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|2330: St Agnes
and St Pancras, Toxteth Park, Liverpool, England
and St Pancras, Toxteth Park, Liverpool, England.
of England, Diocese
St Agnes is a temple of the Tractarian movement, built at the
expense of Douglas Horsfall, a wealthy local businessman. The
stern foreboding red brick exterior of this large Gothic pile
gives no indication of the pious gaiety within. The nave, aisles,
transepts, chancel and ambulatory have been likened to a mini
Truro Cathedral. Grills and polished wrought iron gates abound,
as do side altars, statues, lamps, stations, and confessional
desks. There is a fine stone gallery at the west end beneath
the great window, and below the clerestory windows runs a continuous
triforium (or stone gallery) that goes right round the church.
Noteworthy stained glass is by Kempe. The nave altar, parked
at the bottom of the chancel steps, detracts from the Anglo-Catholic
splendour of the high altar; the whole scene is spoilt by the
intrusion. The choir must feel very lonely, marooned up in the
St Agnes describes itself as a working church, a house of prayer
that seeks to be welcoming and inclusive. There are Bible study
and discussion groups plus a chapter of the Society of Mary
and the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament. They maintain
links with the diocese of Wiawso in western Ghana.
This church looms large on a corner plot in the Liverpool suburb
of Toxteth Park, an area of large Victorian and Edwardian terraced
houses and villas. Close to Sefton Park, this is bedsit land,
being within easy access of the city centre and the Liverpool
The Revd Canon Christopher Cook, parish priest, was the principal
celebrant. There were two other unnamed concelebrants. The Revd
Ian Brooks, parish priest of St Paulís, Croxteth, preached.
The date & time:
Friday, 20 January 2012, 7.30pm.
What was the name of the service?
Solemn Concelebrated Mass and Procession of the Relic of St
How full was the building?
Comfortably full for such a large building: about 120 in the
congregation. There were also nine assorted clergy, eight servers
serving, eight choristers singing, one conductor conducting,
one organist playing, and a partridge in a pear tree.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
On my arrival, a sidesperson uttered a rather formal "Good
evening" and thrust a printed order of service into my
Was your pew comfortable?
No, sadly. My poor gluteus maximus was protesting after five
minutes and brought on an attack of sciatica. I pulled my chair
forward, and the man behind me, who was saying his prayers,
did a nosedive. He got up and moved away. Oops!
How would you describe the pre-service
From my first entrance, I was aware of the subdued quietude Ė the hushed holiness about the place, of people at their devotions.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Pray for us, holy St Agnes."
What books did the congregation use during the
A specially printed service sheet contained all the words of
hymns and prayers. No other books were used.
What musical instruments were played?
Powerful electronic organ, one of the finest sounding church
electronic instruments I have ever heard. The young organist
sat up in the organ loft on the north side of the chancel.
Did anything distract you?
The presence of the nave altar cuts off the view toward the
high altar. This detracts and jars the senses. The reredos is
flanked by what appear to be giant stone parking meters.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Over-the-top high church. Right off the candle! The smoke was
so thick that one couldnít see across the nave. When the bell
rang at the start of the service, we were all invited to follow
on in procession round the church, priests on casters leading
the way. The choreography of the participants was well orchestrated
but seemed quite complex at times: a bit like watching Strictly
Come Dancing! At the end of the service, the relic of St
Agnes was venerated but more about that in a moment.
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 Father Brooks preached from notes in a well-rehearsed
fashion: been here, done it before.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
Since his ordination, Father Brooks had heard about 30 sermons
on the subject at St Agnes. He told of the early church persecutions
from the year AD303 by the emperor Diocletian. The young girl
Agnes was martyred the following year and is among the early
saints actually mentioned in the Roman canon of the mass. She
is an inspiration of achievement, especially among children
who need our support when they are ridiculed, just as Agnes
was ridiculed. Today, Christians are being treated abominably
by certain regimes who see the Church as a threat. Our own Church
of England is under threat; its position in our own country
at this time is grave and faces divisions. We are unsure about
what the General Synod may decide about Catholics; but we pray
that we may meet again next year to look at what safeguards
we have for our future.
Which part of the service was like being in
The lavish appointments and splendid ceremony put me in a woolgathering
(i.e., daydreaming) mood. I imagined St Agnes, virgin and martyr,
holding a lamb in her arms, and thought "Agnus Dei".
This led me to reflect on the fact that I am fond of sheep.
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
The proceedings had gone on for two hours, and for me it was
just too much at the end of a busy week. I wanted it to end
and to go home to my bed. Two hours in church is way too long.
I was very tired and wished that the patronal festival had been
a morning service on the appropriate day.
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
I went for a little walk round the ambulatory after the service.
In the gloom, I failed to notice a mop bucket parked against
the wall. I fell over it and took a chunk out of my shin. The
veneration of the relic was going on at the time. I hope they
didnít hear my utterances! They must not have done, as a gentleman
complimented me on my hair-do, and several other people singled
me out, asking where I was from and if I was "coming over
for refreshments." These were being served in the parish
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
Running buffet of ample proportions: salmon, vol-au-vents, salads,
sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, sausage rolls, cold meats, galantine
of chicken, sweets and desserts, wines, soft drinks, hot beverages.
The friendly man dispensing the drinks asked, "Are you
driving?" "No, but Iím driven to drink!" I replied.
I had an orange juice with my plate of bits, which I thoroughly
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 I couldn't, and I wouldn't. I don't begrudge this sort
of thing to folk who are into it, but I wouldn't describe myself
as a heavy Catholic.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Slightly. I'm afraid a lot of it was wasted on me.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The well orchestrated choreography of the participants.
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