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3297: St George's, Hyde, England
St George's, Hyde
Photo: Gerald England and used under license
Mystery Worshipper: Aisla Sloper.
The church: St George's, Hyde, Greater Manchester, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Chester.
The building: This was a Commissioners' church i.e., it was one of nearly 300 new churches built in industrial areas with a share of the Million Act government grants of 1818 and 1824. It was built in 1831-32 in the Gothic Revival style and was designed, in keeping with the Commissioners' mandate, to accommodate the greatest number of persons at the smallest expense, and half the seats were to be free seats for the poor – although the wealthy, who could afford the pew rents, got the best seats toward the front. The church website notes that "the common people had the back ... where many of our congregation like to sit today." Charles Dickens once remarked that more of the front seats would be rented if the church were to get itself a good-looking vicar. A lych-gate was added in the churchyard in 1855, and the interior was remodelled in 1868 and again in 1985, when it was restored to much of its original appearance. Today the west end has been partitioned off and converted into a cafe/meeting space with a kitchen through a hatch. It looked welcoming and comfortable.
The church: Judging by the magazine and notice boards, it seems to be a busy, friendly, enthusiastic church. They sponsor a number of activities all listed on their website. I'll just mention the home groups, which meet Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays for fellowship, prayer, and Bible study. There are two services each Sunday: one alternating between morning prayer and holy communion; and the other all-age worship.
The neighbourhood: Hyde is a town in the county of Greater Manchester, which encompasses eight metropolitan boroughs as well as the cities of Manchester and Salford. Known for its cotton mills during the height of the Industrial Revolution, the town boasts only one working mill today. Hyde is where Britain's most prolific serial killer, Dr Harold Shipman, had his doctor's surgery. The church is situated almost within one of the largest Muslim communities in the area. There is a C of E primary school next door with many children from Muslim families amongst its pupils.
The cast: There is no vicar at the moment. The service was led by a lady and gentleman who are (I think) licensed readers. I'm afraid I didn't get their names.
The date & time: Good Friday, 30 March 2018, 3.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Service at the Cross.

How full was the building?
the church could easily seat 250. There were about 30 in the congregation, sitting on two rows of chairs at the front. I thought it was a good turnout for this type of service.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was only just in time to grab a service sheet and sit down. Several people smiled and nodded.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a simple, comfortable upholstered chair.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to our Good Friday service."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Service sheet containing all the prayers and the three hymns we sang.

What musical instruments were played?
Piano – played very well.

Did anything distract you?
The stained glass window above the altar. I think it might represent Christ as the Light of the World, but I couldn't help wondering what a non-Christian might make of it. It looked a bit like a celestial wrecking-ball with some bendy crosses cowering away from it. Come to think of it, that might make a lot of sense so I probably misjudged it. It's certainly extremely colourful and striking.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Measured, with opportunities for private meditation and prayer. Appropriate images of the events of Good Friday were projected onto a screen as the last sayings of Jesus from the cross followed one another.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
No sermon. The leaders took it in turn to give brief expositions on the seven last sayings of Jesus from the cross. They also commented on the recorded words of the witnesses. They were both very good and their comments were illuminating.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
This service was very well-organised and carefully conducted. I enjoyed the peaceful, thoughtful atmosphere.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It wasn't part of the service, of course, but the swing doors at the back swung to with an almighty bang, amplified by the excellent acoustics of the Commissioners' church. I nearly jumped out of my seat! The congregation must be used to it – hardly anybody else even twitched.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The leaders were waiting at the back to shake hands. I was invited to come back for Easter Sunday but had to explain that I would be at another church. Someone suggested I go back in and look at the school children's displays, so I did. There were so many contributions that every child in the school must have taken part. It was very impressive – the children had clearly understood the narrative of Passion Week. Their contributions were well-expressed and often very moving. The staff and pupils should be proud of their work.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No tea and biscuits on Good Friday afternoon.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I'd be happy to make this my regular church if I lived in the area.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The school children's displays.
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