This is a lovely church of 1841 built by William Butterfield – his only non-conformist church building. Although it was built as a congregational church, it is to all intents and purposes Anglican in design, with fine timber ceilings, four pointed arcades and a later apse and tower.
The Church of England bought the building in the 1970s, saving the first ever William Butterfield church from becoming a furniture warehouse. Sadly, two very fine churches closed to create this church – the magnificent St Saviour, Walcot Park, and and the equally magnificent St Mary's, Tyndals park. The church describes itself as in the Catholic tradition, but I would describe it as being in the broad church tradition.
Very well off neighbourhood reflected in the social status of its congregation. However, the congregation appears to be aware of the inner city problems nearby.
Rev. Weller, together with a retired priest and a Fransican.
What was the name of the service?Morning Eucharist
How full was the building?
About 70 or 80 people were present, but I gather congregations are at about the 100 mark. The Church of England is struggling on this side of Bristol.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
My old school friend's dad, who greeted me. He used to be the football teacher at our school and I can remember him taking us for football lessons when I was age five. He is a really friendly bloke and made several newcomers welcome at the same time.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a brand new chair, which I wasn't expecting!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Mostly chatty. I caught up with my friend's dad and chatted to the new youth group worker, whose first placement was here. She looked nervous as she was about to start her degree. I wish I was a student again!
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to St Mary's."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Anglican Hymn Book, which I carried with me.
What musical instruments were played?
A large, two-manual Willis pipe organ: a magnificent instrument crammed into a very small chamber. There are plans to replace it with an electronic organ. I wonder why it can't be placed in the west gallery. I believe organs and west galleries belong together.
Did anything distract you?
A central, brightly coloured crucifix suspended from the chancel arch. I can't imagine the Congregationalists would have liked that much! It held my attention throughout the service. I am very sad to say that I am a Neighbours fan. Anyone who follows that most noble soap will remember the scence when Mark is about to marry Annalise, but looks up at the crucifix and decides to become a priest instead. This cross reminded me of that scene, although I have no intention of becoming one – yet, anyway!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The church described itself as liberal catholic, But I would describe it as broad church. There were few Anglo-catholic excesses, other than a gospel procession and an angelus. There were no stations of the cross or any other high church bits and peices, and no choir either. There were icons, and the art in the church tended to reflect Taizé style worship rather than conventional Catholicism. The organist played very well and he played a peice by Malcolm Arnold (who had passed away during the night).
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Not very long.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The elderly, retired minister was a stand in and was clearly of the old school, although I did warm to him.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was about spiritual pride and he alluded to instances within the church.In a church where I used to worship, the congregation would quite happily chat to the church cleaner, but as soon as the bishop came in, people would leave the cleaner and hover around the bishop like he was some kind of pop idol. All very sad... so I could identify with the sermon.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Being in a peaceful service and listening to the Malcolm Arnold piano music during the communion. The music was was very haunting and held my attention as I looked up at the suspended crucifix.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Being up at 10am. I had to leave my house early to travel to the church, which is 15 miles from where I live. By the time I got there I was still waking up.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
My friend's dad introduced me to the organist, who explained why he had chosen the piece of music by Malcolm Arnold.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I had squash, as I am allergic to tea and coffee. They had a fair trade stall, which was great to see.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – It would be lovely to attend this church regularly if it was just a bit nearer home.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It certainly did – and it made me want to be a more tolerant one!
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The lovely painted crucifix.