Mystery Worshipper: Vulpus Peregrinus
Church: St George’s
Location: New Mills, Derbyshire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 19 November 2017, 10:00am
Victorian Gothic (1844) built as part of the expansion of the mill towns. Beautiful wooden interior, pews and a gallery. Bright stained glass throughout. There is a ring of eight bells and a clock commemorating the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
The notices indicate that the church is a central and vibrant part of the local community, providing pastoral and social support as well as being an education and social resource for the community. Their website announces a variety of activities, including a Christmas fair and a "hoe down and hot pot" that had apparently taken place the night before, and whose effects were soon to be felt (read on!). The parish hall has recently been refurbished and is available for hire. There are two eucharistic services each Sunday: a said holy communion and a sung parish communion, plus evening prayer (alternating with Prayer Book holy communion once each month). On weekdays except Mondays there is evening prayer plus a said holy communion on Wednesday evenings. Their website says that they worship in the Catholic tradition.
Set in the Peak District National Park, New Mills stands above the Torrs, a 70 foot deep gorge dating back to the Carboniferous era some 300 million years ago. The views in every direction are amazing. Cotton mills, coal mining and printing were the town's economic mainstays throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, but the mills are all closed now except for one, which was taken over in the 1940s by the candy manufacturer Swizzels Matlow, maker of love hearts, drumstick jollies and other favourites. The town centre is a warren of narrow streets and stone-built cottages. The church, however, is not within the main town, which was expected to grow to surround it. The primary and secondary schools are beside the church and the local football ground is across the road.
The Revd John Baines, vicar, was the celebrant. Thyra Long, lay reader, served in that capacity and also preached.
What was the name of the service?Sung Parish Communion.
How full was the building?
Barely one-quarter full about 50 in the congregation and 15 in the altar party and choir. This was due, I was told, to the previous evening's "hoe down and hot pot," which was packed and was a huge success. Everyone laughed when the priest said, "We seem to be a bit thin on the ground this morning."
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was welcomed on the pathway by ladies walking to the church and again at the door and assured everything I needed was in the books handed to me. Shortly after I sat, someone came and checked if I was warm enough.
Was your pew comfortable?
Not a deep pew, but comfortable and amply supplied with good quality hassocks for kneeling and sufficient space to kneel.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Comfortable, with organ music and gentle sounds of people arriving.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Our first hymn is on your sheet and is number 85 from New Hymns and Worship Songs."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
English Hymnal; readings and psalm sheet; local service booklet derived from Common Worship; weekly notice sheet with reflections, readings and thoughts for the coming week.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
Splendid Victorian stained glass and elaborate decoration of the interior.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Dignified high church without incense and with robed choir, yet did not feel stuffy nor exclusive.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The lay reader had a relaxed style despite a difficult gospel (Matthew 25:14-30, the parable of the talents). She gently brought in her personal experiences.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The parable of the talents teaches us that God trusts us to develop the gifts he has given us, to be the best we can and to bring out the best in others. We must grow the self for the benefit of others. With Christmas just around the corner, we must remember to share what we have been given with those in this community who need it.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The local nature of the intercessions, which displayed genuine thanks and concern for the pleasures and needs of the local community from the pleasure of the local pubs to the plight of the local poor and needy.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The microphone was set taller than the reader's head!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Servers kindly stood aside as I took photographs. Several people expressed their hope that I would come to the hall for coffee.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Good coffee in a warm hall with an excellent selection of cakes donated by local shops and left over from the "hoe down and hot pot" the night before, which both decimated the congregation this morning and raised money for local needs.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – Everyone made me feel very welcome, with no pressure to join and no reaction to knowing I'm gay with an atheist husband. Loads of church-centred community activities and strong sense of social responsibility and commitment to that community.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I was particularly pleased to be made to feel part of the church and welcomed to both parish and district.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Not only having missed the "hoe down and hot pot," but also having to miss the upcoming Christmas Day church lunch for the community.