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2791: St James, New Brighton, Wirral, England
St James, New Brighton (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Torold.
The church: St James, New Brighton, Wirral, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Chester.
The building: Built of yellow sandstone under a grey slate roof, it is typical of the Gothic-style work of the prolific church architect George Gilbert Scott. The tower has an angular broach spire rising to 52 metres. The interior is very pleasing, with plenty of Gothic arches. There's an attractive 1872 Minton tiled floor in the sanctuary. A fine reredos depicts the Adoration of the Magi; colours are bright and fresh. The east window shows the crucifixion and resurrection, and wall paintings on either side of it draw the eye upward to the high roof where Christ the King is seated in glory, flanked by angels and cherubim, with stars above. The nave is trimmed down by a screen in light oak with swing doors – which, interestingly, is also the design of the toilet facilities. The oak pulpit features carved figures of the four evangelists, and there is a brass lectern and a modern font. Many memorials throughout feature benefactors who had associations with the parish. Weather damage to the interior has spoiled some of the murals; a restoration programme is planned.
The church: Together with Emmanuel Church, it forms the Parish of New Brighton. There are a ladies' fellowship and men's fellowship as well as scouting groups that (quoting from their website) "aim to develop our young people spiritually, socially, physically and mentally." St James's currently houses the St James Heritage Centre, which I had a look at: very interesting displays of New Brighton and Wallasey in the halcyon days of yore and its growth from a small seaside resort to today’s busy shopping and recreational seaside town.
The neighbourhood: The once popular resort of New Brighton has recently undergone a commercial rebirth. Apartments have been built, along with a new Floral Pavilion theatre. A supermarket and assorted shops and bars now adorn the sea front. Perch Rock battery, a Napoleonic fort, stands proud at the entrance to the River Mersey and houses a small museum. The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association was founded in New Brighton. Many imposing Victorian villas and noteworthy residences can still be found in the streets around St James's, but the church itself appears just to sit at the side of the road minding its own business.
The cast: Ron Jones, lay reader, led the service.
The date & time: Second Sunday of Advent, 7 December 2014, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Morning Prayer.

How full was the building?
Originally seating 947, the nave is now trimmed down for a more manageable worship area. But even so, it was a very sparse congregation; the church was virtually empty. There were 13 in the choir stalls and 25 in the nave. There was a kiddies' corner but it was not populated by any kiddies this particular Sunday.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The man handing out the books said "Hello", as did a lady drifting past to join her pew-mates.

Was your pew comfortable?
Very! The numbered Victorian bench pews have red pew runners, a ledge for books, and tapestry kneelers. I sat in solitary splendour on a red velvet cushion – and liked it! I couldn’t kneel down, however, because of a void in front of me.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The week’s gossipy catch-up was going on, plus quite a racket/din from the choir vestry. A favourite topic seemed to be the foul weather we were having at the moment. Indeed, I was buffeted into church myself that morning by gales and strong winds. High tides were forecast as part of the "weather bomb" about to descend on us.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Hello, everyone. Sit down. And now Dot will light our second Advent candle."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A green-backed pamphlet contained the format for morning and evening prayer, which consisted of printed extracts from Common Worship. The Common Praise hymn book was in the pew, along with The Holy Bible, New International Version.

What musical instruments were played?
The pipe organ: a worthy instrument. I would like to have heard more of it but the organist only played for about five minutes before the start of the service, which was a pity. A robed choir of ladies and men in red cassocks and white surplices took their places in the choir stalls.

Did anything distract you?
There were flashing lights on the Christmas tree by the Lady chapel. And unlike so many churches that are cold and drafty in the winter (some all the time, it seems), St James' was toasty warm thanks to heat blowers. I was amused, however, to see a sign posted conspicuously near the blowers: "If you must turn the heating off, turn it back on before you leave!"

St James, New Brighton (Screen)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Middle-of-the-road Anglican: a hymn sandwich (hymn, prayer, hymn, reading, address, hymn, little snooze, hymn, dismissal). Position on candle: about a third of the way up.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 – Mr Jones had a faltering delivery. He read from notes and didn’t look up. He's a native Scouser (Liverpudlian). He must be a baker because he told us he employs 12 in the bakery. "Ah," I thought, "a baker’s dozen!" He blew his own trumpet and told us he is the only Christian in the bakery to go to church! (Good for you, Ron! Well, you are the reader, after all!)

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Spreading the Good News – evangelism. Go tell it on the mountain; prepare ye the way of the Lord. When he was a choir boy in Bootle, Liverpool, they would bow during the creed at the name of Jesus; and if you didn’t bow, you’d get somebody’s head in your back, so it was best to bow your head. (Later I told my old dad about this, and he laughed as he remembered what used to happen in his day when the choir boys bowed their heads – something a bit too windy to mention here, though.)

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I did enjoy looking at the ceiling covered in cherubs, some holding lutes. For some reason I thought about Orpheus and his lute. Then I began making words rhyme: lute, flute, boot, toot (horns), shoot (the messenger who was bringing the glad tidings). Mustn’t do this any more. Strange how we pass the time in sermons.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I have to blame Mr Jones for not holding my attention during his speech. And to top it all off, I was suffering terrible indigestion from having gobbled down my porridge too quickly, just like Goldilocks. I could feel it repeating, coming back up into my throat.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Like Onesiphorus did with St Paul (2 Timothy 1:16-17), the sidesman searched me out and found me. He gave me a potted history regarding the cracks in the belfry, the spire needing a king’s ransom to repair it, interior modernisation, improving facilities, and so on. He was the only person who spoke to me. Everyone else was chatting to their friends. I must admit to feeling a bit left out, like the man who fell out of the balloon – he wasn’t in it!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Tea. We don't mention brand names in Mystery Worship reports, but let me just say that I could really taste it! There was also instant coffee of a brand many of us are boycotting, plus fruit squash for the kiddies (but there were no kiddies). I plumped for the cup that cheers (well, it cheered William Cowper anyway), in a china mug.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – St James’s is a really nice building, if you look past the damage that the elements have caused. It was warm inside, always a plus! But the congregation came over as being indifferent to strangers, and perhaps even disinterested. I was so hoping that they would invite me to be part of their holy huddle and the in-crowd. There is definitely a clique going on here.

St James, New Brighton (Tile)

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I think my message is different from theirs, as I would always make fellow worshippers feel at home, not as if they were infiltrating a club for members only.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
"If you must turn the heating off, turn it back on before you leave!"
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