Mystery Worshipper: Don Bosco, accompanied by Mamma Margaret
Church: St Margaret's
Location: Ilkley, West Yorkshire, England
Date of visit: Tuesday, 24 December 2013, 10:30pm
Dating from 1879 and paid for in part by fines levied upon sidesmen who failed to appear for their appointed rotas, it is the work of late 19th century architect Richard Norman Shaw. Shaw's other designs include Lowther Lodge, headquarters of the Royal Geographical Society, and the Norman Shaw Buildings, which until 1967 were the location of New Scotland Yard. St Margaret's is in the Perpendicular Gothic style, with the east end towering high above the road due to its location on a hillside. The interior is decidedly Gothic: bare stone with wooden floor and terra cotta tiles. There are choir stalls, altar rails, a pulpit, and an imposing rood screen with crucifix. The high altar is topped with a spectacular painted carved reredos depicting the Ascension. At the west end is a large baptistery. Much of the stained glass is intricately detailed. Stations of the Cross line the walls.
Devoted to the Oxford Movement right from the start, St Margaret's has always been proud of its adherence to Anglo-Catholic tradition (despite cries of "No popery!" as the robed choir processed in during less enlightened times). They place a great emphasis on music, supporting several choirs who sing at their different services. There is also a Mothers' Union and a lunch club. The parish is part of Churches Together in Ilkley, a group encompassing all the denominations of Christianity in Ilkley, professing a common mission statement.
Ilkley was once the site of a Roman fort and is home to the infamous Ilkley Moor, the setting for the folk song On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at ("On Ilkley Moor Without Your Hat"), the unofficial county anthem of Yorkshire. On the moor can be found several rock formations carved with shapes resembling swastikas (but thought by some to date from Roman times). The skyline is dominated by two rocks, one large and one small, close by each other, which are known as the Cow and Calf rocks. Ilkley itself is a spa town and a popular tourist destination. A high proliferation of small independent shops also attracts the quality-conscious shopper. St Margaret's Church is located right on the edge of the Ilkley Moor, on a very steep hill.
The Revd Canon Philip Gray, vicar, was celebrant. The Revd Canon Bernard Gribbin, retired priest in residence, preached. The deacon, subdeacon, and another priest in cope were not named.
What was the name of the service?First Mass of Christmas.
How full was the building?
The main part of the nave was comfortably full I should imagine just under 300 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The vicar introduced himself at the door, and another greeter handed us the order of service with a warm smile and a "Thank you very much."
Was your pew comfortable?
A stand-alone wooden chair, typically seen in buildings of this period. Kneelers were provided for those who prefer kneeling to the Anglican crouch.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
At the back, people were greeting each other, laughing and talking. But those sitting were quiet and expectant. The bells started to ring. A few minutes before the service started, the vicar gave a brief welcome and asked us to maintain silence in preparation.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
An order of service with all the responses, readings, and notes for the chanted parts of the service.
What musical instruments were played?
The church's organ was played throughout, and a sizeable choir sang excerpts from a mass setting (the French Baroque composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier's Messe De Minuit Pour Noel) and an anthem during distribution of communion. The organ dates from 1891 and was moved to Prestwich Hospital chapel in 1956. It was returned to St Margaret's in the 1980s, refurbished and augmented, and rededicated in 1987.
Did anything distract you?
Three butterflies flitted about the nave on this day of Christmas!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I have to say "ritualistic" for the following reason: There were all the trappings of Anglo-Catholicism (incense, bells, crucifer, acolytes, sung responses, robed choir, beautiful Gothic vestments), but this was destroyed by the childish language in Common Worship. There was an emphasis on Anglican rather than the Catholic.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Canon Gribbin spoke sagely, reading from a script. Certainly very wise in his years, he delivered the sermon fluently and gently.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
When we need to communicate something important, even in this age of modern technology, we do it face-to-face. The Lord spoke through prophets in the Old Testament, then himself through the Incarnation. God is not somehow sitting back and watching the world, but is here with us, Emmanuel. God suffers with those who suffer and are poor, especially during these troubled times for Christians in the Middle East. Although God's love cannot be forced on anyone, such as those who choose not to worship, he never turns away from them. Nothing in heaven or earth can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Mamma Margaret had tears rolling down her cheeks as she watched the preparation and censing of the gifts whilst we sang the offertory hymn "It came upon a midnight clear."
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
After taking communion, I managed to get lost and somehow ended up behind the organ console. I was pointed in the right direction by someone standing near the altar rails. Unfortunately, the soprano who sang the solo for "Once in royal David's city" had a false start and never really recovered.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We had a taxi booked for midnight, so we had to hurry out before the final verse of the recessional hymn.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasn't any advertised.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – Ilkley is a long way for us to travel on a weekly basis, but I shall try and make the trek for high feasts at least.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely. Throughout, I thought often of Psalm 141: "Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice." It was very powerful.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
I will remember singing "O come all ye faithful" with the choir processing through the nave singing the descant. Mamma Margaret shall remember the beautiful altar reredos, which we got a good view of when we were given communion.