St Mary's, Wavertree, Liverpool (Exterior)

St Mary's, Wavertree, Liverpool, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Mary's
Location: Wavertree, Liverpool, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 19 March 2017, 10:30am

The building

This church was built in 1872-73 as a Methodist church but was purchased by the Liverpool Diocese after World War II to replace the parish church in a different location, which had been damaged through enemy action. Extensive renovations included reconfiguring the entrances, replacing all interior fixtures, rebuilding the choir and vestry, and installing modern plumbing and heating systems. The exterior, with tower, is of yellow sandstone. The interior features a five-bay nave without aisles. The windows, by early 20th century local glass artist Edward Carter Preston, are spectacular, especially when the light shines through them. Outside in the churchyard is a war memorial that was salvaged from the old church and now stands in a hexagonal area filled with gravel and bounded by a kerb.

The church

Quoting from their website: "St Mary's seeks to be an inclusive church, welcoming all people to worship and participation in the life of the community." They sponsor small study groups and several clubs for young people. Together with other churches in the area, they conduct a confidential drop-in debt advice group. There is also a group for persons dealing with mental health issues. All-age communion is celebrated each Sunday of the month except the second, when they have "All-Age Informal Service with Parade for Uniformed Groups." There is also a shorter communion service added on the first Sunday of each month.

The neighborhood

The Wavertree district of Liverpool is popular with students from Liverpool's three universities, and as such is noted for several pubs that are popular "pub crawl" venues. One architectural oddity is the village lock-up, built in 1796 and known as The Roundhouse although it is actually octagonal. St Mary's Church is set in the midst of merchant housing built by the Victorians.

The cast

The Rt Revd Richard Finn Blackburn, Suffragan Bishop of Warrington; the Revd June Asquith, vicar; the Revd Christel Erving, curate. The bishop wore a purple cope and cream mitre. The clergy wore cassocks and surplices with white stoles.

What was the name of the service?

Family Worship to include the Licensing of Christel Erving as Assistant Curate.

How full was the building?

Mostly full – lots of children and families present.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A person said "Welcome" as he handed me a service sheet.

Was your pew comfortable?

No pews – standard wooden chairs.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Busy due to lots of children and families being present.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Welcome to St Mary's."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Printed order of service including hymns.

What musical instruments were played?

Piano and one lady playing the flute, but we sang along to recorded music. There was a small worship group, and two worship songs were projected onto a large screen. The service had a genuine mixture of traditional hymns: "Amazing Grace" and "Love Divine All Loves Excelling," together with worship songs including "My Lighthouse," "Come, Now Is the Time to Worship" and "Cornerstone" by Hillsong. Bishop Richard seemed uncomfortable and embarrassed during the action song "My Lighthouse," but he joined in the fun – much to the amusement of the congregation!

Did anything distract you?

Yes – the amazing Carter Preston stained glass window above the altar. Beautiful vivid colours.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Very relaxed. Unlike their standard Sunday service, this was not a eucharist, but primarily a licensing ceremony for the new curate. The order of service was the standard one used by Liverpool diocese for the licensing of a curate. It included the declaration of assent read by Bishop Richard. The Revd Christel Erving affirmed her promises to the church, the Queen, and the Bishop of Liverpool. She then received her license. Bidding prayers were led by the curate following those written by Michael Perry (Church Family Worship). The vicar stood alongside the small worship group. Here was a vicar who really wanted to be involved and put both heart and soul into the worship.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

22 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 – A wide ranging sermon. Lots of comments from the heart.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The gospel reading was John 4:5-26 (Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at Jacob's Well), but Bishop Richard touched on a lot of points: (1) being called to serve in places you never expect to be; (2) his visits to the Holy Land; (3) how as a church we can be seen as "toxic" and unfriendly to outsiders; (4) how the Church needs to welcome and affirm those in same sex relationships; and finally (5) Jesus meeting the woman at the well.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The singing. My eyes were fixed upon the small worship group and how the vicar put all her energy into the service – heart and soul. Here was a person who wanted to make the gospel real and relevant.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The peace was long – but everyone wanted to make me feel welcome.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

I was encouraged to stay for a lovely buffet to welcome the new curate.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

People were very warm and friendly. I don't drink hot drinks, so I was pleased to be offered a lovely glass of cordial. There was a splendid buffet. Sadly I had to leave for another engagement.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

9 – It was strange to attend a non-eucharistic service on a Sunday. This church was of a different Anglican tradition but it did warm my heart!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes. After visiting lots of churches, here was one I found to be genuinely connecting with families and young people. It was a real delight to see so many young people present.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

A church full of children and families. That is amazing – rarely on my visits do I see so many children and families in an Anglican church.

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