Mystery Worshipper: Chris Teean
Church: St Mary's
Location: Staveley-in-Cartmel, Cumbria, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 18 September 2011, 9:30am
This delightful little church is virtually hidden from the road by high trees. It is very easy to miss the entrance into its grounds, which is through a lych gate situated by the side of a very narrow tree-lined lane. The stone built church has a squat square clock tower and quite a sizeable grassy graveyard. It was built shortly after the Dissolution with stone from nearby Cartmel Priory, and, after several restorations, it was finally dedicated to St Mary in 1897. Inside, the cream coloured interior has a comfortable, welcoming and organised air and seems to have everything a little church should have! An eye-catching east window depicts Mary holding the infant Jesus, surrounded by other biblical figures and angels. Below this is a simple altar with a brass cross and two candlesticks. Wooden pillars between the nave and the south aisle, replacing the original stone ones, perfectly complement the roof arches. Stained glass windows, a wooden pulpit, a brass lectern and a stone octagonal font all add to the beauty of the church.
St Mary's is part of the Leven Valley benefice. St Anne's at Haverthwaite and St Peter's at Finsthwaite are the other churches in the group. A full timetable of all the services of the benefice can be seen on the website. As far as I can make out, St Mary's has only the one Sunday service in a week.
Once you leave the busy Kendal to Barrow main road, you are immediately plunged into the narrow torturous lanes of south Lakeland. Staveley-in-Cartmel lies in the Leven valley and is less than a mile from the southern end of Lake Windermere, England's longest lake. Perhaps at one time there was a village, but the tiny school next to the church closed some fifty years ago and its playground is now used as a car park for the church. This pretty rural area is dotted with farms and well appointed properties hiding behind high hedges.
The Revd Canon Peter Calvert, priest in charge, was the celebrant and preacher.
What was the name of the service?Holy Communion.
How full was the building?
The congregation consisted of 15 adults, of a good mixture of ages, and a baby. Apparently some of the regular congregation were away on holiday.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. In the car park we were greeted by one of the churchwardens, whom we had met the previous day; she was pleased we had come to the service. We were also greeted by Canon Calvert when we entered the church, and also by a pleasant lady who handed us all the literature we needed for the service.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. It was more comfortable than most old oak pews because there was a nice deep cushion placed along the seat. The kneelers were also deep and comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was peaceful. A lady played a few pieces quietly on the organ.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Canon Calvert gave out some notices, announced the opening hymn ("Praise to the Lord"), and then began the service with: "In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Ancient and Modern, a service booklet, and a sheet that listed the collect, the readings and the gospel reading. Copies of The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, and One Hundred Hymns for Today lay on the pew shelves.
What musical instruments were played?
A reed organ was played very well by a lady (called Helen, I believe).
Did anything distract you?
A lady behind me had a small, very well-behaved baby with her. Unfortunately when Canon Calvert delivered his sermon, the baby decided to respond with a rival dialogue, so there were times when I had difficulty hearing some of the sermon.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service was conducted in a very simple and reverent manner that was entirely suited to the surroundings. Canon Calvert was simply vested in a white alb and a green stole for the first part of the service. After the offertory he donned a green chasuble. The organist and a member of the congregation both delivered the readings eloquently.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – I was very impressed with Canon Calvert's relaxed manner. He just stood at the foot of the chancel steps and delivered his sermon without any notes, without a microphone, just as if he were a wise man talking to his family.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was about fairness and how one person's interpretation of what is fair differs from another's. He referred to the readings and gospel passage and brought to our minds everyday incidents where we might think "It's not fair." The world we live in is not fair. However, we should thank God for all the things we take for granted. We need to remember that God's love knows no bounds and that he is there for all of us.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I enjoyed the whole service, but the exchange of peace was particularly moving. Everyone in the congregation made sure they greeted everyone else.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The only thing that marred this experience for me was the use of modern language, particularly in the creed. I so much prefer the traditional words.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We had a pleasant chat with Canon Calvert, and a few others made friendly conversation with us.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasn't any.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – If I lived in this area I would certainly want to worship here and join the team that helps to maintain the church as a living and working place of worship. It must be very difficult to maintain this church in times of declining congregations and escalating costs.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very much so. I felt humbled and privileged to join with this small congregation in their act of worship in their lovely little church.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Stepping through the lych gate from a dark tree covered lane to discover this absolute little gem of a church.