St Wilfrid, Harrowgate (Exterior)

St Wilfrid's, Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Wilfrid's
Location: Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 1 September 2013, 10:00am

The building

This handsome church is built in a honey-coloured stone. The first of many things to catch your eye is a striking Calvary sculpture to the right of the main entrance. The interior is stunning. The white walls and vaulted ceiling, plus the pale sandstone pillars and gold coloured tracery, create a wonderful feeling of light and spaciousness. A magnificent rood screen, featuring carved figures of Our Lord on the cross flanked by Our Lady and St John the Evangelist, gives an air of great dignity and reverence. The view from the nave through to the chancel is truly amazing. The Lady chapel is behind the sanctuary and its lozenge window of Our Lady with the Christ Child can be seen behind the high altar with the magnificent jewel-like complex of the east window rising above. The exquisite Lady chapel acts as an ambulatory and joins St Wilfrid's chapel to the chapels of St Raphael and the Holy Spirit. The baptistery windows sparkle with colour. There is a marble font, above that is a very effective 1960s artwork depicting flames and a descending dove, symbolizing the Holy Spirit. This magnificent church could easily be an abbey.

The church

Services are held every day and there are clubs and societies for both adults and children. Full details can be seen on their website.

The neighborhood

The spa town of Harrogate became very popular in Victorian and Edwardian times. Today it is an elegant and vibrant town with up-market shops, an abundance of period buildings, and beautiful gardens. The church is situated in an affluent leafy suburb with large detached houses, a mere five minutes walk from the centre. Its nearest neighbour is the elite Harrogate Ladies College, and many of the houses have been acquired by the college to be used as boarding houses for its pupils.

The cast

The principal celebrant was the Revd Gary Waddington, SSC, team rector, assisted by the Revd Gordon Newton, team vicar. The preacher was Alex Garner, a seminarian. The organist was Tim Gray and the choirmaster was James MacDonald.

What was the name of the service?

Parish Mass.

How full was the building?

It was quite a good attendance with around 100 in the congregation, predominantly elderly, although all ages were represented, including babies and toddlers.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. I was greeted by a sidesman who, on finding I was a visitor, gave me quite a lot of information about the church. As I had arrived quite early, I used the time to look around the church. Father Gordon came over to introduce himself to me, so we were able to have a pleasant chat.

Was your pew comfortable?

It was an adequately comfortable chair joined to other chairs. The hassock was deeply cushioned and was comfortable to kneel on.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

There was the usual greeting going on, but that quietened down once the organist started playing.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

A lady read some general notices and then invited us to say the prayer of preparation: "Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open..." Then followed a very long period of silence. As I wondered whether this really long silence was customary in this church, some rather irreverent thoughts began to enter my mind. Could they not light the thurible? Had someone lost the cross? Had something happened to the organist or the vicar? But no, everything was fine. The organ suddenly burst into life, prompting the procession of choir and clergy. Then Father Gary greeted us with: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The New English Hymnal, a parish mass book, and a leaflet containing the collect, the readings, the psalm, the gospel, and notices for the week.

What musical instruments were played?

A three-manual organ built in 1928 by the Harrison and Harrison firm of Durham, and still going strong! Mr Gray played "Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness" by JS Bach before the service and "Fantasia in G major" by JS Bach as the recessional.

Did anything distract you?

I was intrigued by the painted panels on the carved wooden pulpit, and the painted panels on the walls above the Stations of the Cross. I later discovered the pulpit panels were of various saints and the side panels were scenes taken from Christ's life.

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

It was glorious Anglo-Catholic at its best. The choir and vested clergy processed into the church, led by a lady thurifer with the crucifer following. The altar was thoroughly censed, and there was much crossing, bowing, and genuflection. Sanctus bells were rung at appropriate times and the fragrance of incense filled the church.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

8 minutes.

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

8 – Alex Garner spoke clearly, but much of it was lost on me because a determined toddler set up in opposition and won!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

It was about the sin of pride. Jesus said, "All those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted." Pride is the act of putting ourselves before others. The Pharisees were a typical example of this. Their problem was attitude and conduct. But pride is an easy trap for us to fall into. We name drop, we boast, and we make ourselves to be marvellous by volunteering to do something, but then complain that we are hard done by the next day. We must change our attitude. The rules of the kingdom of God are those of humility, not pride; generosity, not selfishness; and concern for others, not just ourselves. We need to be willing to be transformed by the mutual love of the kingdom and not let the selfish love of pride rule our hearts. We are invited to join the heavenly kingdom. Our actions should be those of humility, generosity and love.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Well, I was really in heaven throughout the service, but the icing on the cake was the singing of the Angelus at the end. Father Gary has a lovely voice.

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

The noise made by toddlers at the back of the church throughout the whole service.

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

Several people came to speak to me. They were very friendly and informative.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Tea and coffee are normally served, but they were unavailable on this day because the floor of the hall was being sanded and so could not be used.

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

10 – If I lived in the area I would definitely worship here. It is a joy to find a church with traditional Catholic worship and a friendly congregation. I felt I could easily belong here.

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

Absolutely. The dignified and reverent style of worship, the glorious singing of the choir, and the most beautiful gem of a church gave me a wonderful Sunday morning.

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

If I have to name one thing, it has to be the view of the rood screen, through which can be seen the high altar, the spectacular east windows, and the lozenge window in the Lady chapel.

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