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39: St Anne's, Stanley, Liverpool, England
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St Anne's, Stanley
Mystery Worshipper: Barth Simpson.
The church: St Anne's, Stanley, Liverpool.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Victorian barn in old red sandstone.
The neighbourhood: At first glance, the neighbourhood looks like a rough version of a Londoner's worst impression of Liverpool (see photo). However, most of the houses are owner-occupied and extremely well looked after.
The cast: The service was led by Rev. Lena Prince, and the sermon/homily was delivered by a Lay Reader whose name escapes me.
What was the name of the service?
Parish Eucharist.

How full was the building?
Less than half full (but it seats 400).

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, the Church Warden greeted me at the door, took a friendly interest in me and gave me a hymn book and notice sheets.

Was your pew comfortable?
It rocked – no, this isn't a compliment. It actually rocked back and forth. A bit narrow, too (I'm not a big fan of pews).

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Noisy but reverential, in an organ-crashingly awesome kind of way. It worked. In fact, the organist was very capable, blending his introductory voluntary into the first hymn seamlessly. Astonishingly, we all knew when to start singing – this is a rare talent. Most organists seem to pause for applause at every opportunity.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
'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?
Hymns Ancient & Modern Revised, and the notice sheet.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, plus a 16-strong robed choir, mostly children.

Did anything distract you?
The Church is attended by members of the local L'Arche Community, a form of Christian communal living inspired by a French priest, Jean Vanier. The communities consist of disabled and able-bodied people who seek to serve Christ together in the world. The distraction had nothing to do with the disabled worshippers. Instead, it came because these communities always attract a certain kind of obviously caring (but often quite shy) type of woman, the kind that invariably attracts me. She was gorgeous.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Formal Anglo-Catholic stuff: processions, candles, rituals, little sung bits of liturgy, but – surprisingly – no incense.

St Anne's, Stanley

Exactly how long was the sermon?
7 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
The sermon changed mood halfway through. The first half gets a 2 and a thumbs down for being irrelevant, academic and as undynamic as is humanly possible without actually dying of boredom. The second half gets a 7: it was pithy, very relevant, challenging and well integrated into the service, using a good, clear visual aid and involving people.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
First half: no idea. Second half: we need to let God stir us up as his family of disciples.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
A moment of unselfconscious laughter when the preacher held up a Marks & Spencer Christmas pud and said, 'Here's one I prepared earlier'.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
All those irritating little bits of sung liturgy. Most of the congregation didn't seem to know them, those who did were unenthusiastic, and it was the most effective way of making newcomers feel out of it you could devise.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People talked to each other. They were very friendly when approached and did greet you if you were in their way.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Hot and strong in a style of cup that I have yet to see outside a church hall.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3. Tired. The one thing lacking was a sense of purpose – dare one say vision?

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
On the whole, yes. It didn't stir me up, but it spoke of the eternal things of God.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Half the choir cracked up at one point during a hymn. Even next week I'll still be wondering what they were laughing about.

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