Mystery Worshipper: Torold
Church: St Mary & St David
Location: Flint, Wales
Date of visit: Sunday, 8 January 2012, 11:00am
A town centre church of begrimed ashlared sandstone. The clock tower is topped with a short spire. There is easy access from the street up stone steps, with ramps for the disabled. By contrast, the inside is light and spacious, spick and span and well cared for. But the colourful decor of pink paint did not quite go with the red carpet. The stained glass is Victorian, with the west window depicting scenes from the life of Christ. A wide chancel leads up to the altar, with plain wooden paneling behind. Wooden altar rails, wooden lectern with eagle about to take flight, wooden pulpit. Indeed, a wooden sermon was preached but I'm getting ahead of myself. There was an arrangement of five white chrysanthemums near the altar. I know because I counted them see below.
I was unable to discover what part, if any, this church plays in the community. The only things mentioned on the parish sheet were the weekly parents and toddlers club "Minnows" and the Mothers Union that meets once a month.
Flint is a Welsh market town on the banks of the River Dee. The ruins of Flint Castle, built by Edward I as part of the English defence of this part of the coast, are found on a grassy headland just above the shore line. The town maintains a very Welsh feel: dripping grey slate roofs, Bethany chapels, grey rain-laden clouds - you get the picture! There is, however, a large Polish community; this is evident in the Polski skleps (shops that sell Polish foods and merchandise exclusively) in the town centre. The usual high street shops abound: pubs on corners, a couple of fast-food outlets, charity shops, post office, etc. and eight other places of worship.
The Revd Brian Harvey, rector, took the whole service.
What was the name of the service?Holy Eucharist.
How full was the building?
Not even a quarter full - thirty adults and five children.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I made my way up the high street on a damp January morning, I was aware of the muffled sound of a recording of church bells emanating from the spired tower. On arrival, I noticed two ladies adjusting the knobs on the sound system. "No, that's not right. Turn it the other way." "Yes, that's much better." A sideswoman greeted me with "Hello, good morning, happy New Year" as she handed over the books for the service.
Was your pew comfortable?
Despite the thickly padded red velveteen runner on the pew, it was not comfortable, even when you sat up very straight and pushed your bottom as far back as possible. The angle was all wrong. The bench part was rather short and would have cut off the blood circulation to the legs, but I fidgeted about too much to experience that delight!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The south side, where I was seated, was quiet. Noisy chatter from the other side, however, was suddenly overwhelmed by a deep foghorn hooting from the organ, which jolted me from my contemplation. It sounded like the Queen Mary disembarking her berth in the ports of yesteryear.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, and a very warm welcome to you all."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Complete Anglican Hymns Old and New and a printed booklet: Order for the Holy Eucharist in the Seasons of Christmas and Epiphany.
What musical instruments were played?
Pipe organ, high on the wall of the north side of the chancel, perched like an eagle's nest. I could only see the top of the organist's head. But boy, could I hear him!
Did anything distract you?
I kept thinking of all the occasions in which the word "flint" cropped up: Fred Flintstone. The Flint family I used to know. A firm of estate agents, Flint Flint Flint and Associates. Our Man Flint (1960s TV detective). My friend's dog Flint. And so on.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Middle of the road, and a tad dreary and uninspiring.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 – The rector preached from the pulpit using notes. I found his style a trifle tedious and my attention wandered from time to time. I went back to contemplating flint and counting the chrysanthemums.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Herod would not have been the sort of person to find a king in the humble surroundings of Jesus' birth. When those foreign kings, the Magi, asked him where the new-born King was, Herod did not know. But when the Magi found Jesus, they knew exactly who and what he was. Rather like when we're in the supermarket when we can't find what we're looking for, we ask someone who knows to show us the way.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
There were two little angels in matching red outfits with red spotty tights twins aged about three or four going up to the communion rail.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Two huge ceiling decorations that looked like massive fire sprinklers ready to douse me with holy water.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I sat and listened to a rousing postlude, well played by the organist. I sat, and sat, and nothing happened. People drifted off and the organist concluded his piece. I eventually stood up and walked toward the back. The rector was standing there with only a few others. He spoke to me as I handed in my book. He told me he was about to have a few days holiday in Spain after the Christmas and New Year period. I wished him well and left.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none on offer nor being served.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – I think there is a lot of potential at this church just waiting to be tapped. As it is currently, they may be looking at another church closure. In other words, nice but dead.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not really. I felt rather disappointed and deflated. "Could do better," as my old maths teacher used to say.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The five white chrysanthemums.