The very tall red brick Victorian building can be seen from quite a distance. It seems that instead of building a church with a tower, the Southport architects Mellor and Sutton just decided to design the church to an equivalent tower height. "The king's daughter is all glorious within" (Psalm 45:13) is an apt description of this church. Certainly on entering, one can only say "Wow!" Although the interior is rather dimly lit, the eye is immediately drawn to an enormous magnificent reredos by Harry Hems of Exeter, which surrounds a painting of the Crucifixion by Kehren of Dsseldorf. The sumptuously decorated high altar placed in front of this, together with a matching ornate pulpit and golden angels at the entrance to the chancel, complete this Victorian extravaganza.
This is a Forward in Faith church. Masses are offered every Sunday and throughout the week, full details of which can be found on their website. There is a choir and the usual societies, and they have quite varied social and fund-raising activities.
Southport is a rather genteel holiday resort on the Lancashire coast. The parish church of St Luke is situated in its leafy suburbs, roughly a mile from the coast. The immediate area is completely residential, with just a few little shops nearby.
The church is in an interregnum at the moment. The visiting celebrant and preacher on this day was the Revd David Overton.
What was the name of the service?Solemn High Mass.
How full was the building?
There were probably about 30 adults in the congregation, and most, I have to say, were seniors. I was surprised that there were not more people there, but was told that quite a few were missing that morning.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, I was made to feel most welcome by several people, both before and after the service. A sidesman handed me the necessary books and told me they were using the English Missal for the service.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a standard wooden pew with a strip of carpet along it. Feeling elated after having arrived in this wondrous place, I don't think I would have noticed if I had been sitting on a bed of nails! I was blissfully comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was some quiet greeting going on, but overall the atmosphere was reverential and worshipful whilst the organist played quietly.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The priest chanted: "Let us proceed in peace" and the congregation responded: "In the name of Christ. Amen."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The New English Hymnal and a service booklet.
What musical instruments were played?
A traditional organ.
Did anything distract you?
I was in this amazing church and I just couldn't stop looking at the sheer opulence and splendour of everything in front of me. I was fascinated by the figures in the reredos and found out later that they were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John together with some early archbishops. I even spotted a pair of golden angels.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was definitely right at the top of the candle, with everything you could possibly expect in the way of smells and bells, rich vestments, and a liturgy that used beautiful traditional English. The collect and epistle were chanted, as was the gospel. The service ended when the priest, altar party and choir processed to the Lady chapel, where the Angelus was sung.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The Revd David Overton spoke very clearly from prepared notes.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He spoke of his student days when he had visited a particular church and the Anglican cathedral in Liverpool, where their appearance could be described as "dreadful." He has often pondered over the meaning of that word and thought "awesome" might be more appropriate. Many worshippers all over the country believe their own church is special or beautiful. Some have a "wow" factor that hits you when you walk through the door. All too often these buildings have very high maintenance costs, the brunt of which is usually borne by a dwindling congregation of retired people. St Luke's is just like that, having been built at the time when it was fashionable to construct large lofty buildings to the glory of God, and to accommodate the faithful. We need to reflect on how we are viewed by the outside world. If we are to maintain our church, we need to change from being seen as an old-fashioned and irrelevant commodity to a living, vibrant expression of Anglican Christianity.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
My eyes saw heavenly sights when I viewed the glorious spectacle in the chancel. My ears heard heavenly sounds when I listened to the beautiful traditional words of the liturgy. The aroma of fragrant incense and a communion wine that tasted like nectar all added to this heavenly experience!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I was jolted out of my state of euphoria at the beginning of the Creed when the organist played something strange that reduced the congregation to silence. After a few moments he reverted to the well-known tune, so we were able to carry on. Perhaps he had dropped his music?
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Several people engaged in conversation with me and I was invited into a hall at the back of the church for refreshments.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was tasty and hot. There was a goodly selection of biscuits and cakes to choose from. They had held an autumn fair on the previous day, which accounted for the abundance of tempting morsels on offer.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – I'll have to move to Southport!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely. I felt the presence of the Lord throughout this moving service. I felt saddened, though, at the dearth of younger people, with whom the future of the church lies. Perhaps the congregation will take to heart Father David's message and find a way to attract them into their beautiful church.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The wow factor when I first set eyes on the high altar amidst that gloriously rich chancel.