Mystery Worshipper: Call for Peace
Church: St Anne's
Location: Liverpool, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 30 August 2009, 11:15am
St Anne's dates from 1842 and is a very large red sandstone building. Over a century's worth of soot and grime was professionally cleaned away in 1982, revealing the beauty of the original stone. The interior is more impressive than the exterior, with a dark wood ribbed ceiling and Gothic colonnades on either side of the nave pews. The altar sits in an apse, with choir stalls to the front. There are shrines and/or side altars to the Sacred Heart, the Madonna and Child, St Anne, and St Anthony. Two banners at the front of the church read: "Hope and Faith" and "Peace and Justice", both with the word "Prayer" inscribed underneath. Everything looks bright and well cared for.
In 1999 the parish merged with St Bernard's; both churches remain open but share a single priest. St Anne's mission statement welcomes everyone, specifying several marginalised groups. They sponsor Journey to Faith, for non-Catholics seeking to learn more about the Church as well as Catholics wishing to deepen their understanding of the faith. They also hold Little Church on Sundays for children under 11 years of age. A pilgrimage to Lourdes is being planned for October of this year.
Liverpool, on the west coast of England, will forever be famous as home to the Beatles. A major port city, it saw an influx during the 19th and early 20th centuries of immigrants from Ireland and Europe. But during the latter part of the 20th century, the general decline in manufacturing as well as containerization of the shipping industry led to massive unemployment. In recent years, the city's economy has begun to grow once again. St Anne's is located in what looks to be a working class neighbourhood a bit run down.
The Revd Peter Morgan, pastor, celebrated mass. He was assisted by a deacon identified only as Deacon Francis.
What was the name of the service?Mass
How full was the building?
The main pew area was about 90 per cent full, about 180 people, perhaps. There were side pews that were empty except for the choir. The congregation certainly seemed extremely diverse: multi-racial, young, old, families, single people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. There didn't appear to be anyone on welcome duty. I helped myself to a mass book and hymnal.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was as comfortable as any standard wooden pew. It had a padded kneeler that ran the length of the pew.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There were groups of people chatting to each other who seemed like old friends, so it was a pity that there were no greeters around. As service time neared, the atmosphere quieted.
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," although preceding the service was a short and warm welcome from Father Peter to newcomers and those who had travelled some distance.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Parish Mass Book and Liturgical Hymns Old and New.
What musical instruments were played?
There was a choir of about 16 people off to the left. Instruments included keyboard, guitar, sax and bongos.
Did anything distract you?
A couple of times I heard mobile phones go off. Other than that, there were no distractions.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was enthusiastic but not over the top. I'd describe it as a service that anyone could attend without feeling pressure to be wavy or clappy, but at the same time the atmosphere was joyful and worshipful, with Father Peter leading the way. I was reminded of its called celebrating the mass.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Father Peter came down from the raised altar to preach, standing approximately between the two front pews. He spoke with warmth and conviction and without notes. He sounded like he meant it, and included a reference to a spiritual turning point in his own life.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He spoke on James 1:27 caring for widows and orphans, and remaining pure, is seen by God as unspoiled religion. We need to let go of the superficial and not adhere to rules for their own sake.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Actually, it was something very simple. Both the pastor and the deacon addressed each parishioner by name as they received communion. And the pastor had a look of pure joy on his face as he did so.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Because of the swine flu epidemic we exchanged the "smile of peace" rather than the "handshake of peace." I stood there grinning like an idiot at my fellow worshippers. It felt a bit cringy.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing. I felt like a third wheel. This really surprised me, given the warmth of the service. Father Peter had a line of people waiting to shake his hand or speak to him on their way out, and he seemed to know them all by name.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were no after-service refreshments.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I really liked the service and the pastor seems like a genuine man of God, but the lack of welcome from the parishioners gave me pause, and the lack of after-service refreshments made it even harder to meet people. I think it could be difficult for newcomers. I think I'd have to persevere to get to know people if I wanted to make this my church. There do seem to be a lot of families here, though, and there was a delightful assortment of altar boys and girls aged between about seven and twelve, which indicates that they encourage children to become involved in the worship.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The look of joy on the priest's face as he administered communion.