St Nicolas, King's Norton, Birmingham, England

St Nicolas, King’s Norton, Birmingham, England


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Mystery Worshipper: Lith
Church: St Nicolas
Location: King’s Norton, Birmingham, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 16 November 2008, 10:30am

The building

This is a typical old parish church set in a graveyard, with a bell tower and working bells. It probably dates from the 14th century, with additions and alterations continuing throughout the ages into the 19th century, which saw the last major renovations to the building. It is constructed of stone, with timber vaulted ceiling. The inside was adorned with flower displays including poppies, which were really nicely done but seemed likely to be left over from Remembrance Sunday the previous week! The pulpit fall and lectern fall were large sheets of white paper, each with a large poppy made from scrunched up tissue paper – it looked like a Sunday school project.

The church

St Nicolas is one of four churches comprising the parish of Kings Norton. They are also part of an LEP (local ecumenical project). Holy communion (Prayer Book) is celebrated each Sunday, along with Parade (hymns, prayers, songs and Bible readings, with high input from members of the Guides, Brownies, Rainbows, Scouts, Cubs and Beavers) and evensong. The church and its buildings seem to be a focal point for the community – the magazine gives many different events going on for people to participate in, and clubs and societies, including a historic society and the uniformed organisations.

The neighborhood

Kings Norton is a southern suburb of Birmingham. Many well-known firms are situated in the area, the most notable being Triplex Safety Glass, which supplies approximately 95 percent of the aircraft glass used in the United Kingdom, as well as glass panels for banks, bulletproof vehicles, and railway locomotives. In nearby Bournville, the Cadbury family set up their famous chocolate factory, as well as their philanthropic village and societal infrastructure and their dry Quaker approach to life (you can buy alcohol in Kings Norton, though). The church is located on "The Green," reminiscent of an old village green, with small independent shops as opposed to chain stores, traditional architecture, and a bit of grass too.

The cast

The Revd Canon Rob Morris, team rector, led the service, with various congregational members doing the readings and the intercessory prayers.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Communion

How full was the building?

I counted 55 people in a building that can hold at least 200. It looked more full, however, as everyone was spread out round the pews. The congregation were generally well dressed (though not necessarily smart or in Sunday best), I would guess representative of the reasonably affluent area in which the church is located. They ranged in age from about 35 (with a handful younger than that) up to about 85, with significant clusters of late middle aged and senior folks.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A lady offered a polite hello and gave me my hymn book, order of service and newsletter. She asked if I was visiting, which I claimed I was. The vicar came up to me in the pew and exchanged pleasantries before the service, and said that all were welcome at communion.

Was your pew comfortable?

They weren't very comfortable – very tall and very narrow in the seat front to back. They are old and wooden, in keeping with the church building, with thin carpeting that doesn't fit or make them more comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Mostly quiet, with a few people exchanging greetings in hushed tones. Chatter was more at the door than in the pews.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Welcome. If you were here last week, you will know that the heating system has had temporary repairs."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Complete Anglican Hymns Old and New plus a printed order of service. There were New Revised Standard Version Bibles at the end of every pew.

What musical instruments were played?

Due to an electrical fault, the usual pipe organ was not operational, so the organist was playing a keyboard with an organ stop that lacked bass. There were also four children playing violin, cello and two flutes during a selection or two, but the keyboard dominated.

Did anything distract you?

It is quite an interesting historic building, so there were quite a few fixtures and features to feast your eyes on, as well as the choir's robes and the canon's vestments. Despite the heating system repairs, it was a bit chilly, but not particularly draughty. The children were out at Sunday school for the first part of the service, and when they joined us at communion time their entrance posed something of a distraction.

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

A traditional Anglican service, with a service sheet that gave you enough information that you could follow without being baffled. There was no use of theological jargon.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes.

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

8 – The vicar was engaging, and very honest and frank, which I found refreshing. He had a relaxed style, but not to the point that things were missed or an impression given that he was uncaring. His language was accessible and easily understood, and he even managed to get a few jokes in.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He spoke on the gospel reading, the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). He drew some sensible parallels to the current economic climate, and pointed out that we must not hide from God, but rather trust God and not be afraid. We should take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The sermon was good because the language was clear and easy, and applicable to life outside the church. Quite refreshing, really.

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

The music was of a reasonable quality, but the congregation did not seem keen to join in. They appeared to think that that was what the choir was for. Therefore, my own singing made me quite conspicuous. There was, as usual, the sharing of the peace, which was a formal handshake, but it seemed to be with most of the congregation and so took quite a while.

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

No one spoke to me, and so I joined the queue at the door to leave. The vicar said a word or two to me as I left, and gave me a complimentary copy of the monthly magazine (normally retailing at 50p), but whilst I was waiting in the queue no one spoke to me at all.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

It was fairly traded and in a plastic cup with holder – haven't seen those for awhile!

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

7 – I liked the worship, but the congregation didn't seem very engaging or welcoming, despite a reasonable number of them being between 35 and 50, something else I hadn't expected.

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

It didn't make me wish I wasn't!

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

The fact that it was an interesting place to go, and that the quality of the worship was good, even if the people weren't very welcoming. In some ways good worship is more important than the people, although I do think that a church needs both and should strive to meet a balance somewhere.

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