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1101: St Herbert with St Stephen, Carlisle, Cumbria, England
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St Herbert with St Stephen, Carlisle, Cumbria, England
Mystery Worshipper: Jonah and the Whale.
The church: St Herbert with St Stephen, Carlisle, Cumbria, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Modern, low 1930s building with a circular sanctuary. There is a simple white cross suspended from the ceiling, which catches your attention as you return to your seat from the altar rail. A bronze statue of St Herbert stands on a shelf between the nave and Lady chapel.
The neighbourhood: Located in the north of England near the Scottish border, Carlisle dates from Roman times. Destroyed by the Vikings in 876, it was restored by the Normans when William II (Rufus) reclaimed the area from the Scots in 1092. In 1135 King David again captured Carlisle for Scotland, but Henry II recovered it in 1157. The Scots just kept trying to bring Carlisle back to Scotland – they made several more unsuccessful tries. Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned in Carlisle's castle in 1568. In the 18th century several prosperous spinning mills were established in Carlisle, and today the city lies at the centre of northern England's textile industry.
The cast: The Rev. Alun Jones and reader Richard Corrie.
What was the name of the service?
Sung Eucharist.

How full was the building?
About one-third full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Sidesmen greeted us and handed us books.

Was your pew comfortable?
Wooden interlinked chairs, with blue leatherette padded seats; very comfortable. Kneelers, which were cunningly hidden under the seats, were all cross-stitched, apparently by members of the congregation, some in memory of loved ones.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A low hum of conversation continued until the priest entered.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. Is this thing working?" (A little bit of trouble with the microphone!)

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Ancient and Modern, New Standard; a booklet containing a selection from Common Worship, and a pew sheet, folded A4, with one hymn, prayers and notices.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ for the hymns only.

Did anything distract you?
Two young acolytes were being coached by an adult server in a very fatherly way.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very ordinary middle-of-the-road Church of England.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
9 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – This was the first sermon preached by a newly licensed reader. His style was relaxed and engaging, and seemed a little out of place for a sermon preached from the pulpit.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Blackpool! We were asked if anyone had been on the Pepsi-max Roller Coaster – a couple of hands went up – the preacher had recently sampled (and hated) this ride. He went on to liken it to the Christian faith, how easy it is to be happy and enjoy the good times when things are going up and the views are wonderful, but as we go over the top and plunge into the depths do we still lean on God and trust him for our safety?

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I have to say the sermon was the best bit.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The gloria, which was sung without accompaniment, and started really badly although it improved toward the end.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was no opportunity to do so. We were invited to come to the hall for refreshments.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No coffee, but tea. There was also some wine and two excellent chocolate cakes to celebrate the reader's first Sunday on duty.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I have no specific complaints; it's just not for me.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The image of that roller-coaster ride will stay with me for a long time.
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