St James, Temple Sowerby

St James, Temple Sowerby, Cumbria, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St James
Location: Temple Sowerby, Cumbria, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 11 October 2015, 10:30am

The building

A red sandstone structure dating from 1754. The aisle dates from 1770, the tower from 1807, and the chancel and arcade from 1873. The interior features round piers and scalloped capitals. The east window depicts the Crucifixion, and the window in the south aisle the Annunciation.

The church

The church is part of the Heart of Eden team ministry. The team rector told me that she was the only stipendiary priest covering 12 rural parishes.

The neighborhood

Temple Sowerby is a small village, charming, known as the queen of Westmoreland villages. The village green is at the heart of the place and contains one of the few remaining maypoles in Westmoreland. The old manor house, now known as Acorn Bank and open to visitors, boasts a garden in which grows the largest collection of medicinal and culinary plants in northern England, plus groves of rare fruit trees and a giant sequoia transplanted from America. The irony of this is that the word "sowerby" is Viking for "a homestead with poor soil." The village was previously on the A66 trunk road, but the villagers successfully petitioned for a bypass dual carriageway that opened in 2008.

The cast

The Revd Sarah Lunn,
team rector.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Communion

How full was the building?

Practically empty. There were 17 adults in the congregation plus a toddler. The rector and the organist brought up the sum total.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes: "Good morning" as I was handed a copy of the order of worship.

Was your pew comfortable?

Comfortable with colourful kneelers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet and reverential.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning and welcome to our Harvest Celebration."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Mission Praise and a folded Order of Service for Harvest Sunday. There were copies of the Good News Bible in the pews.

What musical instruments were played?


Did anything distract you?

The elderly organist was wearing shorts. He sat in the empty choir stall during the sermon. There was a toddler who quietly wandered around. The rector suggested that someone give him an apple from the harvest display.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Relaxed. A typical parish communion.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

8 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 – Lovely. A warm and simple message. Here was someone who could hold my attention.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The congregation were asked if it had been a good harvest. Only one parishioner admitted that they had grown something this year! Well, we should be thankful anyway. Think about those who are without food. Think about a fair distribution of the earth's resources.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The thought-provoking sermon. And there were only 17 people in the congregation, but most sang beautifully.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The elderly organist who was wearing shorts.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

I was asked if I would like a drink. The team rector was very friendly.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Coffee and biscuits.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

9 – Here is a church where the faith is being practised as well as maintained.

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 friendly and inspiring team rector.

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