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2288: St Luke's, Poulton, Wallasey, Wirral, England
St Luke, Poulton
Mystery Worshipper: Torold.
The church: St Luke's, Poulton, Wallasey, Wirral, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Chester.
The building: A tall, red brick edifice dating from around 1900, with a steeply pitched slate roof and a short copper spire housing a calling bell. Together with a boarded-up church hall from the 1960s and vicarage, it all occupies a corner plot at a crossroads. The large nave has north and south aisles. The clerestory allows plenty of natural light into the nave through pastel-coloured glass in lilac and yellow. Wooden choir stalls are adorned with angels on the bench ends. A wide chancel has a surprisingly small sanctuary area with a plain wooden altar and a decorated wooden carved reredos. There's a carved oak pulpit and brass eagle lectern. At the western end is a stone Norman font with worn decorated panels, repaired after damage by Cromwell's troops, who used it as a horse's water trough. The tiled floor in red, black and white is well worn. Some water damage and peeling plaster work is visible in the side aisles and west end, although I have seen far worse.
The church: Unfortunately, this church is destined for closure. The last service will be on Sunday, 4 December 2011. Numbers have dwindled and the fabric of the building has deteriorated. It requires a vast sum of money to repair, refurbish and reorder, far beyond the means of the faithful few who attend. After the closure, the congregation will continue to meet, for the time being, in the community room at Park Primary School. They are all waiting for the next phase of their parish with commendable enthusiasm.
The neighbourhood: Poulton is close to the docks at Birkenhead, with its transport links to Liverpool via the Mersey Tunnel. The neighbourhood comprises light industry, housing, and the Poulton Victoria Social Club. Along the main road are shops: a funeral home, bridal wear, newsagents, hair salon, take-away. More diverse shops can be found in Liscard town centre about a quarter of a mile up the road.
The cast: The Revd Ian Hughes, priest-in-charge, celebrated and preached. Reader Robert Woodburn led the prayers.
The date & time: Advent Sunday, 27 November 2011, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
All-Age Worship with Holy Communion.

How full was the building?
Practically empty for such a large building – about 20 in total, including organist and choir.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A lady and gent smiled as I entered. They said hello and handed me a hymn book and a laminated service booklet. Inside the booklet were a parish sheet and a laminated sheet for Advent, on which were responses and prayers.

Was your pew comfortable?
Long pews were in the nave and aisles. Even without a carpet runner to sit on, they were comfortable though icy to the touch. It was like sitting on a lonely iceberg!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Loud talking from the back of church crescendoed above the organist's subdued prelude. It was probably more noticeable than usual due to the echoing emptiness of the building.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. Welcome to St Luke's."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Mission Praise hymn book. Printed communion service booklet (from Common Worship) with illustrations: sit, kneel, stand, talk, bread and wine, blessing, etc. Advent sheet with responses and prayers.

What musical instruments were played?
There was a fine electronic organ with excellent tone, from a console placed in the south aisle. I was surprised when the organist struck up because the original pipe organ in the north aisle is not in use, and I hadn't seen the other console! Four lady choristers in red gowns led the singing.

Did anything distract you?
I was conscious of the freezing temperatures and found this somewhat distracting. I had also forgotten my glasses and had to peer desperately at my books.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Middle to low, and executed with great dignity and feeling. The Revd Ian Hughes donned cassock, surplice and stole at the offertory.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The priest gave a "talk" (as he called it) from a single sheet of typed notes as he stood on the chancel steps. He is definitely an individual and sports an earring, nose ring and friendship bracelets. He is friendly and ordinary.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
By the age of 70, the time we have spent waiting for something will total approximately three years! We may be waiting for something to happen: waiting for a bus or train, or waiting to be served at the supermarket check-out, or waiting to see the doctor. And we are not waiting patiently. While we are waiting, life goes on. Use the time you are waiting to prepare for what is coming. We are waiting for Christmas. Advent is a time of preparation for this.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The "Choir celestial" aka St Luke's ladies and their rendition of the hymn "Ye servants of the Lord" during communion. It was very moving and put me in mind of nuns singing.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Hell has frozen over in this place! I could see my breath in front of me. I discovered that there is enough heating fuel for one last firing of the furnaces. The are keeping it especially for that last service.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The people all were very friendly and spoke to me, inviting me, saying: "Would you like a hot drink?"

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Straight tea or coffee, plastic cups in brown plastic holders, oat biscuits and other assorted biscuits served at the back of church.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – The warmth of the people triumphed over the cold of the space.

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 exceptionally warm friendliness far outweighing the chill of the church.
 
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