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2786: St Bride’s, Percy Street, Liverpool, England
St Bride's, Liverpool (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Torold.
The church: St Bride’s, Percy Street, Liverpool, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Liverpool.
The building: Set back from the road in its own grounds surrounded by railings, it looks like a Greek temple with Ionic columns on the front porch. Begun in 1829 and consecrated in 1830, it is considered to be one of the best surviving neoclassical style buildings in Liverpool. However, it is in a rather dilapidated condition. I discovered that the main body of this splendid church has a leaking roof, letting in water. The interior is virtually unchanged and has a very pleasing appearance overall. The original church furnishings are all in place and include a galley upstairs, oak bench pews, interestingly carved pulpit, carved eagle lectern, Jacobean-style altar rails and defunct pipe organ. Victorian stained glass includes a fine east window, set between Ionic columns, depicting the Ascension, St Barnabas and St Bride. Marble memorials line the walls. They use the foyer area for services; it is bite sized but manageable to heat comfortably for use.
The church: St Bride, or Bridget, is the patron saint of poets, dairymaids, blacksmiths, midwives and new-born babies, among others. St Bride's Church describes itself as Liverpool’s creative, progressive, inclusive church, irrespective of race, creed, colour, gender, etc. They are a hub for community projects, and support refugees and asylum seekers. Their many activities are all well described on their website.
The neighbourhood: St Bride’s is set in an area of large Georgian terraced housing, a nostalgic Liverpool of cobbled streets, gas lamps etc. Handy for the universities in Liverpool and the two cathedrals. Also the "red light" district, much favoured by ladies of the night, is a mere stone’s throw away – or so I was told. The last reported sighting of the mysterious Victorian caped entity known as Spring-heeled Jack, who was said to spring over house tops, was in this area.
The cast: The Revd Sara Doyle, curate, led the worship. Ms Jenny-Anne Bishop of the Sibyls, a Christian spirituality group for transgender people and their supporters, gave the talk. The Revd Guy Elsmore, vicar, played the piano.
The date & time: 16 November 2014, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Communion in All Saints Tide, Transgender Day of Remembrance.

How full was the building?
Approximately 45 in the part we sat in for the worship. It was warm, cosy – and full!

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Not exactly, but the door was held open as I entered and everyone's gaze fell on me. At the peace, which was hugs all round, I was welcomed warmly.

Was your pew comfortable?
Stacking chairs, tubular frame, coloured padded seats and back rests in blue, purple or grey. Yes, comfortable, just like a favourite chair at home.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The gentle tinkling of the piano, quietly combined with a little bit of talking going on, made it feel most welcoming.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everyone!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Printed service sheet with prayers and readings. The Church Hymnary, 4th Edition.

What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard in piano mode.

Did anything distract you?
I was wondering whilst sitting there in the worship area why we were using the west end bit when there seemed to be a perfectly usable whole church behind where we were sitting! (That was before I learned about the leaking roof!) I kept sneaking a glance instead of listening to what was being said, whilst looking through the glass partition.

St Bride's, Liverpool (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
An informal, friendly gathering of like-minded souls, spiritual and reflective in manner. A small table in front of the free-standing altar held tea lights in holders. People could come and light them and speak about the person they were lighting them for. At communion we all stood in a circle round the Holy Table, just like standing around the breakfast table at home.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
22 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Jenny-Anne Bishop used notes and slides. She had an easy, friendly style and obviously is used to talking in public.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Jenny-Anne spoke about her own personal journey and the heartfelt stories that sometimes surround the lives of transgender people. Transphobia is rife. Being lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender is not an easy way of life, made more difficult by the hatred and violence that they have encountered for being different. The Nazis persecuted not only Jews but also gays, the disabled, Gypsies and other ethnic groups, etc. merely because they were "different". Some were injected with chemicals for "research". This persecution continued after the war and continues to this day. Some countries, e.g. Mexico and Brazil, have more than their share of hate crimes. Memorials to the victims of hate crimes can be found in Amsterdam, the USA, and in Manchester. The memorial in Sackville Park, Manchester, was defaced the same day it was installed. What is the antidote to hate? In a nutshell, tolerance – live and let live.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The candle-lighting ceremony. One lady told us about her persecuted background as a Muslim. The sight of these little twinkling lights was very moving.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The icy blast from beneath the door leading to the main body of the church. That, and needing the "smallest room", as ever!

St Bride's, Liverpool (Window)

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No chance of that at St Bride’s! I was instantly swooped on by several people. One man said, “Come and have a cup of coffee, darling.” After the service, kids were running around the main body of the church and jumping on the pews, unchecked. I thought this was a bit like the Other Place. It is still, after all, the house of God, even if not currently in use.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Cafédirect, the first coffee brand in the UK to carry the Fair Trade Foundation mark, served from a tin in jolly St Bride’s china mugs: comfortable shape, nice to hold. Tea and coffee and biscuits available.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – This is how I feel it should always be. Come one, come all, warts and all. Everyone welcome. Come as you are, not as you aren’t.

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

St Bride's, Liverpool (Rear)

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
All standing in a circle round the Holy Table.
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