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2251: St Mary's, Upton, Wirral, England
St Mary's Upton
Mystery Worshipper: Torold.
The church: St Mary's, Upton, Wirral, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Chester.
The building: A pleasing grey stone building with a slate roof, cruciform in shape, stained glass at the east end. The church is surrounded by trees and a Victorian graveyard. The interior is modern in feel with an airy spaciousness. The pews are traditional with upholstered chairs in the chancel. To the right of the chancel arch is the overhead projection screen. A banner proclaiming "Grace, Mercy, Peace" hangs in the centre. The floor is carpeted. Access ramps for the less able, large print material and a loop system are all provided.
The church: The church seems to play a prominent part in the community at Upton, with a great deal going on every day of the week in the way of activities: "Dots to Tots", Alpha course, Twenties to Thirties group, World Church group – the list goes on. There is something for everyone. During August, everyone was invited to a barbecue after the 11.00am service each Sunday, though it was raining on the day I was there and the BBQ had to be cancelled.
The neighbourhood: The village of Upton has grown from a tiny hamlet mentioned in the Domesday Book, yet in spite of urban sprawl it has maintained a village-like feel. The church lies on the main road through the village. There is a multiplicity of shops: florists, vets, estate agents, gym, hair salon, two pubs, chemist, butcher, cake shop, undertakers, off-licence, etc. Upton Hall girls’ school is round the corner.
The cast: The Revd Martin Daly, associate vicar; Rosalind Carter with the pre-school play group. A lady called Gillian signed for the deaf.
The date & time: 28 August 2011, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Together at Eleven with Holy Communion.

How full was the building?
Over half full, approximately 90 worshippers.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A warm greeting from a man in a wheelchair set the tone for the whole morning. A second man with a smile asked if I was visiting, and ferreted in the cupboard for a magazine to give me as well as an information sheet for the week.

Was your pew comfortable?
Surprisingly comfortable for a pew!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Beforehand, the music group rehearsed for a few minutes. The piano played quietly and set a prayerful atmosphere with subdued chatter. The overhead projector gave details of future events and speakers, with appeals for charitable organisations and an invitation to stay behind for freshly brewed ethically-produced coffee. It was rather like watching the adverts in a cinema before the main picture!

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to our family service. I see we have visitors so a warm welcome to you."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books were used. Words for all the songs and prayers appeared on the overhead projector.

What musical instruments were played?
Piano, guitar, trumpet, flute, oboe and drums. A lady sang with the band.

Did anything distract you?
Distractions were all around but only added to the conviviality: signing for the deaf, children chattering, the young trumpeter adding his own style to the music by finishing off a couple of the songs with an amusing flourish.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Moderately happy-clappy for the first part of the service, but more middle-of-the-road during the communion. The first part was led by Rosalind Carter, who invited the youngsters in the congregation to sit on the floor in front of her. With the confidence and style of a practised speaker, she told the story of the Naaman and Elisha (2 Kings 5) in a children’s version, divided into three parts by songs and prayers. Then the Revd Daly preached on a similar theme but with a slightly different orientation. Everyone was encouraged to participate in the communion, whether for real bread cut into chunks or unleavened gluten-free wafers, and wine. Alternatively, we could go up for a blessing. The children had their own version of bread and wine in bread sticks and grapes. I call that truly inclusive! There was no need for anyone to feel a rank outsider.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
9 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The associate vicar smiled and made his subject as interesting as the children’s version.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His text was 2 Kings 5 (Naaman, a leper, is healed by Elisha, who wants nothing in return). Naaman’s wife’s young servant girl advised Naaman to seek out Elisha, a prophet in her own country from where she had been captured as a slave. The girl was not bitter about her situation. Indeed, she forgave and helped the man responsible for her captivity. She was not overawed by the high status of Naaman, and her courage was rewarded by Naaman’s listening to her and heeding her advice. There was obviously something special about her; she was the unsung hero of the story!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
At the start of the service, the Revd Daly explained the absence of the vicar, the Revd Graeme Skinner. He informed us that a sudden family bereavement of Mr Skinner’s had called him away from his parish church. The wave of love and sympathy that engulfed the whole church showed me how much the whole congregation cared for their minister and each other. It was a very moving experience.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I don’t think there would have been much room for a devilish presence that day! If I had to find any annoyance it was because the usual stocks of fresh fairly traded coffee had run out and not been replaced – we would have to make do with ordinary coffee.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I looked round the building at the end of the service. In those few minutes, several people invited me through to the parish hall for a drink.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I was led along a covered area from church to hall where tea, coffee, biscuits and juice were available, served in white crockery. My cup of coffee was made to order and was steaming hot, though not ethically produced that week. A cup for donations sat on the counter.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – St Mary’s, Upton, is an odds-on favourite in the race they are running to win! Their vision statement sums it all up: "The vision of our church is to make a difference wherever we are as we share faith for life."

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I particularly like the rapport between worship leaders and congregation, and the general good feeling. The Spirit definitely moves in this place.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The trumpet played by the young man in the band.
 
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