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2171: St Ann's, Manchester, England
St Ann Manchester
Mystery Worshipper: Galadriel.
The church: St Ann's, Manchester, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Manchester.
The building: Sandstone outside, having undergone frequent repairs. The building is early 18th century with stained glass windows on the ground floor, and a mixture of stained glass and clear glass windows in the upper storey. In the Lady chapel there is a painting showing the body of Christ being taken down from the cross. At the foot of the cross there is a skull representing Adam. This painting was to play an interesting role later on in the service.
The church: This is a city centre church, with no obvious local congregation. Most worshippers travel some distance, though a few live in flats around the city centre. It has a rich musical tradition and on Saturday mornings a café.
The neighbourhood: Manchester is a city in the south central part of northwest England. The city bears the honour of being the site of the world's first railway station. It is also the place where scientists first split the atom and developed the first programmable computer. A major industrial centre during the 19th century, Manchester was where the German philosopher Friedrich Engels met Karl Marx when the latter visited in 1845. St Ann's is located right in the heart of the shopping centre.
The cast: The Revd Nigel Ashworth, rector, was the celebrant and preacher.
The date & time: 13 March 2011, 10.45am.

What was the name of the service?
Sung Eucharist.

How full was the building?
The congregation numbered about 40 worshippers, with another 20 or so in the choir. Comparatively small numbers for the size of the church.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A sidesman handed over books with no words of welcome, but one of the churchwardens then greeted me personally. Two regular worshippers smiled at me as I sat down.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was OK.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet, with pleasant organ music (but not intrusive).

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The opening words were not spoken but sung by the choir, and were the words of a litany for Lent: "Pardon, O Lord." The first spoken words were: "The Lord be with you."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were no pew books. I was given an order of service for Lent up to Maundy Thursday, which I had to hand in at the end of the service, plus a Sunday-specific insert on coloured paper. The insert included, in chronological order: a welcome plus directions about the start of the service; hymns with all words; collects; Bible readings (though one of these was incorrect); and information about the music that the choir sang. A further sheet was included, called Focus, which listed all events in the church for the forthcoming week.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ.

Did anything distract you?
Noise from outside (see comments below). Notices were given after the opening welcome, and particular emphasis was placed on news of the forthcoming installation of the church's director of music as a lay canon of Manchester Cathedral. The parish priest outlined some of the duties of canons, somewhat tongue-in-cheek. I found this mildly distracting at this early point in the service.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a traditional Anglican choral service, well ordered but at neither extreme of Anglican worship. No incense but no choruses either.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Effective use was made of the aforementioned painting in the Lady chapel. Several members of the congregation clearly found the use of this artifact interesting and went to scrutinise the picture at the end of the service.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon carefully linked the three Bible readings for the day and, as the preacher indicated at the start, covered some big universal themes. Beginning with the fall from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15-17 and 3:1-7), the preacher explored the theme of "the loss of innocence" through the capacity of humans to do things that are both self-destructive and destructive of others. He moved on to Romans 5:12-19, which considers Jesus as the second Adam, opening up for us all the way to achieve our full potential. Finally the preacher drew on the day's gospel reading, the temptation of Christ in the wilderness as described in Matthew 4:1-11. Jesus was tempted as we are: by material things (the need for food), by spiritual things (hoping God's word and power will do things for us), and by power over others. Like Jesus, we must resist temptation, so that we, like him, can be the beloved children of God and achieve our full potential as humans.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choir's motet Drop, drop slow tears. Carefully prepared and beautifully sung with clear words.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The noise of a builder's drill during the second lesson and the gospel hymn, followed by intermittent noise of scaffolding demolition. External noise is unavoidable in the church's location but this was unwontedly intrusive.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The weekly sheet said coffee would be served after the service but did not actually invite visitors to attend, and no one asked me personally. I just joined the queue. The ladies serving smiled but did not speak. I moved away from the table but had to make the running talking to others until the parish priest reached me. He worked his way steadily round the whole group to greet his congregation.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was a choice of tea or coffee. The coffee was hot. Biscuits were offered.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – Too far for me to travel but I would enjoy the musical tradition. Less sure I could cope on a long term basis with the priest's sense of humour, but I appreciated his determination to talk to as many of the congregation as he could after the service. He seemed caring and committed.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The anthem.
 
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