, formerly the priests' vestry, newly refurbished and plainly decorated in light colours. The entrance is round the back of the huge church, up a ramp and through a side room. However (and this is the exciting bit!) there are plans in the pipeline to revamp and use the whole of the building. An organisation called Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, a society of apostolic life that specialises in administering parishes and schools that have closed or are in danger of closing, is currently negotiating with the the new bishop of Shrewsbury, the Rt Revd Mark Davies, to have services resume in the main sanctuary.
The church: St Peter and St Paul was threatened with closure in 2008, but a self-help group SOUL (Save Our Unique Landmark) was set up to pinpoint the importance of this fine local iconic landmark. Even so, in August 2008 it did close despite pleas from the congregation. But at length the prayerful persistence of the SOUL group paid off and the church was partially reopened in March 2011.
The neighbourhood: New Brighton is a seaside resort in the town of Wallasey on the peninsula called the Wirral. For decades New Brighton was a thriving holiday destination for many Merseyside people. Good rail and bus links, and at one time a direct river ferry crossing to Liverpool, ensured its popularity. In 1974 the pier closed and was dismantled. The swimming baths have also gone now but there is currently a building programme in progress – a sport and leisure facility, a boutique hotel, and much more.
The cast: The Revd Philip Moor, celebrant and preacher, recently appointed to the newly created parish of Apostles and Martyrs in Wallasey.
The date & time: Friday, 4 March 2011, 9.00am – the first service since the church's closure over two years ago.

What was the name of the service?
Mass.

How full was the building?
Full to overflowing! Up to 150 inside (a space that seats only 45) and approximately 50 outside. A crowd of people, including teachers from the primary school adjacent to the church, school caretaker, local town councilors, mothers and children, all smiling and welcoming. Many were supporters from parishes in the local area and beyond.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were welcomed on arrival with a parish news sheet.

Was your pew comfortable?
I had to stand throughout because of sheer numbers, but the pews (fetched from a church in Shropshire) looked comfortable enough.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet on arrival. But gradually, as the day chapel filled, conversation levels grew into animated chatter, a hubbub of expectancy. A good-humoured atmosphere but also dignified, especially when the priest was about to enter.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"A very warm welcome to you all on this great occasion."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None.

What musical instruments were played?
None.

Did anything distract you?
Because it was full, I was conscious of being jostled like at a crowded football match at times, and also of having to clear the way for the celebrant to get past to administer communion.

St Peter & St Paul New Brighton (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Rapturous, capturing the spirit of the moment and the feel of the occasion. The mass was simple, said with great feeling, not rushed or gabbled. Though solemn in the right parts, it was cheerful and fairly informal. Everyone was in party mood. The day chapel was bursting at the seams, but a bit of free space enabled three small children to amuse themselves quietly for most of the time.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
8 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Enthusiastic, ebullient and "right there" with the congregation, saying what they wanted to hear. The priest received a round of applause at the conclusion of the homily and another at the end of the service.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
This is the beginning of an exciting time for the people of Wallasey and for the diocese. It will send out a message that the Roman Catholic Church is alive in this part of England, looking forward with confidence and faith and hope for the future.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The air of quiet dignity and solemnity with which the priest and eucharistic ministers filtered their way through the mass of people during the communion distribution.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Being very tightly packed into a relatively small space! The windows were beaded over with condensation from people's breaths.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Having got into the chapel, it was difficult to get out without stopping for a quick conversation with everyone in there. Outside, television cameras and the local press were busy interviewing members of the congregation. I chatted to one of the local councilors and members of the action group SOUL One lady had her arm round the shoulders of the priest.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I was invited to a house locally where one of the SOUL activists lives and was given tea, biscuits and cake in her very pretty front room. The tea was very hot.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – It is a fair distance from where I live, but I would consider it.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, without any doubt.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The little children playing happily under the altar as Father Philip celebrated the holy mysteries.
 
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