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|2573: St Mary’s,
Shirehampton, Bristol, England
Shirehampton, Bristol, England.
of England, Diocese
There was a chapel-of-ease at Shirehampton here in 1579, which
was replaced in 1727, rebuilt and enlarged in 1827, and became
a parish church in 1844. But that building was destroyed by
fire in 1928. Work on the current church began in 1929, and
the church was consecrated two years from the day the old building
was destroyed, 15th January 1930. It was totally refurbished
and redecorated in 2002, when the old seating was replaced by
comfortable chairs. The west two bays of the aisles were converted
into a church office, a storeroom, accessible toilet facilities,
and a much used catering kitchen. The Lady chapel was enclosed
by a glazed screen and a memorial chapel provided as the church
has a large funeral ministry. One third of the nave, at the
back, is used as a meeting space.
In 1996, this church came in second in the national competition
sponsored by the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group: "Your
Church in a Changing Society." They had seen a seven-fold
increase in the congregation during the previous five years.
They run a variety of activities, including a credit union partnership
(and that was started well before the recent suggestion by the
Archbishop of Canterbury), the Avon Autistic Association, Alpha,
food bank collections, golden oldies, mothers union, toddler
group, and many others. The local councillor and the police
beat group hold their surgeries here. In addition, the doors
of the church are open wide every day and there are benches
where people sit and chat. Their claim to be at the heart of
the community is justified and, sadly, unusual today.
People still think of Shirehampton as a village though it has
become a suburb of Bristol on the far north west corner, largely
separated from the rest of Bristol by a large swathe of parkland.
The bustling high street, in which the church is set, is unusual
in that there are lots of local shops with their own style.
There are four takeaways of various kinds. There is a newly
built health centre a dental practice. Shirehampton was in the
forefront of the garden suburb movement, aimed at creating decent
and well-designed housing estates.
The Revd Trevor Hearn, a retired priest from the congregation
filling in the priest-in-charge, who is on holiday, was celebrant
and preacher. He was assisted by Gill Sawyer, reader, who led
the first part of the service.
The date & time:
4 August 2013, 10.00am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
About two-thirds – seventy people. Someone told me that there were usually more but this is the holiday season.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A man on the door said, "Good morning." And another
person smiled whilst handing me a hymn book.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. A blue padded chair.
How would you describe the pre-service
Chatty, catching up on the news of the week.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good morning to you and do sit down" followed by
What books did the congregation use during the
Hymns Old and New and a locally produced service booklet
for the Trinity season.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The flow and pace of the liturgy were disturbed by people not
being on cue, sloppy vestments, no manual actions over the bread
and wine during the words of institution.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Standard, middle of the road C of E a good balance between
the formal and the informal.
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
7 The Revd Mr Hearn spoke without notes. He covered the
readings and weaved in some personal anecdotes and topical references.
I was irritated, however, by his frequent assertion that "it’s
hard to understand."
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
Sometimes we don’t see the wood for the trees. When we give
our lives to Christ, we should give up greed and the lust for
power. While the secular world dances to a different tune –
the war in Syria, Internet trolls – we have a security that
the world cannot give. How are we different from twenty years
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
Nothing in the worship moved me to elation or penitence, but
then I like worship to avoid sentimentality or whipped-up emotion.
It was good to see lots of lay involvement and particularly
good to see a reader up front, competently leading worship (so
many readers complain that they are underused.) I was also pleased
that the choir did a good job despite their being small in number.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Everyone going walkabout during the peace. But that is my personal
taste as an introvert and I’d have to find something to do if
I was a regular. I know that a lot of people value this part
of the worship almost as much as receiving communion. And I
suppose I’d rather feel awkward for a few minutes than be in
a frosty, cheerless church.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Someone said hello, asked me if I was new and where I was from,
How would you describe the after-service
As buses are rare on Sunday mornings, I had to scoot off or
else face a long wait. However, I noted that coffee was served
in proper cups from a proper kitchen and that people sat at
tables (much to be preferred form proper conversation as opposed
to the idle chatter in churches where people stand around in
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 In fact, it’s a real possibility, since I have considered
retiring here when my arthritis gets bad enough. There are affordable
bungalows in the area and there is so much going on that I could
make friends easily. It’s not my churchmanship but there is
nothing objectionable either.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes. Good to know of a community doing outreach without being precious or pious.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Negatively, the last hymn – typical Graham Kendrick earworm.
Positively, a thriving community doing mission and service without
the cringe factor.
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