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2859: St Francis of Assisi, Garston, Liverpool, England
St Francis of Assisi, Liverpool (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Sister Milburga.
The church: St Francis of Assisi, Garston, Liverpool, England.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Archdiocese of Liverpool.
The building: A landmark in an area that has seen better days. It is a Neo-Gothic building of red sandstone, cruciform in shape, dating from 1904. The entrance is set below a corner tower at the west end and leads into a well lit interior with arched arcades. The sanctuary is wide, with white marble steps that lead up to the impressive high altar. The walls appear to be of stone but are in fact plastered and very skillfully painted to resemble finely dressed masonry. The limestone reredos is richly carved with hand-painted gilded scenes of the life and death of St Francis. Statues, paintings and mosaics abound. There is a gallery for choir and organ at the west end. The sanctuary was bedecked with floral arrangements: pink and white carnations, white chrysanthemums and white lilies in abundance. The processional statue of Our Lady stood in readiness in the sanctuary, on a bier surrounded by pink and white flowers (carnations and gypsophylla).
The church: St Francis of Assisi is one of three churches in the canonical parish of St Wilfrid, formed in June 2012. Mass is celebrated here and (at least for now) at St Bernadette's, Allerton; and St Austin's, Grassendale; although I believe those are slated to be closed soon. The church is obviously well used by its priests and congregation. It is indeed a sacred space. What’s on at St Francis? Daily mass; holy hour with Rosary every Thursday; monthly Bible discussion group; and more.
The neighbourhood: The name Garston is thought by some to come from the Old English word for "grazing settlement"; others think it derives from the Old Norse word meaning "place where spears are made." A small dock was opened in 1793, and over the years Garston gradually became a major shipping port. Sunday afternoon was very quiet in Garston. There was hardly anyone about. The place seemed a little run-down, with semi-derelict buildings shuttered up. Litter blew around in the streets. It must have been a thriving community at one time; well built brick terraces, an old black-and-white half timbered dairy (complete with cow weather vane!), a fine old bank building, and a pleasing row of Victorian villas adjacent to the church, which looked very tidy within its well-ordered grounds.
The cast: The Revd Andrew Unsworth, parish priest; the Revd Joe Kendall, assistant priest.
The date & time: Sunday, 17 May 2015, 3.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Parish of St Wilfrid May Procession.

How full was the building?
A good half full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
“Oh, Hello!” said a smiling lady. “There are the hymn books and here is a sheet.”

Was your pew comfortable?
Plain oak bench pews with ledge for books and drop-down kneelers. Comfortable for the short time I was actually sitting on it. However, if you’ve got long legs, it could be awkward with your knees under your chin. Thankfully, I am not a tall person.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very quiet but with an air of expectancy.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the May procession of Our Lady."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Printed order of service containing the numbers of the hymns and indications of the readings. Hymn book Liturgical Hymns Old and New.

What musical instruments were played?
Acoustic guitar expertly played by Joanne Wallace, who leads the music ministry at the 9.30am mass. She kept us all going with her note perfect accompaniment. We sang all the old favourite Marian hymns: "Bring flowers of the rarest", "Hail Queen of Heaven", "Immaculate Mary", etc. There wasn’t a dry eye to be seen.

Did anything distract you?
Outside, I was a little concerned that the wind blowing might have brought my hat off. So in the procession I had to concentrate on my hat, my books and my walking stick. At one stage after the procession, Our Lady’s head could be seen bobbing behind the top of the hedge as she made her way back into church. Dead funny!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Traditional and devout; RC worship as we used to know it in pre-Vatican II days. Lovely! Let’s face it: how often do we get Mary processions these days? Everything was done properly and with all due ceremony. The bier was carried in procession by the Knights of St Columba, followed by young servers in white albs: crucifer, acolytes, MC, thurifer and boat boy. Then the priests followed, Father Andrew in white cope. A young lady carried the floral garland on a gold patterned cushion. The congregation brought up the rear.

St Francis of Assisi, Liverpool (Crowning of statue)

Exactly how long was the sermon?
No sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Ah, all the lovely hymns to Our Lady, and Father crowning the statue with a garland of lilies of the valley (which blew off and was rescued and popped back on again by one of the Knights of St Columba). Also the scent of the flowers mingling with the incense was just like being in the countryside.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I had the devil of a thirst on me and could scarcely squeak a note out!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
St Francis’ people were very friendly and chatty. A lady said that tea would be served in the parish rooms next door. Someone gave me a prayer card from a recent mission they’d had in the parish.

St Francis of Assisi, Liverpool (Procession)

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Very pleasant. Tea, coffee, soft drinks and red and white wines were available. There were crisps, biscuits and small cakes. Some people had brought picnics to enjoy.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – Yes. I would definitely go here if I lived in Garston. I feel Father Andrew will go far in his ministry. He has the difficult task ahead of closing two churches within his parish within the next few weeks.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. Very much so. What a pity it cannot be like this in our RC churches all the time. Faith matters here!

St Francis of Assisi, Liverpool (Interior)

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The serious faces of the young servers as they undertook their duties. Well done!
 
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