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||1476: St Nicholas, Gosforth, Newcastle
upon Tyne, England
Mystery Worshipper: Caspar.
The church: St Nicholas, Gosforth, Newcastle upon Tyne, England.
The building: The parish is believed to date from Saxon times; most
of the names of the clergy are known as far back as 1153. The tower and
west end of the present church were erected in 1799. The building is in
the late Georgian style and has been altered and adapted numerous times
throughout the years. It is quite plain looking from the outside – and
from the inside when you're used to a very richly decorated church as I
am. But none the worse for that – there are some beautiful windows, including
what looked like modern stained glass in the chapel. And a domed wood lined
The church: They describe themselves as an open, inclusive and affirming
community. Sunday services include morning prayer (1662 version) plus two
eucharistic celebrations (one using the 1662 Prayer Book) and choral evensong.
Once each month they hold an additional communion service without sermon.
Either morning/evening prayer is read or the eucharist is celebrated each
weekday. Their ministries include youth groups, ladies' and men's groups,
a mothers' union, three choirs and Sunday school.
The neighbourhood: Newcastle is a city in northern England known
since the 1500s as a major coal producer. The expression "carrying
coals to Newcastle," meaning engaging in a futile activity, was first
recorded in 1538. A major industrial centre in the 19th and early 20th centuries,
Newcastle today is primarily known as a city of technical innovation, leisure
and culture. Gosforth, to the north of the city centre, is a fairly average
middle class leafy suburb. There is a very small amount of council housing
and old people's bungalows nearby, as well as some postgrad and family student
The cast: The celebrant and preacher was the Revd Philip Cunningham,
vicar of St Nicholas and the area dean. I wasn't able to find out the names
of the deacon or servers.
The date & time: Sunday, 26 August 2007, 10.00am.
What was the name of the service?
Parish Eucharist with Baptism.
How full was the building?
Pretty full, especially once the baptismal party arrived. It being August
Bank Holiday weekend, many of the regulars may have been away.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Not really. I was given a candle and cardboard disc to hold it in, but had
to interrupt the sidesman's conversation with one of his mates to ask for
a service sheet and hymnbook.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, it was comfortable – much more than what I'm used to! Plenty of leg
room and a nice red woolly runner on the seat.
How would you describe the pre-service
Active. There were a lot of children, and as the baptismal party arrived
they were fussed over as to where to sit, etc. Quite a few people were visiting
quietly with each other. Despite all of this, however, the church itself
has a peaceful and welcoming presence.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good morning, everyone." The vicar made a special mention of the baptismal
party and the little girl to be baptised, and asked us to pray quietly before
the service began with the opening hymn.
What books did the congregation use during the
Common Praise hymnbook, a service sheet for holy communion in ordinary
time, and a separate baptism service sheet. Not everyone got a baptism sheet
– I gave mine to a family who looked a bit lost at that point.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ. Very well played too. The pipe chamber in the southeast corner of
the church was added in 1884 to accommodate a small two manual organ which
was replaced in 1994 by a shiny new instrument of which the congregation
is justifiably proud.
Did anything distract you?
There was quite a lot of noise from the children in the service but I'm
used to that and I like to see and hear kids in church. But they did distract
me from concentrating on getting an impression of the physical aspects of
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
It seemed pretty solid middle-of-the-road Anglican to me, though I don't
have a lot of experience with different styles. There were a few things
that were different from where I normally worship. For example, a bell was
rung at the elevation of the host, and we had candles for the baptism. There
was no choir and the responses were said – I wondered if that could
be written off to it being summer holiday time.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 Vicar Cunningham had a forceful style and certainly made me listen.
I usually drift off during the sermon to thoughts about lunch, work, etc.
Deplorable, I know – but there was no drifting off today!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
No one can deny that our inner cities are burdened by crime. God liberates
us by his love and his law, by the gift of the Holy Spirit through baptism,
and by the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. But we deny that
liberation by sinking into the bonds of sin, which lead to crime. And middle
class England is also guilty of hypocrisy for doing exactly that but concealing
it and failing to acknowledge it. It's no good just preaching sermons about
the reductionist secularism of our society and the evil that results. We
must take up what we are given through baptism and go out and preach the
gospel so that others may also be liberated.
Which part of the service was like being in
The baptism – we were all invited to come near the font and it felt genuinely
like welcoming a new member of the family.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There was some rather dodgy – and very loud – singing going on behind
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People were taking ages to get out of church – lots of chat going
on. I tried my best to look lost but no one spoke to me – they were
all busy catching up with friends. But when I got outside, the vicar welcomed
me very warmly. And later on at coffee, someone made a point of talking
How would you describe the after-service
The coffee was poured into proper mugs from a teapot with milk already added.
It was OK. The church seems committed to fair trade so I expect it was.
A fresh plate of biscuits was put out just as I got there, but I was on
my best visitor behaviour so I didn't take a chocolate one.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 I do live in the parish, and it seemed like a church that I would
probably be very happy with. But I'm quite settled in another church, at
least for the time being!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes, the baptism especially made it feel very welcoming and inclusive.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The sermon that kept my mind from wandering.
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