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2188: St Andrew's, West Kirby, Wirral, England
St Andrew West Kirby
Mystery Worshipper: Torold.
The church: St Andrew's, West Kirby, Wirral, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Chester.
The building: A large neo-Gothic Grade II listed red sandstone building. Noteworthy is the tower with short spire. The gloomy barn-like interior has plain furnishings. The east window was a gift of the Cain family of Cains Breweries. The colourful high altar reredos is very lovely and depicts figures of the saints in blue, red, green and gold. There are statues of Our Lady of Walsingham and the Madonna and Child. Wooden stations of the cross decorated the walls.
The church: Seaside High Church. Thy describe themselves as a modern Anglo-Catholic church with a friendly congregation. They have passed resolutions A, B and C – in other words, male clergy only and under the extended episcopal care of the Bishop of Beverley. They have facilities for disabled access and a children's play area.
The neighbourhood: Nice sandy beach with views across the River Dee to North Wales. Hilbre Island, a site of special scientific interest (i.e., a protected area), is accessible at low tide to those who wish to walk over the sands.
The cast: The Rt Revd Martyn Jarrett, Bishop of Beverley; the Rt Revd Keith Sinclair, Bishop of Birkenhead; the Venerable Dr Michael Gilbertson, Archdeacon of Chester; the Very Revd Gordon McPhate, Dean of Chester; also the rural dean and a dozen assorted local clergy and readers.
The date & time: 25 May 2011, 7.30pm.

What was the name of the service?
Institution and Commissioning of Father Peter Walsh as Parish Priest of St Andrew, West Kirby, and Bishops' Advisor in Ministerial Development Review.

How full was the building?
Mostly full, with seats available in the side aisles.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. I was greeted by a police woman outside (were they expecting a riot perhaps?). Once inside, I ran a veritable gauntlet of welcomers: a few boy scouts handing out orders of service; a group of parishioners asking, "Hello. Are you visiting? Are you with a party?" No formal handshakes but the greetings were genuine.

Was your pew comfortable?
No. We sat on wooden chairs, the usual church type, with a compartment in front for books. There were colourful tapestry kneelers in various designs.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Animated but subdued. As the church filled, the chatter grew but not so much as to drown out the organ.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The rural dean's opening words were distorted by a poor microphone link, but they were something like: "A warm welcome to you all, especially Father Peter and his family, our dignitaries, grrr grrr crackle crackle, and all of you."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Printed order of service.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ.

Did anything distract you?
Yes. The vicar's wife's wore a charming yellow outfit with matching hat. There was a strong whiff of perfume, almost as if someone had bathed in it. It pervaded the area around me and my neighbours. I was also intrigued by a small, simple statue of St George, and two giant painted icons standing on easels, one on each side of the nave, looking just like blackboards in old school films such as Good-bye, Mr Chips.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Middle of the road C of E. However, with a big six on the altar and sanctuary lamps and candles in abundance, I would imagine the worship is usually High Church. The new vicar announced that the Sunday services would be low mass at 8.00am and sung mass at 10.30am.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
14 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The Bishop of Beverley spoke well but I wouldn't rush out to buy a copy.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
A church like St Andrew's must be a beacon of hope in the community. The people should support and help their new vicar and not leave everything for him to do.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
There was very little heavenly rapture! However, the hymns were rousing and well sung in spite of there being no choir. The organist played exceptionally well and was obviously at home with his instrument.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Sitting on the hard seat rendered my bottom numb and I was dying for a smoke! (That's hell in itself.)

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't have the chance to look lost. As I stood up to leave, having listened to the concluding organ voluntary, the ladies next to me commented about the length of the service, and enquired whether I was going to join them for some refreshments.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The refreshments were ample and varied: a running buffet of sandwiches, quiches, sausages on sticks, cakes, red and white wine, orange squash, tea and coffee.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I couldn't really say because it is hard to gauge the true picture at a service such as this. After all, they may have all been on their best behaviour!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I suppose it did. I enjoyed singing the hymns and listening to the organ music and the ceremony of it all.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The vicar's wife's outfit.
 
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