Mystery Worshipper: Vulpus Perigrinus
Church: St Thomas
Location: Mellor, Greater Manchester, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 17 December 2017, 10:00am
Started in the 1500s on 14th century foundations, most of the church dates from its rebuilding in the early 19th century. It is a stone building with a west tower and a south porch. The interior consists of nave and chancel, and boasts the oldest wooden pulpit in England, possibly in the world. (I'll have something to say about it directly.)
The church serves six communities: Mellor, Marple Bridge, Mill Brow, Moor End, Ludworth and Cote Green. As with many country parishes, the congregation are mostly retired locals and newcomers to the area, and has very few young people. Judging from their calendar, they appear to have either one or two eucharist services, and either evening prayer or choral evensong, on alternating Sundays. There is also a prayer group that meets Monday mornings. They are planning a "Bach at Twilight" for later on in January.
Mellor, in the Peak District, affords spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. It was an important mill town during the Industrial Revolution. A local curiosity are the Roman Lakes, which are neither Roman nor lakes, but were actually reservoirs built to serve the cotton mills. The mills are gone now, but many have been converted for use by various local businesses. Sports are a major pastime, especially lacrosse, with the Mellor lacrosse club achieving widespread fame as a fearsome competitor. The church sits away from the village community but amidst the archaeological remains of a Bronze Age settlement.
Communion was led by the vicar, the Revd Alex Sanders.
What was the name of the service?Parish Communion.
How full was the building?
Twenty robed clergy, servers and choir to minister to thirty-seven souls in the congregation. The choir all sat in the back pews, making the church feel about half full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was welcomed at the door and the vicar took the time to come over and personally introduce herself and welcome me.
Was your pew comfortable?
I chose a pew near the front that was both comfortable and warm, with a large heating pipe by the wall. I would soon regret it, though read on!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The church is not large, so everyone arriving and greeting each other could be clearly heard. This was a pleasant noise, though, and not at all distracting or irreverent.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to all, whether a regular or a visitor, for this Third Sunday in Advent."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymn book and locally produced service book taken from Common Worship.
What musical instruments were played?
The whole service was accompanied by a very fine Mander tracker organ built in 1977.
Did anything distract you?
The east window is beautiful and was surrounded by the Advent/Christmas decorations that were very tasteful. There is also a beautiful modern glass by the font that kept catching my eye.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Worship was of a comfortable high church tradition that did not feel starchy.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The vicar employed an easy-going style to explain some complex biblical study methods and to relate them to today.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
St John the Baptist performed cleansing rituals that challenged the role of priests in the temple and their rituals. He dressed like a prophet, which had the temple authorities worried, as he was claiming that ancient prophecies were about to come true. Does this challenge us? Are we too tied up in ritual? Are we ready for the coming?
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The anthem "This is the Record of John" by Orlando Gibbons, sung during the distribution of communion.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The pulpit might be ancient, but it is tall, and the ache in my neck from looking up at it soon showed me why nobody else sat so near the front.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I began snapping some photos, and people quickly came up to show me things and tell me some of the church history. Then they invited me for coffee and mince pies and pointed me in the right direction to the hall.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Fabulous mince and pastry slices with the coffee. Many people came and talked with me. I needed all the fuel I could get, as it was bitter cold outside, windy and damp, and I had to stand out in it for some time waiting to be collected.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – It is a church with a lot going on and the congregation are very welcoming to newcomers. Others who were previously newcomers were quick to tell me how soon they settled in.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The whole service was uplifting.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
I shan't forget what a cold day it was. But I shall go back again in better weather, if only to admire the views.