St Philip and St James, Scholes, Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire, England

St Philip's Scholes, Scholes, West Yorkshire, England


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Mystery Worshipper: Mrs Maniple
Church: St Philip's Scholes
Location: Scholes, West Yorkshire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 21 August 2005, 9:30am

The building

The church was built in the 1870s, with a spire dating from about 100 years later. The inside is traditional: chancel, nave and transepts, all filled with Victorian pews. The altar has been moved away from the east wall to allow clerical ingress and manoeuvres, but is still firmly in the chancel.

The cast

The Rev. Maggie McClean, vicar.

What was the name of the service?

Parish Eucharist

How full was the building?

Probably two-thirds of the nave seats were filled.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Someone said good morning as he handed me the news sheet and books.

Was your pew comfortable?

It was comfortable enough to sit on, but there was barely room to kneel. Few attempted. The shelf was far too small for the books we were given.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Loud and bustling.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

We had a hymn and then: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Hymns Old and New, and a booklet from Common Worship.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ. There was a small adult choir, all in robes, some with handbags. They sang pretty well and were able to hold their tunes for what little part singing there was. Everyone else sang quite heartily too.

Did anything distract you?

The number of people wearing grey and beige was striking. There was one child in church, and a few more frolicking in the church hall, who shot in for a blessing at communion and then straight back to the not entirely obvious attractions of the hall. The vicar's folk-weave chasuble swamped her and just about hid the oatmeal cassock-alb beneath. It must have been designed for a much larger person.

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

Struggling to rise above middle-of-the-road. There were two very competent and unobtrusive servers in immaculate, dazzling white hooded albs with properly-tied girdles. The smaller of the two carried the gospel book in and out way above her head, with outstretched arms, but even then it hardly topped the vicar. We sang "Happy Birthday" to some older people at the end of the service.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

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

7 – Nothing really stood out.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The sermon was an exposition of the epistle for the day, Romans 12:9-21, and centred upon making hospitality the special care of a Christian community. In light of what went on after the service, the entire congregation must have been daydreaming during its delivery.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The hearty singing of familiar hymns.

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

First, the constant chattering of a covey of elderly ladies at the rear of the church. Every time there was a lull or a break, they got going. They were particularly obtrusive during the distribution of communion. Had their conversation been interesting it might have been at least entertaining, if not excusable, but it was all along the lines of, "Well, I never, and then what did she say?" Next, the wine had a strange, sweet, vinegary taste to it. Does not Canon B17 state that the wine must be "fermented juice of the grape, good and wholesome?" I felt for the vicar as she drained the chalice. Perhaps this was a one-off, but I suspect they were used to it, as nobody seemed to recoil or splutter.

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

I hovered at the back of the church for a bit as the regulars pushed past into the church hall. I followed them and stood there, admiring the crocheted mats on the stacking plastic chairs for a good three minutes. The regulars queued for coffee and then sat down in groups chatting. I left, having lost my nerve, despite needing something to dispel the dreadful aftertaste of the spoilt communion wine.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

It was in proper cups, but that is all I can say.

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

5 – I would if I had to – if I had no car and couldn't commute. Then I would thrust myself into the role of the difficult woman of the congregation and insist that a wine account be opened with Hayes and Finch, and then move on to campaign to calm the chattering ladies.

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

Almost... just. Yes, of course.

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

The palate-puckering communion wine.

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