Victorian Gothic, 1888. Sandstone begrimed! Decorated west front with rose window. Simple unadorned interior; whitewashed walls give a feeling of light spaciousness. High roof, well lit with clerestory windows in clear and green glass. Leaded windows on south aisle depicting assorted saints. My pet saint, St Anthony of Padua (patron of lost causes), was peering over my shoulder from behind, in stained glass. (He will also find your keys for you.) Our Lady and St Joseph stand on marble plinths on either side of the nave altar. Main altar relocated to the front of the sanctuary after Vatican II and moved further forward in 2006 onto an extended sanctuary space. White stone pulpit in sanctuary, embellished with gold decoration; with its little marble columns, it resembles an iced wedding cake. The font on the opposite side of the chancel is like a large white egg cup with gold painted decoration. The red carpeted chapel of the Sacred Heart is now a separate place where Our Lord dwells in the reserved Blessed Sacrament. A very lovely place with a special feel. Everything very clean; spick and span.
This is a busy, well used church with plenty going on. There are coffee mornings, collections for various causes (e.g. Christmas shoe boxes filled with simple gifts for distribution), as well as donations for the food bank. That day there was a selection of goods carved from olive wood (crosses, nativity scenes, etc.) for sale to help Christian families living in Bethlehem; these people struggle because of fewer tourists to the Holy Land. Well thought out; something for everyone!
Wallasey, whose name is a corruption of "Wall O'Sea", is a peninsula within a peninsula (the Wirral), and once had a reputation for "wrecking" the practice of using false lights to lure ships aground in order to plunder their cargo. In the 19th century it became a desirable retirement community for merchants and sea captains. Today the Seacombe district of Wallasey is residential and commercial, where streets of red brick terraced houses rub shoulders with convenience stores, pubs, cafes, chip shop, second-hand shops and the like. The former Ranks Flour Mill is now a bijou apartment complex. In its heyday this was a bustling area with warehouses and ships loading and unloading goods: fish, molasses, grain. Light industry abounded, as too did ship repairers. Alas, no more. They are all gone.
The Revd David Long, parish priest; five young servers, boys and girls, in white albs: thurifer and boat boy, two acolytes, crucifer (very self-conscious).
What was the name of the service?Parish Mass.
How full was the building?
Packed; standing room only.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
There was no greeter at the door, so I picked up my own service sheet and hymn book. However, a 30-something gent in casual clothes sitting next to me in the pew smiled and mouthed "Hello" as I sat down.
Was your pew comfortable?
Comfy pew in light brown oak with ledge for books. Drop-down kneeler in blue leatherette. I couldn't lower mine; it was broken at one end.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lively, a lot of coming and going. Excited youngsters and their parents attending to their needs. Babies bawling. Toddlers bombing around. Quite a few arrived after the beginning in dribs and drabs.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to our mass this morning, which the children will lead and play a large part in the service."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Printed mass sheet "Sunday Message" (Redemptorist publication). Laudate hymn book with mass settings in the back (green cover).
What musical instruments were played?
Electric keyboard (piano), violin and acoustic guitar, this being the folk group's turn to play.
Did anything distract you?
The latecomers. Of course they didn't mean to distract, and stood or lounged at the back with their offspring, periodically darting off to retrieve their escaping children.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Informal, with the children doing the bulk of the prayers and readings. Father Long led the mass.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Father Long spoke in a clear voice, easy to hear and understand. He used notes and had a warmth of delivery. I was told that he is a pleasant, likeable man, popular with his congregation.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Father Long told us he had been to Cambodia recently where there are not many Roman Catholics. While there, he made a bowl of rice soup and dished it out to everyone. When asked why he was doing this, he said that as Christians we are to love one another. The Christian community may be small but it still cares, and we are all a temple with Jesus Christ in us, We will reach out to the whole community and tell them about Jesus Christ.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The special feel in the Sacred Heart chapel where the Blessed Sacrament was reserved.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
A big CCTV camera eye pointing up the nave. Was I being recorded or what? Rather unnerving.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The man in the pew in front of me turned round and said that they could really use me in the choir. Also that there were tea and toast being served in the meeting room. I made my way over for refreshments. The priest was at the back, still in his vestments, wishing people good-bye as they left. Nobody else spoke to me even though it was obvious I was on my own; everyone seemed preoccupied with their own affairs.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The meeting room was in the narthex area, a bit like a cafe with tables and chairs, part of the rearrangement of the building in 2006. Tea in a white china mug, 40 pence. I didn't have toast.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – Yes. I liked the clean, crisp and refreshing feel of a mass like this - no frills, just parish mass as we know it. Easy to follow. The folk group played well and the music filled the building.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Mmm. Well, how can I put it? Yes, but I admit to feeling somewhat invisible - the Invisible Mystery Worshipper. They didn't really go out of their way to make me feel at home. But Our Lord welcomes us, doesn't he?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The priest in his vestments standing at the back to say good-bye and everybody going for tea and toast!