St Nicholas, Fleetwood (Exterior)

St Nicholas, Fleetwood, Lancashire, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Nicholas
Location: Fleetwood, Lancashire, England
Date of visit: Wednesday, 15 August 2012, 7:30pm

The building

Built some 50 years ago, its striking design is thought to resemble the spinnaker of a sailing ship when viewed from a distance. The spacious brick-built interior soars to a great height and the eye is drawn to the delightful chancel by a set of three arches. There is an altar at the front of the chancel; this, as well as the high altar, the pulpit, lectern and wooden pews, is made out of a blue-grey painted wood that matches the colour of the slate roof. A modern crucifix is mounted above the high altar. Huge statues of Our Lady with the infant Christ and St Nicholas are mounted on either side of the chancel. A corona depicting St Nicholas is suspended above the front altar, and this completes a picture of absolute perfection.

The church

There are three masses every Sunday as well as other weekday masses. There is a choir, a Mothers Union, MU Ladies Fellowship and a prayer circle. Coffee mornings and various other fundraising activities are held.

The neighborhood

The church lies in a residential area in the outskirts of Fleetwood. Home of Fishermans Friend throat lozenges, Fleetwood was the first planned town of the Victorian era. There are glorious views from the promenade across Morecambe Bay to the Lake District mountains. In its heyday it supported a flourishing fishing industry. Nowadays a dock is reserved for container ships sailing to Dublin and Belfast, and the old fishing docks have been converted into a modern shopping mall with an adjacent marina for colourful pleasure craft. A tram track, still very much in use today, passes two lighthouses of different heights. When ship captains spy these lined up one behind the other, they know they are in the correct position to enter the narrow channel leading to the port.

The cast

The principal celebrant and preacher was the Rt Revd and Rt Hon David Michael Hope, Baron Hope of Thornes KCVO PC. Bishop Hope, now retired, was Archbishop of York from 1995 to 2005. In attendance was the Revd Paul Benfield, vicar of St Nicholas, together with three supporting priests. The organist was Stuart Hankinson and the music was led by the choir of St Stephen on the Cliffs, Blackpool, under the direction of Philip Berry. The servers were from the parish of St Anne, Greenlands, Blackpool.

What was the name of the service?

Solemn Concelebrated Mass.

How full was the building?

Not bursting at the seams but comfortably full. There must have been well over 100 people in the congregation.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes, I was welcomed by a pleasant lady who gave me a specially printed programme containing the order of service.

Was your pew comfortable?

It was a traditional wooden pew with a low shelf on the back of the pew in front that gave plenty of space for books and leaflets. Stacks of small cushions were stored at either end. I took two to kneel on, but I noticed many people used them to sit on!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

People were conversing in subdued tones and generally taking in the beauty of this unusual church.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Everything was printed in the dedicated service booklet.

What musical instruments were played?

A pipe organ positioned at the back of the church was played with empathy and skill.

Did anything distract you?

The number of candles in the sanctuary fascinated me. There were six on the high altar, six on the front altar, plus many others. I think there were twenty-four!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

The number of candles, the statues, and the Stations of the Cross on the walls around the church indicated this is an Anglo-Catholic church, and I was not disappointed. The procession of clergy in immaculate gold and white vestments was led by a thurifer and crucifer. Incense and bells were used at appropriate times throughout the beautiful and reverential service. The Gloria was sung to the setting by John Merbecke, and the Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei to the Mass of the Quiet Hour by George Oldroyd.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

9 – Although he read from notes, Bishop David had an engaging manner and made us all laugh at his jokes.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

In the creed we say we believe in the resurrection of the body. Indeed we are at this moment on the way to death, resurrection and life everlasting. Death is the moment when we enter the house of eternity. In today's feast we contemplate Mary's glory and the resplendence of the heavenly kingdom. By her grace we may enter the glory of the world to come.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

After having suffered truly horrendous torrential rain just a few hours before the service, it was wonderful to see the sun's rays pouring through the windows. This enhanced the radiant beauty of the church. Indeed, had there been a rainbow, I could easily have imagined I was in Noah's ark!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The only thing that vaguely perturbed me was the position of the choir at the back of the church. I like to be able to see the choir! And this choir was very good. They led the service extremely well and their rendition of Stanford's Magnificat was excellent.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

People chatted with each other and caught up with old friends.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was quite a crush at the back of the church where nibbles, soft drinks and wine were served.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

9 – Although this was not a normal Sunday service, many things ticked boxes for me. I would certainly consider worshipping here if I lived in the vicinity.

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

Absolutely. I drove home with joy in my heart.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

It must be the inner beauty of such a gorgeous little church.

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