Mystery Worshipper: Torold
Church: St Bernadette's
Location: Allerton, Liverpool, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 31 May 2015, 10:00am
Allerton's very own Romanesque-Art Deco church, a local landmark, dating from the mid 1930s. It is of red and brown brick and has a tiled roof plus bell tower. The interior is simple, with a long, narrow nave lined with rough plastered walls and a timbered ceiling. The high altar with gilded tabernacle is covered by a baldacchino on copper pillars. Statues abound both in the nave and the side chapels. Glass shades (like big goldfish bowls) hang on chains down both sides of the nave. Trs Art Deco! At the northwest corner is the baptistery with a font of rustic red brick. The organ loft is at the west end.
Originally intended to be dedicated in honour of Our Lady of Walsingham, the church was completed around the time of the canonisation of St Bernadette by Pope Pius XI, and so the decision was made to change the dedication. St Wilfrid's parish, of which this church has been a part, is very much at the heart of the community and has had a history of popular priests. Sadly (or perhaps not so sadly read on!) St Bernadette's is slated for closure in fact, today's mass was the last to be celebrated here.
Allerton is a well-to-do suburb southeast of Liverpool, with houses dating from the 1930s and a few local shops. Mather Avenue, on which the church is located, is a busy tree-lined boulevard (just how busy I was about to find out!) close to West Allerton railway station. There are churches galore in this area, plus a synagogue.
The Revd Andrew Unsworth, parish priest, assisted by a deacon identified only as Deacon Paul a little digging reveals that he may have been the Revd Mr Paul Whitehead, parish deacon. Crucifer and three servers were unnamed.
What was the name of the service?Parish Mass
How full was the building?
About half full 120 to 130 in the congregation.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. The books had all gone from the back when I arrived. Sadly nobody offered me even a book to share. The people already sitting down were not particularly friendly or welcoming. Nobody budged up in the pews to let me sit down and nobody welcomed me. Even the exchange of peace was a half-hearted affair. Perhaps they had other things on their minds, like the impending church closure.
Was your pew comfortable?
Not especially. When I managed to find a seat in the pews, the woman I sat next to moved away from me, making sure she had her handbag close by her. I already have my bus fare back home, thank you anyway, luv!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
What atmosphere? It was non-existent, flat and lacklustre. Come on, guys! No wonder your church is closing if this is how you behave regularly!
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to our last Sunday mass here at St Bernadettes."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Old and New, Sunday Missal and St Pauls Mass Book. As mentioned, none of these were left when I arrived.
What musical instruments were played?
Large electronic organ well played, plus a choir of about eight ladies and a single gentleman.
Did anything distract you?
I had a feeling of unease throughout the whole service.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Bog standard Roman Catholic.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Father Unsworth seemed kindly disposed toward his flock, showing great concern for them. This was a difficult homily for him to deliver but he did it nonetheless. He thanked everyone for their help in providing the archive displays, the refreshments, and the lovely atmosphere here in the run-up to the closure.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
We are a pilgrim people on a journey into an unknown future. Yet we are the church. The church is not a building its us! St Bernadettes was built at a time of expansion. There are those of us who are sad at the closure, but remember: we are the assembly of God, his people. We shall always have God with us wherever we are. Lo, I am with you always, to the end of time."
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I felt like applauding the homily, I was so moved, but the rest of the congregation seemed a miserable lot! So I contented myself with admiring the decor, especially a really lovely icon of Our Lady, Russian style, in the nave. I could have gazed at it forever.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Not having a hymn book, especially since some people who had helped themselves to books allowed them to remain unopened on the seats. And the singing from upstairs was rather poor.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Somebody had spotted me scribbling away and asked me if I was a reporter for the local newspaper. No, I said, I just came in out of the rain! No one else said anything to me. I stepped outside to take some photos and almost got mowed down by traffic on Mather Avenue!
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No tea or coffee. If there was, they didnt tell me about it. The refreshments that Father had previously thanked everyone for must have been used up along with the hymn books.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – I can't, since the church is to be closed after today, but even if it were to remain open in perpetuity, I'd want to worship with a more cheery lot than these souls.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, because we, not the building, are the church.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Father Unsworths kind consideration for his flock. And ee, he has a lovely Lancashire accent!