Mystery Worshipper: Urganda
Church: St Anne's
Location: Edge Hill, Liverpool, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 19 January 2020, 10:30am
Photo: © Sue Adair and used under license Built in the early 19th century and designed by Joseph Hansom, brother of Charles Hansom of cab fame, to serve the expanding suburb of Edge Hill, which has since been pulled down. The church is very red and very locked on the outside. Inside it glows with welcome in two periods. The original chancel is highly decorated with marble, stained glass, many statues and paintings of saints, a huge organ, choir stalls, metalwork, wood and stone carving. None of this is used. The nave, which is about the same size, has new upholstered chairs, a modern nave altar, electronic keyboard, and heating. It is user-friendly and much used. There is also a parish housejoined on. A corridor connecting the house with the church has a small chapel, toilets, kitchens, etc.
I was struck by its size and enthusiasm in an area of vandalism and modern bungalows. Any community has been ripped apart by recent re-development. But at 10.00 on Sunday morning people appear, and it becomes obvious that the parish is full of life. They have a prayer group and a justice and peace group. Their beta course has got off to a great start, they tell me. They care about the environment and about the sick.
Edge Hill is at its most exciting underground. The world's first passenger railway ran through here, and traces of sidings survive beneath the new housing. A few of the Williamson tunnels – a network of underground caverns carved out of the red rock – can still be visited, though most are inaccessible. Joseph Williamson was a wealthy Victorian businessman who built a group of eccentric looking houses in the area. Legend has it that when they were finished, Williamson hadn't the heart to sack his workforce, so he had them keep on digging tunnels for no apparent reason other than to keep the men employed. He even took on additional workers, especially soldiers left jobless at the end of the Napoleonic War. Now that most of Liverpool's history has been swept away, you have to look beneath the surface, and Edge Hill is a good place to start.
The vicar led the service, ably supported by another priest and a large altar party of (mainly) children. I'd say they were a choir but they didn't sing much.
What was the name of the service?Mass.
How full was the building?
The nave probably holds about 250 and it was pretty full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The vicar went out of his way to welcome me, coming to my seat and passing on a lot of goodwill. He even remembered my name when he said good-bye.
Was your pew comfortable?
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People of all ages and many nationalities greeting one another and talking.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
‘Good morning, everybody.’ We replied.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Service sheet only.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, electric guitar, percussion.
Did anything distract you?
Wondering where the music came from.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very friendly and informal. Clergy and choir all processed in. There followed a said mass in English, with members of the congregation singing one or two hymns and reading the Old Testament lesson and the epistle. Everyone was included. There were handbells. We all held hands for the Lord's Prayer. The peace was prolonged and very genuine. The children were blessed, and someone celebrating her birthday got three cheers afterwards.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 — The vicar does not aim for intellectual brilliance or coherence. Instead, he is a channel for grace. The love of God is somehow passed on.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He started by quoting Karl Marx’s ‘Religion is the opium of the people.’ He did not demolish this idea rationally, but suggested a lot of alternatives: the Kingdom is here and now. It is a revolutionary force to pass on liberation. You are free. God will give you his spirit. Let yourself be loved by God. Let yourself love. Love strangers. Love your enemy. That is the good news.’
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The vicar's goodwill.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Before the Kyrie (in English) we were told, ‘We all have a lot to be forgiven for.’ This actually moved me to tears when I thought of where we are contrasted with the grace we are being offered.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was invited to coffee, but …
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
… Unfortunately I had no time. There were biscuits on offer as well.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0 – Don’t get me wrong. I found the service uplifting, and I am with them in spirit. But I am very unlikely to make a return visit, as I don't live anywhere near Liverpool and I am not a Roman Catholic.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
This church does a lot for its congregation, and the vicar seems to go out of his way to include everyone in that.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The warmth of the vicar.