Mystery Worshipper: Jonah & the whale
Church: St Matthew the Apostle
Location: Douglas, Isle of Man
Date of visit: Sunday, 26 September 2021, 10:30am
A large, brick built edifice right on the quayside ... not particularly attractive until you step through the door, when you say, 'Wow!' I have rarely seen so many statues of saints or number of church banners in one building. The Stations of the Cross are particularly striking. It was lovely to see Our Lady of Walsingham among all the others.
St Matthew's is part of Forward in Faith and The Society (under the patronage of St Wilfred and St Hilda) with pastoral care provided by the Bishop of Beverley ... at some distance! They support local charities and particularly the food bank, as much needed here as on the island next door, sadly.
The Isle of Man is a self-governing British Crown Dependency that sits in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Northern Island. Douglas is its capital and the island's main hub for business, finance, legal services, shipping, transport, shopping, and entertainment. Famous sons include Barry Gibb and his late brothers Maurice and Robin, better known as the '70s and '80s pop music group the Bee Gees. Being that St Matthew’s is situated right on the quayside, it would have been interesting to find if any attendees had travelled by boat ... but we couldn't find any.
The service was taken by a visiting priest, as the parish is currently in interregnum. He was assisted by a deacon (a retired priest who had held the living for 28 years and now lives on the other side of the island but still worships here.) Two members of the congregation did the readings and a server read the intercessions.
What was the name of the service?Sung Mass.
How full was the building?
I counted 15 immediately before the service. Another person entered as we began and there may have been one more. With clergy, servers, organist added, make that at least 23. Not many for such a huge building. We didn't have to fight for seats. Members of the congregation came from a wide area, not just the local community.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were warmly welcomed by the sidesman, who presented us with books. Others nodded hello.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was rows of chairs rather than a pew. Hassocks were provided and the chairs had cunning little shelves for all the books.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was quiet and prayerful. A few minutes before starting, the organist played a voluntary.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
We started with a hymn and then 'In the name of the Father ...'
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The New English Hymnal, a locally printed mass book, the mass setting (Mass in E flat by the 20th century church musician Caleb Simper) and the standard Redemptorist sheet with readings and notices.
What musical instruments were played?
Just the organ ... but played beautifully. In fact the final voluntary received a well-deserved round of applause.
Did anything distract you?
I'm not usually distracted by good servers doing an efficient job, but I was today. I was at a loss to understand as to why they were moving around the sanctuary – in cottas – before, and again after, the service. There were six similarly robed servers, but I was left feeling that two of them might actually be choristers. It wasn't easy to tell the difference except that one undertook no serving duties at all.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Typical Anglo-Catholic worship with bells and smells, perfectly carried out.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 — The visiting priest looked worried. He had spotted me making notes and wondered if I might be the press – or a Protestant society, he told me afterwards!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Father preached to the readings, and started with some personal reminiscence before talking about use of incense and asking us whether we preferred the smell of incense or sulphur. He referred to a number of biblical sources for use of incense, of God appearing in a cloud or as a cloud, and the mysteriousness factor as well as the symbolism of incense being our like our prayers, rising to heaven. A cloud can be unsettling – you can't put God in a box – and comforting – wrapped in the cloud and shielded from view. The Israelites in today's reading were stunned by the two elders in the camp prophesying, and wanted them stopped, but Moses said it was better if more people prophesied. We need to be rooted in God, accepting him and his gifts – and continuing to accept them on a daily basis.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Having the Sacrament offered in both bread and wine! After 18 months of deprivation (in England) this was a wonderful moment of which I was most appreciative.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I was distressed that the priest set up the altar during the intercessions, which distracted me from what appeared to be carefully thought out prayers on behalf of the server leading them.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We were quickly swept up and taken for coffee. I hung back taking a few photographs and was reminded at regular intervals of the coffee – they were keen for me not to miss it!
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was coffee, and it was good. There was also cake. It later became apparent that it was someone's birthday, as the organist played the usual tune on a piano and we all sang.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 — I would have no hesitation worshipping here again, but as the location is rather a long way from home I will probably find it difficult to do so. Don't be put off by the exterior, as the welcome is warm and the hearts warmer.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Sorry, but it will be the pre- and post-mass business of the servers wearing their cottas – or were they choristers?