Holy Trinity/St Mary, Berwick (Exterior)

Holy Trinity with St Mary, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, England


Info and corrections →

Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Holy Trinity with St Mary
Location: Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 5 April 2015, 6:00pm

The building

Berwick Parish is the most northerly parish in England. Built as one of the few surviving Cromwellian churches (those built during the years when Oliver Cromwell ruled as Lord Protector of England), the church dates from 1652 and was built in the style of a Presbyterian meeting house: a high square building without altar or chancel. These were not added until 1855, along with new windows and two small turrets either side of the door on the west end. Stones and timbers for the building were taken from King Edward I's nearby castle. The pulpit is said to be that used by John Knox to preach. The church contains a reredos by the late 19th-early 20th century British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, and the original 17th-century communion table. In the churchyard are some Viking and plague graves.

The church

They sponsor regular parish walks that take in various points of interest in the area. Quoting from their website: "All are welcome, including well behaved dogs." There is also a full schedule of organ recitals, choral and band concerts, and visiting soloists. The church is made available for meetings and lectures. There are two church schools in the parish.

The neighborhood

Holy Trinity is just inside the Elizabethan fortifications that surround the town of Berwick. These were built in 1560 to replace walls that dated from the early 14th century that had fallen into disrepair. Close by there is a Church of Scotland building and what looks like an old synagogue opposite. In years gone by there were many more churches within the town than there are now, St Mary's church being one that was made redundant in 1989 and the parish amalgamated with Holy Trinity.

The cast

The Revd Canon Christopher Smith, assisted by the Revd Dennis Handley, vicar.

What was the name of the service?

Choral Evensong and Holy Communion.

How full was the building?

About 30 odd in the congregation, 20+ in the choir.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I was greeted by a number of people and pointed to display boards as I wandered around before the service. The display boards were in connection with the Berwick 900 event – a festival lasting from Easter through October celebrating 900 years of local history – and told the history of Berwyck from a Christian point of view.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes – a low box pew with kneeler and space to kneel.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Settled, as people came in and found seats. There was a display of mannequins wearing a collection of historic chasubles directly in front of the choir stalls; these were moved before the service began, which gave rise to a certain amount of hilarity. The choir could be heard rehearsing in a room just off the north aisle.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Welcome to this service of evensong and holy communion."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Book of Common Prayer and the New English Hymnal were available, but the service was contained in a specially prepared booklet. There was also a notice sheet.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ. The instrument dates back to 1773 and was rebuilt in 1855 by John Nicholson of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The Harrison & Harrison firm of Meadowfield, Durham, rebuilt it again in 1869. The pipes were moved to their present position in 1905, again by Harrison & Harrison. Neglected over the years, the instrument had become unplayable by 2000, when it was replaced temporarily by an electronic instrument while the York firm of Principal Pipe Organs undertook a restoration of the Harrison organ. It was rededicated in 2013.

Did anything distract you?

The explanation of the readings beforehand and the use of the modern translation in a service that was pure Prayer Book.

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

Formal Prayer Book but with a relaxed feel to it. One of the choristers, aged about 11, was inducted into the choir before the anthem.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

No sermon at this service.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The music. This is obviously a church with a good music tradition and choir.

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

I found it frustrating to be told before the reading what the reading was about, particularly when they were passages I knew well: for example, Ezekiel 37:1-14 (the dry bones being breathed back to life).

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

Lots of hand shaking and chatting on the way out.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was no coffee on offer.

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

7 – It was a well done service with booklets that were easy to follow. They should dispense with the pre-reading explanations, though.

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

Yes, an honest service with no fuss and no attempt to be anything that it wasn't, with a good choir with a wide range of ages.

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

The chance to worship in a service that gave time to reflect in peace and quiet.

Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you’d like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.

Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.

Comments and corrections

To comment, please scroll to the end of this report and add your thoughts there. To send us factual corrections, please contact us. We also discuss reports on our Ecclesiantics bulletin board.

© Ship of Fools