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926: St Luke's, Lowton, Lancashire, England
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Mystery Worshipper: Saronie.
The church: St Luke's, Lowton, Wigan, Lancashire, England.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: St Luke's, which is the oldest church in Lowton, was consecrated in 1733, and is on the junction of Slag Lane with Church Lane and Stone Cross Lane.
The church: There are five churches in Lowton, all of them on the same road. Two of them are Anglican, and one each Roman Catholic, Independent Methodist and Methodist. The five work together as one in many ways, especially in supporting work in Romania. The parish priest at nearby St Catherine's was once heard to comment: "Here in Lowton, we were well into ecumenicalism long before it became fashionable". St Luke's choir is one of the best in the area and is well known around the country, having performed in many of the great cathedrals.
The neighbourhood: The village of Lowton straddles the A580 East Lancashire Road and is about one mile east of Junction 23 on the M5.
The cast: The rector, Rev. John McCauley, was assisted by two lady readers, and the lesson was read by his son.
What was the name of the service?
Christmas Eve communion.

How full was the building?
The service started at 11.30pm, but the church was over-full by 11.00pm, as the congregation had come to hear the choir singing unacompanied before the service.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were welcomed by duty ushers who gave us locally produced service sheets and a hymn book.

Was your pew comfortable?
We sat on nicely cushioned but joined together chairs. Those who came late sat on folding chairs and benches in the old choir gallery (the choir were seated in the chancel).

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was very little talking, as the congregation was listening to the excellent choir.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The church's new hymn book, Common Praise.

What musical instruments were played?
The pipe organ was played by a very acomplished organist who also appeared to be the choir mistress. She conducted the choir before the service and during the communion.

Did anything distract you?
Nothing, really, apart from when an ambulance or police car went past with its siren on. The church has an excellent sound system and "the cast" were all microphoned up, so we could hear every word.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
There were candles, and the clergy and choir were all robed. After the pre-service singing, the choir returned to the vestry only to re-emerge led by a choir person holding a candlelit holly decoration on a pole, and four choir girls carrying candles. The holly decoration was fixed in the choir stalls and left lit during the service . At the end of the service they returned to the vestry with the display at the rear.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

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

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The rector delivered a rather strange sermon, giving his interpretation of the nativity. He told the congregation that the Jews were good storytellers but poor historians, and said he did not think that people would go to the place of their birth to be counted, but would as today be counted at their place of residence. This would therefore not have been the reason for Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem in the first place.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The singing of the choir. They could raise a lot of money if they produced a CD, as I'm sure it would be a bestseller beyond the parish.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing... but I think if you had been sitting on one of the folding chairs, it could be another story.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
This is a most friendly church and village and everyone seemed to know someone. Everyone was wishing (and kissing) someone happy Christmas, and we too joined in.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
As this service finished at about 1.00am on Christmas morning, there were no refreshments. I understand they serve tea and coffee from china cups after normal services.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – There were people from the Methodist, Independent Methodist and evangelical churches noted in the congregation.

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 choir – and the strange sermon.
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