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2265: St Michael’s, Shotwick, near Chester, England
St Michael's, Shotwick
Mystery Worshipper: Torold.
The church: St Michael’s, Shotwick, near Chester, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Chester.
The building: Pleasing, weathered sandstone with a strong perpendicular (c.1500) tower and a peal of six bells. Interesting corbels of the Green Man, mole, jester, cat (Cheshire?), and grimacing gargoyles. Norman doorway with solid wooden 15th century door. Twin naves. Early 18th century box pews. Canopied churchwarden seat dated 1673. Triple-decker pulpit. Jacobean altar table and ebonised carved altar rails. Fiddler’s music stand from the days when hymns were sung to violin accompaniment. Brass, candle chandelier (18th century). The church was abundantly decorated with all the bounties of the harvest: chrysanthemums and dahlias in autumn tints bedecked the altar, pride of place given to the wheat sheaf-shaped loaf. Heaps of vegetables were piled up in the sanctuary. The scent of apples pervaded the building.
The church: It plays a significant part in the rural community. From the gravestones in the churchyard, families might trace their ancestors back for centuries. In 1363, when King Edward III decreed that sheriffs must ensure that all able-bodied men must practice the longbow after the church services, bowmen would shelter in the church porch and sharpen their arrowheads on the stonework. Grooves have been worn away in the soft sandstone.
The neighbourhood: The small hamlet of Shotwick has no shop or pub. With farmland all around, it stands secluded and is reached only by a long single track road from the busy A550 Welsh Road. The River Dee once washed the walls of the churchyard, as pictured in the poem "O Mary, go and call the cattle home ... across the sands of Dee" by Charles Kingsley.
The cast: The Rt Revd Keith Sinclair, Bishop of Birkenhead, was the preacher. The Revd Cathy Helm, vicar, led the service, and a gentleman named Basil served as lector and led the prayers.
The date & time: Sunday, 9 October 2011, 3.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Harvest Thanksgiving.

How full was the building?
Mostly full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A sideswoman handed me a service sheet and hymn book, saying, "You’ll have to share."

Was your pew comfortable?
Box pew made tolerable by foam rubber seat pad. Forty-five minute Victorian sermons would have been unbearable!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Plenty of chattering. When the organ started, the noise level dropped, though it was still not conducive to meditation.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"A very warm welcome to you all."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Ancient and Modern, New Standard Edition, and a specially printed service sheet.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
A big spider on the wall a couple of pews in front. Although the church had been cleaned and polished, this splendid spider had escaped the attentions of everyone. I watched it walk slowly up the wall close to where a lady wearing a bright hat was sitting. The next time I looked, it had gone. There was no screaming!

St Michael, Shotwick (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Middle of the road Church of England.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The bishop, who had a slight lisp, preached from notes.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
That particular day, "Salt Sunday" (an initiative of the the Bishop of Birkenhead to celebrate the salt and chemical industries in the Weaver Valley and Cheshire), the bishop had been to a service in Northwich where the salt mines are. Salt had been mined there since Roman times. As Christians, we are invited to be like the disciples, the salt of the earth and the light of the world – God’s wonderful alchemy: salt to improve and purify, and light to shine on us and become his disciples. The bishop used the illustration of William Wilberforce, who came to faith late in life, and the amazing work he did. "You are never too old, and it’s never too late," the bishop said, "to become disciples."

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Standing in a box pew singing "We plough the fields, and scatter" was like being transported back in time to a different era, a more simple way of life, very reminiscent of a Thomas Hardy novel.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Trying to exit the box pew was nearly impossible with people standing in the aisle, clogging up the works.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was invited by several people to join in the harvest supper in Shotwick Hall, an Elizabethan manor house. But it was by ticket and I didn’t have the "readies."

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
So I didn't go.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – If only I lived closer!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It made me glad I wasn’t a heathen.

St Michael, Shotwick (Pulpit)

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Singing the hymn "We plough the fields and scatter" and especially the line "our ‘umble, thankful ‘earts."
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