Mystery Worshipper: Torold
Church: Holy Cross
Location: Woodchurch, Wirral, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 13 November 2011, 10:15am
Situated at the end of a leafy lane, the building is mainly 14th to 16th century and has been reordered many times. It's a history lesson inside. The entrance door, magnificent with its heavy iron studding and iron handle, leads into an inner vestibule reminiscent of a fitted wardrobe. The church features a weeping chancel, so called because it inclines on a north angle to represent the head of Christ on the cross. Brass chandeliers give excellent lighting. The 1934 chancel screen by 20th century British sculptor and wood carver Alan Durst depicts the seven sacraments, and supports a rood. The chancel stalls are perpendicular and much carved. The high altar is plain, with circular cut-outs like wheels, somewhat like a wagon or bogey on a railway line! Green, red, gold and black painted organ pipes are rise at the west end, with the names of 41 rectors to date on tablets beneath the organ casing. The south aisle houses a Lady altar. Two small lancet windows in the chancel contain glass by the celebrated Victorian artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones, while a modern stained glass window was installed in the north aisle in 1997. The west tower houses eight bells, although they were not ringing that day.
No information was available regarding the part this church plays in the community, although the website lists a variety of congregational and outreach groups.
The old village of Woodchurch was swept away long ago; the fields are now covered with a 1940s/50s council estate that is quite pleasing to the eye, the buildings being whitewashed and reminiscent of farm workers' dwellings. It is close to Arrowe Park, a large municipal area with woodland walks, bird sanctuary, golf course and recreational spaces. The Chief Scout, Robert Baden Powell, held the World Scout Jamboree here in 1928; a commemorative statue recording the event stands in the grounds of Arrowe Park Hospital, built in the early 1980s.
The Revd Anne Davis, rector, celebrated. The Revd Philip Owens, assistant priest, preached.
What was the name of the service?Parish Communion – Service of Remembrance.
How full was the building?
About two-thirds full, including the uniformed organisations and their banners, typical of Remembrance Sunday. There were over 100 people altogether.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A sidesman said hello and, smiling, handed me a service booklet, an Act of Remembrance sheet, a pew sheet and a hymn book. I had fun juggling this little lot! Several elderly ladies sat next to me. They smiled and said hello. After the service had begun, there were a few latecomers; nobody gave them any books immediately, but after a few moments a lady from the congregation near to them left her pew and took service sheets and hymn books over to them. She reminded me of Little Red Riding Hood in her red cagoule.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was very hard and uncomfortable, being designed for somewhat smaller derrires than mine. It sported a green carpet runner with matching petit point kneelers.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Animated talking with much to-ing and fro-ing of pre-service preparation. The organ struck up about ten minutes before the service; the atmosphere then became more subdued.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"A warm welcome to everyone."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Old and New, Anglican edition. Printed booklet: Holy Communion with Act of Remembrance. Separate mauve sheet for Act of Remembrance. The readings were from The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, and trumpet for the Last Post and Reveille. There was a robed choir of 10 men and women.
Did anything distract you?
The décor and architecture drew my attention away from the job in hand, from the moment I set foot inside the porch.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Reasonably high Anglican, with reserved sacrament, stations, Sanctus bell at elevation (bicycle bell variety), and gospel procession. Not much response from the congregation, though.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The assistant priest had done his homework and read from notes. He sounded sombre, appropriate for the occasion, I suppose.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The origins of Remembrance Day go back to 1919 when King George V decided that the whole nation would observe a silence on the first stroke of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Newspaper descriptions reported how town centres were quiet. Drays and trams, pedestrians and everything came to a stop. The armed forces did us a big favour when they took upon themselves the pain and suffering for the rest of us the result was victory. Jesus, with the background of the cross, did us an even bigger favour with the pain and suffering that he endured for an eternal victory.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
When I came to leave!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The bum-numbing pew, the chill around my ankles, the lack of response from fellow congregationists.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing. I don't think they even noticed I was there; they were too busy talking to each other. It does not seem a very friendly place; just a club for members only.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Fairly traded tea and coffee in cups and saucers, served in the church hall, with a plate of assorted biscuits. Beverages were hot.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – If they can't be bothered to welcome strangers, would I want to go there anyway?
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No. The lack of welcome made me feel saddened.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The historical and varied décor.