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2884: St Mary’s Without-the-Walls, Handbridge, Chester, England
St Mary's, Handbridge (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Torold.
The church: St Mary’s Without-the-Walls, Handbridge, Chester, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Chester.
The building: The present church was built in 1887 to replace the original St Mary’s On-the-Hill, now a heritage centre within the city walls. It's Victorian Gothic, sandstone under slate roof, with spire. Looks like a proper church inside and out! Well manicured grounds, picture perfect. Very pleasing and interesting interior. Wooden lectern carved with eagle. I espied a black and white toy owl hiding in the eagle’s wings! Three steps up to the chancel, on which stood a small grey toy elephant! There was also a tiny toy dog, light brown in colour, on an occasional table at the back of the church. (Did I miss any, I wonder?) Lady chapel with barrel roof; altar reminded me of my granny’s sideboard, complete with linen runner and crocheted edge. Stone font in baptistery at the west end, with steeple shaped wooden cover. Children’s corner. Intriguing parish bread cupboard (1605) once used to store bread for ye poore. Prayer corner with tea lights.
The church: St Mary's is an interesting church building and well maintained. You can tell that the members of the congregation really love their worship here and like sharing it. Wide range of church groups: youth, mums and toddlers, uniformed organisations, prayer groups, luncheon club, etc. A home communion team. The "biggie" is the proposed new parish centre. A trip to the seaside resort of Llandudno, Wales, is planned for July 4th. I may well join them with my bucket and spade!
The neighbourhood: Handbridge is a residential area of Chester, lying over the River Dee and outside the Roman walls, which practically encircle the whole city of Chester.
The cast: Retired clergyman, name not given. The Revd Maureen Pickering, a retired assistant, preached. There were also two servers and crucifer.
The date & time: Church Music Sunday, 21 June 2015, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Parish Communion.

How full was the building?
A good half full, approximately 100 in the nave. Looks like it may pull in a well heeled elderly congregation – well dressed respectability: ladies in two piece suits or colourful summer frocks; gents in lounge attire with collar and tie.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The sidespeople at the back of the church, plus the ladies floating into church from the gardens, greeted me cordially. I was invited to coffee after the service even before I had sat down!

Was your pew comfortable?
Red padded seats on dark wooden-framed chairs; blue vinyl kneelers. Comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I was summoned by bells: six bells rung that morning. Inside, there was a lot of chattering, but the organist played bravely on.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
“Good morning. We have a leak in the Lady chapel.” (I had visions of a huge leek propped up in the Lady chapel!)

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Holy communion service booklet, homespun variety. Ancient and Modern: Hymns and Songs for Refreshing Worship.

What musical instruments were played?
A two-manual electronic organ, a worthy instrument and well played by the young organist. Choir of six ladies and two men in blue cassocks.

Did anything distract you?
I must admit, I was not distracted in any way. I was so taken with sitting in this Victorian masterpiece. A definite case of “Here is the church and here is the steeple; open the door and here are the people.” I felt I had gone back in time to the golden age of more traditional church worship on Sundays, enraptured as I was.

St Mary's, Handbridge (Bread cupboard)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Central churchmanship. Vestments, sung communion, reserved Sacrament; but definitely C of E.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
9 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 – The Revd Maureen Pickering read from notes and struck me as being a bit woolly.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Let Jesus take control!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choir sang Psalm 150 at the commencement of the service. Very good. The choristers are elderly but they were in tune, singing in four part harmony. Thank you, folks!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I kept wondering if we were going to get flooded out because of the leaking Lady chapel. Apparently there had been buckets in there to catch the drips! I might add here that the congregation had been asked to dig deep for the repairs. I popped through for a little look but didn’t see any evidence of water on the floor.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was enjoying listening to the concluding organ voluntary when I was descended on to come and join in for coffee in the parish centre. I said yes, I’ll be through in a minute (when I’ve finished writing my Mystery Reporter notes, I thought).

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee was very good, full of flavour and in a proper cup. Tea was also available, as was orange squash. There were two biscuits left; I ate one of them.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I liked the feel of the place. The congregation were friendly and welcoming; it was a genuine interest they showed in a newcomer. I liked the way the celebrant took communion down to those who could not manage the steps up to the altar. It is a very nice church, cool and refreshing, like a jug of Pimms fruit liqueur on a summer’s afternoon.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I felt part of a service that you rarely find these days. Worship of yesteryear, proper church, if you know what I mean.

St Mary's, Handbridge (chapel)

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The lovely Lady chapel: clean, polished and spacious, just like granny’s front parlour (leak and all!).
 
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