St Philip and St James, Clifton, York

St Philip & St James, Clifton, York, England


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Mystery Worshipper: Stealth
Church: St Philip & St James
Location: Clifton, York, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 23 March 2008, 10:45am

The building

Very typical late 19th century church. It looks like it's been changed around a bit and modernised from the inside. In fact the outside belies the fairly modern and bright interior.

The church

This is one of three churches that comprise the parish. They sponsor what are called cell groups – small groups that meet each week in members' homes so that people may get to know each other, feel that they belong, and learn together. On the day I attended church, I noted that the congregation was made up of a mixture of people in terms of age and lots of families with young children.

The neighborhood

Clifton Parish Church lies on a busy crossroads a mile or so outside of York city centre, and close to the river Ouse. The church dwarfs the surrounding buildings, which are mostly residential.

The cast

The service was led by the Revd David Casswell, vicar.

What was the name of the service?

Morning Worship/Easter Communion

How full was the building?

It looked pretty full to me; I'm guessing there were approximately 100 people there.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I was welcomed by several people on arrival with a friendly hello or a "Morning!" The church door was closed, which may have put some people off, but there was plenty of activity around.

Was your pew comfortable?

A distinct absence of pews – instead, some rather comfortable chairs set out in rows and separated by an aisle.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Very informal, expectant, and being an Easter service rather joyous. Children seemed happy to run around freely. No one rushed to take their seat, and there was a nice atmosphere about the place.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning, and welcome to Clifton Church!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Bibles were available if people wanted to use them. There were no hymn books – the words to the worship songs were projected onto a large wall at the front of the church.

What musical instruments were played?

There was a small worship band consisting of a pianist, a couple of guitarists (one being the vicar), a bassist, and a drummer. There was a lady singing as well.

Did anything distract you?

The children were able to run around freely throughout the service, but during the quiet prayer time this did become a little distracting.

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

"Happy clappy" might be going too far, but it was certainly lively and informal. Children were encouraged to play a variety of noisy percussive instruments which they seemed to enjoy, and everybody appeared relaxed and confident. In no way was it starchy or traditional; even the taking of communion was done in a casual but respectful way. I got the feeling it was trying to be quite modern, with the style of worship song and the composition of the band.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes.

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

9 – The vicar seemed very much at ease with his congregation. There was even a bit of good natured banter with a lady sitting near the front. He seemed very inclusive, passionate and encouraging.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He talked about the resurrection of Jesus and how different people perceive it. He encouraged us to ignore a lot of commentary we might hear and to trust the gospel reports rather than anything else. He related this in terms of people accepting the real embodiment of Jesus into their lives.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Singing the worship songs and taking communion. There was a good choice of songs, both contemplative and uplifting.

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

The vicar tried to put people at ease via a series of questions, but I was a little embarrassed by his question to me: "How many Easter eggs have you eaten?"

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

Everyone was invited to stay for coffee. People were generally friendly amongst themselves – I gather they were all regulars, as they congregated in small groups. But no one approached me or asked me who I was. I made eye contact with a few people but it wasn't reciprocated and I felt a little anonymous. Finally one very talkative gentleman who had been making the rounds approached and asked me where I was from.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

A choice of coffee or tea and a custard cream. Nothing really special. I drained my cup and then left.

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

8 – It's hard to judge what a church is like on the basis of a special occasion such as Easter Sunday. It would be interesting to attend on a regular Sunday. I was disappointed that more people didn't come and say hello to me.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

It did indeed. People seemed really glad to be spending their Sunday in church.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

I helped myself to not one, but two custard creams. I don't think anyone noticed. Other than that, the great feeling that everyone was celebrating the risen Jesus.

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