St Matthew the Apostle, Douglas, Isle of Man

St Matthew the Apostle, Douglas, Isle of Man


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Matthew the Apostle
Location: Douglas, Isle of Man
Date of visit: Sunday, 5 September 2010, 10:30am

The building

The rather grim, grey stone building stands on a corner overlooking the quay in Douglas Harbour. It was built in stages between 1895 and 1908 to the design of the Victorian architect John Loughborough Pearson. Unfortunately a planned belfry and steeple were never built, and this may explain its rather odd appearance. However, the inside has a beauty all its own, and the eye is immediately drawn to the high altar with a brass cross and six candles, behind which is a wooden reredos in late Gothic style in the form of a hinged triptych. Above this, lancet windows depict a crucifixion scene. Pillars of pink sandstone support arches in the nave, which is flanked by interesting stained glass windows and stations of the cross. Wrought iron screens enclose a Lady chapel in the north transept, and there is a small chapel in the south transept that came from the chapel of HMS Valkyrie in memory of comrades who died in Word War II. Statues of various sizes adorn the church, the largest being that of Our Lady, situated outside the Lady chapel.

The church

Masses are celebrated daily. Full details of services and a calendar of social events can be found on their website.

The neighborhood

Douglas is a bustling resort on the Isle of Man, a small island 33 miles long and 13 miles wide, situated in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland. It is not part of the United Kingdom, but is a self-governing Crown dependency, with a policy of low taxation. In its heyday in the early and mid 20th century, the island was a popular holiday destination for visitors from northern England because of its abundance of beautiful sandy beaches, pretty wooded glens with tumbling waterfalls, and stunning mountain scenery. Today electric trams still climb to the summit of Snaefell, and horse-drawn trams transport tourists along the promenade. You can enjoy dramatic coastal scenery on a tram ride from Douglas to Ramsey, or travel by steam train through luxuriant countryside to the picturesque towns of Port Erin and Port St Mary. The large sandy bay of Douglas is lined with Victorian hotels, many of which have been modernised, and at the far end there is a harbour with a sea terminus for car ferries. The church is situated in the harbour area and its immediate neighbours are some cafes, bars, and quayside shops selling nautical equipment.

The cast

The celebrant and preacher was the Revd Canon Duncan Whitworth, assisted by a retired priest, the Revd A Solomon, and a lay person. Mr John Riley presided at the organ.

What was the name of the service?

Solemn High Mass.

How full was the building?

There were probably about 80 to 100 people there, predominantly middle aged and elderly. Sunday school was due to start on the following Sunday, which may have explained the dearth of children. The only young person I saw was a youth called Charlie, who gave an excellent first time reading during the service.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. We were greeted by a sidesman who gave us quite a handful of leaflets and books.

Was your pew comfortable?

It was a reasonably comfortable chair with quite a comfortable hassock.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The organist was playing some anthems. Otherwise, people greeted each other and chatted – not that quietly!

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The English Hymnal, Church of St Matthew Supplementary Hymn Book, mass book, a sheet containing prayers, readings and the gospel, and a collection of music for the office of holy communion set in E flat by H H Woodward. I thought the provision of music was a splendid idea.

What musical instruments were played?

Mr Riley played a splendid pipe organ that was originally built by Ernest Wadsworth Ltd of Manchester in 1922. Wood of Huddersfield rebuilt it in 1979, and several changes and additions have been made since then.

Did anything distract you?

One thing that bothered me was the fact that the sun was shining outside and yet the interior wasn't lit as brightly as you might expect. It suddenly dawned on me that the church couldn't possibly be facing east; as far as I could make out, it was facing north. I spent far too much time pondering over this. Also, exchanging the peace was an unusual experience for me in that it only involved the clergy and servers, before the vicar continued with the mass. My companion and I were deprived of our usual embrace!

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

I really enjoyed and felt very much at home with the service, which was in accordance with the Catholic tradition of the Church of England. The small altar party consisted of thurifer, crucifer and two taperers wearing white surplices over red cassocks, and two priests and an assistant vested in green chasubles. After processing into the chancel, the celebrant censed the altar with reverential ceremony and all faced toward the liturgical east. Beautiful traditional language was used throughout. There was much genuflecting and bowing. Sanctus bells were rung at appropriate times, and the fragrance of incense filled the church.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

13 minutes.

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

8 – Father Duncan spoke clearly, using prepared notes.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Jesus calls us to be loyal to God, to take up the cross and follow him; and ordinary life gives us plenty of opportunities to do this. But for Christians living out their lives, following God is often not an easy option. We have disappointments and setbacks, which test our commitment and loyalty to Jesus. Even though we do our best, we stumble and fall. However, God picks us up and so we are able to carry on. Father Duncan concluded with a quote from a John Keble hymn.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The moving reverential worship and the rich liturgy really put me in heaven for the whole service. I particularly enjoyed the singing of the Angelus at the end of the mass.

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

When I placed my folded-up Mystery Worshipper card on the offertory plate, it looked nothing like the cash and envelopes already there. I had tried to conceal it under some coins, but the coins slid off and my folded up MW card was there for all to see. My heart nearly stopped when the sidesman looked at it, then looked at me – as though he wanted to give it back to me! Luckily he moved on and I prayed it would soon be buried under other offerings.

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

There was no chance of hanging around. Two ladies who sat behind us immediately engaged us in conversation. Others came up and made friendly conversation. We were made to feel most welcome.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

This definitely goes on my list of civilised churches, because they offered sherry! They also offered coffee and a selection of biscuits.

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

10 – If I happened to live on this serene island, I would definitely worship here. It was wonderful to discover a church with Catholic ceremonial and traditional teaching, and a family atmosphere that I felt I could easily belong to.

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

Undoubtedly. A mass that is so beautifully celebrated is a joy in itself.

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

The fact that a small team could deliver a delightful uplifting service of such a high standard will stay in my mind for a long time.

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