This small ancient church has a spectacular cliff-top setting with views over Morecambe Bay to the Lake District fells. Consecrated in AD967, the oldest parts of the church date from the 8th century and there is evidence there was an even earlier structure on the site. It is surrounded by timeworn gravestones, which just appear to tumble into the sea! A Saxon cross shaft has a depiction of the raising of Lazarus and there is a stone coffin near the entrance. Inside the church is quite small and cosy: a nave and chancel separated by an oak rood screen, together with north and south aisles. There are some beautiful stained glass windows, particularly the east window, which depicts scenes from the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. A well-preserved Viking hogback tomb cover, the finest example ever found in Britain, lies in the south aisle.
There are regular services at this church and the sister church of St James. There are the usual societies such as a Mothers Union, a choir group, and a flower-arranging group.
The church lies on the edge of the original village of Heysham, a pretty cluster of houses situated next to the sands of Morecambe Bay. This area of northwestern Lancashire is not that well known even though it is not far from the city of Lancaster. It has an air of times gone by. There is an abundance of tearooms to cater for the needs of walkers who come to enjoy the lovely coastal scenery. A little walk past the church brings you to cliff-top ruins of St Patrick's chapel and rock-cut graves, again dating from the 8th century. A further walk along the cliffs reveals Heysham port, with its two nuclear power stations and a ferry terminus for the Isle of Man.
The Revd David Tickner, rector.
What was the name of the service?Parish Communion.
How full was the building?
It was quite full, with about 60 people, predominantly of what might be described as the more mature type. I didnt see any children at all.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I enjoyed a convivial chat with a gentleman outside the church who was giving out leaflets promoting Our Daily Bread, a publication of RBC Ministries. Inside the church I was welcomed with a cheery "Good morning" by a greeter, who also handed me a hymnbook. The rector came over to say hello.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was about as comfortable as you could expect a wooden pew to be. There was a cushion along the length of the pew, and the hassock was a deep embroidered cushion. I believe the ladies of the parish made the hassocks back in the 1960s when they celebrated the church's millennium. So some 50 years later they are still doing a good job!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The organist was playing a medley of numbers, and people were greeting each other.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Thus says the Lord God: Come to the four winds, o breath, and breathe upon these slain that they may live. I will put my spirit within you that you may live." (Ezekiel 37:9, 14)
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Old and New: One Church, One Faith, One Lord. I was also given a Parish of Heysham Holy Communion service booklet.
What musical instruments were played?
Pipe organ, played with expertise by a gentleman sitting at the console in the north aisle.
Did anything distract you?
I was puzzled about the people sitting in the choir stalls. They were not wearing choir habits, so were they the choir out of uniform, or were they VIPs like members of the parochial church council? Who knows?
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was very simple but dignified. The rector, wearing his black cassock, announced the introductory notices from the lectern and then donned his surplice and a purple stole before beginning the service. Two lit candles were placed on the simple altar table, but I couldn't see a cross at all. The rector conducted the first part of the service from the lectern, read the gospel from the pulpit, and then stayed at the altar for the rest of the service. Apart from one lady reader, he didn't have any assistance at all, even during the administration of communion.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The rector spoke clearly and certainly had no need of a microphone!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
At this Passiontide we often think of death. It was at the time of the plague, when an enormous number of people died, that the church changed attitudes to death. There is a promise of life that comes through faith, and in death we will find a world of hope and life. Jesus asks us to take on the fullness of the life that he can offer us.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Being in such a delightful little church with the sun pouring through the windows was a really enjoyable experience. The singing was engaging and enthusiastic, and I must say I was in heaven for most of the service.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The only thing that disconcerted me was the presence of a foot (with painted black toenails) by my side. Its owner was a lady on crutches who probably had a good reason to place her leg along the pew. However, I felt my personal space had been invaded, and I couldnt see why she had to sit so close to me when there were quite a few empty pews available.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Although I stayed awhile, people were busy chatting amongst themselves.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Surprisingly, there wasnt any form of refreshment on offer.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – The simple type of worship seemed to suit this church and its congregation. Although I generally prefer a more elaborate ceremony, I think if I lived in the area I would definitely want to worship here and give it my support. The ever-present problem of declining congregations and exponentially increasing costs must surely be a burden to this ancient church, and it would be a terrible tragedy if it had to close its doors through lack of funds.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very much so. I left the church with joy in my heart, but sadness as well when I saw families and ramblers walking past the church, not realising what a gem they were missing.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
A church that is so beautiful, both inside and outside.