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3103: Holy Redeemer, York
Holy Redeemer, York (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Shepherd in the Field.
The church: Holy Redeemer, York, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of York.
The building: Their website states that this is the first church to be built in York after World War II and that it incorporates stones from the 12th century Church of St Mary the Elder, Bishophill. It was designed by ecclesiastical architect George Pace, who built or restored churches throughout the British Isles. From the outside it's a square 1960s build, but inside there's a hidden history. The altar cross is made of iron and has in its centre a 9th or 10th century Saxon cross. The stained glass is contemporary but quite striking. The place is a right hotch-potch and well worth having a look around.
The church: They have a predominantly local congregation and are involved with local schools and the Boys Brigade (1st Acomb). Their many activities are well documented on their website and include a Little Angels toddler group and a hospital chaplaincy, among others. They have either holy communion, morning prayer, or all-age worship on alternating Sundays.
The neighbourhood: They are on Boroughbridge Road, a residential area of semi-detached houses and miscellaneous small businesses. Holy Redeemer's parish includes a new housing estate. The church holds regular tabletop sales and community events, often centred around the local pub, The Ainsty. Their winter service card states: "Informal lunches at our local The Ainsty are part of our work to care for each other and our neighbours and are supported by our pastoral team. Everyone is welcome. You will need to arrive at 12.00noon and can expect to be leaving no later than 2.00pm."
The cast: The Revd Tony Hand, vicar, presided and preached.
The date & time: Christmas Eve, 24 December 2016, 11.30pm.

What was the name of the service?
I'd call it Midnight Mass, but I didn't record the name of the service. Judging from the content and website I'd have to guess First Communion of Christmas.

How full was the building?
Sparsely populated. Maybe 40.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No personal welcome as there were no books to hand out, but there was a guy standing near the entrance who asked if we'd like to take a votive candle to light before the service started. It's a good job he was there because the candle stand wasn't visible from the entrance, and the lighting of candles was mentioned during the service so I'd have been embarrassed had I not managed to find it.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. Wide, moveable wooden benches with hassocks. No one used the hassocks but the benches were fine, particularly as ours had an acre of leg room. Others were more squashed together and some people had difficulty squeezing past their still seated neighbours to go up for communion.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lovely; the congregation were listening to (I think) the vicar's wife singing.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"The Lord be with you."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. Overhead projector used instead.

What musical instruments were played?
Singer (aforementioned vicar's wife, who had a beautiful voice), keyboard, canned organ music to accompany some carols.

Did anything distract you?
The Nativity scene – but in a good way; it was made up of what looked like cones of paper rather than traditional and expensive figurines, yet it told the story just as well.

Holy Redeemer, York (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
There were no hands in the air, no incense, and no clapping. Those in the front few rows sang more lustily than everyone else and said the responses with gusto. I felt free to cross myself and/or put my own hand in the air at will. The gospel was read from the middle of the church; some turned toward it and some didn't.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
16 minutes (but it didn't feel that long).

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – This seems a low score, but I was fully engaged during the sermon. Although I felt a little as if the vicar was ''phoning it in" (all clergy look knackered at Christmas), the message was clear.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The vicar spoke about storytelling and urged us to be part of God's story and he of ours. If we miss the fifth candle on the Advent wreath we miss the point of Christmas – this turned out to be an important point.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Two women on the bench in front of me seemed upset during communion – I don't know why. After communion the vicar wandered casually over and asked them if they'd like to light the Christ candle on the Advent wreath. This was evidently an unplanned event (I have no idea whether they were newbies or regulars) but it showed love and concern for these two women and made an impact on me. Meeting people where they are is what God does. It was beautiful to see this in action through a member of the clergy.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Having only one person on chalice duty makes things very slow. Some of us have very old knees that complain if used for too long between bread and wine! Canned organ music is unpleasant. The words to the hymns (carols and choruses) were projected onto a screen at the front; the spelling of "Nowell" bothered me throughout.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
My partner engaged the vicar in conversation until I dragged him away – Midnight Mass is no time to keep the clergy up! There were no after-service activities, but also no mention of a Christmas day service.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None on offer.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – It's not my liturgical taste, but I could cope. The vicar seemed honest and the congregation friendly.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes.

Holy Redeemer, York (Congo)

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The paper-cone Nativity scene and the lighting of the Christ candle carried out not by shiny happy smiley "important-in-the-congregation" Christians but by regular people.
 
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