St John's is a small neatly built church with a square tower and a lych gate, and its picture postcard appearance must make it very popular as a venue for weddings. Designed by the architect William Bell in the style of earlier times, it was consecrated in 1886, and replaced an older building that dated back to the 12th century. The conventional interior consists of a nave with one central and two side aisles, and a rather beautiful chancel with carved choir stalls. There is an impressive east window with five lights depicting scenes from the life of Christ and quotations of the beatitudes from St Matthew. The communion table, complete with a brass cross, candles and floral decorations, has a representation of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper, and the reredos is made from Danzig oak. At the west end is the bell tower, which has a peal of six bells, and a font made out of Caen stone.
There are two holy communion services and a service of evening prayer every Sunday. Holy communion is also celebrated each Wednesday and on special days throughout the year. The church has recently celebrated its 125th anniversary, which involved hosting an art and craft exhibition, a flower festival and a choir concert. There is a bell ringing group, a Mothers Union, and various children's clubs.
The pretty coastal village of Silverdale lies in an area of outstanding natural beauty in north west Lancashire, and it overlooks the sweeping vista of Morecambe Bay. It developed in the mid 19th century when a railway line was built connecting it to industrial cities. However, nowadays many people travel north up the M6 motorway en route to the well-known delights of the Lake District and are completely unaware of the existence of this charming area. In the village there is a mixture of Victorian properties, stone buildings, and modern houses and bungalows that exude an air of prosperity, together with a few shops, a library and two hotels. The church is on the edge of the village, with a primary school across the road as its immediate neighbour.
The celebrant was the Revd Canon Paul Warren, priest in charge.
What was the name of the service?Parish Eucharist.
How full was the building?
I was pleasantly surprised to find it was quite healthily attended for such a relatively quiet area and I would estimate at least 100 people were in the congregation. I would say the majority, as is often the case, were on the wrong side of 50, but I did notice a few children as well.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A sidesperson, who handed me the books for the service, greeted me with a cheery "Good morning." The priest also welcomed me when it came to the exchange of peace.
Was your pew comfortable?
It must be one of the most comfortable church seats I have ever sat on! It was a traditional wooden pew but topped with a deeply padded cushion that was really effective. The hassock was also a deep padded cushion that was also equally comfortable to kneel on.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was quite a lot of chattering going on as people greeted each other. I felt a little sorry for the organist, who was playing beautifully. His skills were obviously not being appreciated!
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Announced by the server: "Good morning. We start our service this morning by singing hymn number 367 ('King of glory, King of peace')." After the hymn, the priest said: "In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Ancient and Modern and a St John's service booklet.
What musical instruments were played?
A two manual pipe organ by Abbott and Smith of Leeds, played expertly by Mr John Perrin. It was such a pity there was no choir. The July edition of the church magazine I found in my holiday property mentioned a choir practice and a choir concert, so a choir must exist! Perhaps they were on holiday, exhausted after their concert.
Did anything distract you?
At the end of the service, the priest told us he had to dash off to another church a few miles away, at which point a gentleman in the pew behind me quipped, "Don't get done for speeding!" After seeing him finish off the consecrated wine in the usual fashion, I'm afraid I had a vision of a merry vicar driving around the local fiendishly twisty roads at great speed! On a serious note, though, I'm sure my imagination got the better of me!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
In my opinion it was middle of the road style, although I believe it is referred to as "Lancashire low." The priest wore a green chasuble and was accompanied by two ladies in blue gowns and a server in a white cassock. One of the ladies acted as crucifer; one assisted at the communion table. The server announced the hymns and they all assisted with the administration of communion. There were no smells or bells in the service. The two readings and the prayers of intercession were very well read. The gospel was read, not chanted in fact there was no chanting at all. Overall the worship was dignified, thoughtful and reverent.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Canon Warren spoke clearly, although rather fast. He made some jokes, and managed to wag his finger gently at his congregation.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The main theme was about how to use silence effectively in our worship of God. It was in the stillness after the storm that Elijah found God. Jesus prayed on his own in silence. But we are often afraid of silence, even though we need it. The church is kept open in the day so that people can come in for silent prayer. We ought to be silent before a service, as was the practice until recent times. (This is where Canon Warren wagged his finger!) The early Christians were buffeted by storms of persecution and they needed the presence of Jesus in their hearts to give them calmness and courage and faith. Peter was able to walk on water whilst he looked at Jesus, but as soon as he looked down he began to sink. If we are to stay afloat in all the storms of our life, we need our eyes fixed in faith on Jesus. St Paul said that if you confess in your heart that Jesus is Lord, you will be saved. God will guide us and show us the right course of action.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I was impressed with the way the congregation sang the hymns with enthusiasm and gusto; it was a lovely feeling to be in this little church and join with them in singing praises to God. They sang all the responses really well much better than the mumble you often hear. And, although not part of the service, the pealing of village church bells sounding out over the countryside sent a shiver of delight down my spine.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
This is a difficult question to answer having just had such a pleasant experience! I can only say that the one thing that always niggles me is the use of modern language in our Church of England services. I would say that 95 per cent of that congregation had been brought up with beautiful traditional language, yet we have had these awful modern words thrust upon us. We should be proud of our rich liturgical heritage.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I had a friendly chat with Canon Warren and some ladies, all of whom wanted to know where I came from. When they found out that I was on holiday, they were eager to recommend places to visit. There was a general feeling of bonhomie in the air.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was hot and pleasant, and there was a good choice of biscuits.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – If I lived in this area I would definitely consider worshipping here and would feel comfortable mixing with the congregation. However, my preference is for a more traditional service with rich liturgy, so although I enjoyed worshipping in this delightful church today, I might just seek out something a bit more up the candle in its style of worship.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very much so. I felt honoured to join this congregation in their act of worship and praise to God.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
From my hillside holiday property I had a wonderful view over the fields of this gem of a church, and the photographs I have taken will be very much treasured.