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2214: Our Lady and St Nicholas, Liverpool, England
Our Lady & St Nicholas, Liverpool
Photo: Man Vyi

Mystery Worshipper: Torold.
The church: Our Lady and St Nicholas, Liverpool, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Liverpool.
The building: Affectionately known as St Nick's, the church has a history going back to the 13th century. The original building was extended piecemeal through the ages and was completely rebuilt in 1775 (leaving the pews and galleries intact!). The tower collapsed in 1810 and was rebuilt, and minor changes were made here and there in ensuing years. But in 1940 incendiary bombs destroyed the church except for the tower. The present building was consecrated in 1952. It is of a very pleasing mellow dressed sandstone. The tower houses a peal of 12 bells, which sounded wonderful as I approached. Very English!
The church: St Nick's has always had close links with the business side of the city and particularly the maritime community, as St Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors.
The neighbourhood: A centre of tourism, Liverpool is famous (as we know) as the home of the Beatles, the frizzy-haired songwriter and comedian Ken Dodd, the famous ferries and the docks, two cathedrals, the Liver Buildings, the Mersey Tunnel (there are two tunnels really), and a wealth of fine buildings from different architectural periods.
The cast: The Revd John Williams, assistant priest, was the celebrant and preacher.
The date & time: Trinity Sunday, 19 June, 2011, 9.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Parish Mass.

How full was the building?
Less than half full, approximately 100 in total.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was welcomed inside the doorway by a man and woman who smiled and said "Good morning" as they offered a service leaflet to me. They realised I was a visitor so the lady found me some information about the church. There were similar information sheets in different languages laid out on a table in the narthex. As I passed through the glass screens into the nave, my eyes were drawn to the wooden baldacchino over the high altar. It put me in mind of an elaborately curtained and canopied antique bed. I found a seat near the front and was joined shortly after by a young couple with a boy about seven years old. They said hello and the boy went off to find his pals.

Was your pew comfortable?
The wooden chairs were comfortable and well spaced to allow plenty of leg room.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Subdued chatter especially from the young folk. Yes, whole families attended together! The youngsters went out for their own classes and returned later. There was no organ prelude but a good atmosphere built up on its own.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Service sheet printed in full for that Sunday.

What musical instruments were played?
Three-manual pipe organ by the Harrison & Harrison firm of Durham.

Did anything distract you?
Lots of little things: many carved ships (even one on the processional cross), two icons on the pillars, a small wooden figurine of a cheery St Nicholas holding a large case of toys for children.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
C of E with high church trappings, all fairly low-key. Bells and smoke.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
8 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Father Williams began with a children's song, complete with actions: "Our God is a great big God." He seemed to revel in it all, even though he had a sore throat that day. He sounded a bit rough.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Trying to get your head round the idea of the Trinity. God is everlasting, beyond all imagining. The idea of the Trinity is too complex for human understanding. Even though people like to try to be in control of their understanding, we cannot in the case of God. We should simply go and rejoice that God is a great big God.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Although everything was very nice, nothing struck me as being particularly heavenly. Even the bells and smells were rather subdued, though of course that is probably as it should be!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Their microphone technique needs improving. There's nothing worse than not hearing properly.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I wasn't given the chance to look lost. The family next to me invited me for refreshments. First, however, I had a look round the interior. The floral arrangements were pleasing. The church
is obviously well cared for.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Tea, coffee, biscuits, served in the refectory above the narthex. A number of people wanted to chat with me, which made me feel welcome. I didn't get a chance to speak to the priest – I passed him on the stairs after coffee but he seemed too preoccupied with the church wardens to stop for a little chat.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I would go regularly just to listen to the bells!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not especially.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
As I approached the church that morning, I was greeted by the wonderful sound of the bells ringing across the waterfront. A truly magnificent sound, unforgettable.

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