Mystery Worshipper: Torold
Church: St Austin's
Location: Grassendale, Liverpool, England
Date of visit: Wednesday, 27 May 2015, 7:00pm
It dates from 1838, records of the time describing it as "a neat and commodious building in the plain Gothic style." From the west, one sees a begrimed sandstone faade sporting two tall turrets resembling chimney stacks, with a rose window, standing in an attractive well kept graveyard. Inside, one finds a plain unadorned interior with simple wooden furnishings and whitewashed walls. The whole sanctuary area fills the east end of the church, giving an unobstructed view of the altar. The lancet windows are diamond leaded, the whole interior being flooded with natural light. The reredos is ornately carved. In the Lady chapel in the north aisle, a simple white marble statue of Our Lady stands on a carved wooden pedestal showing the flight into Egypt in oils, much gilding, very lovely. Diptych behind also in oil shows the Annunciation, Our Ladys betrothal, the Nativity, and the Presentation. A simple pedestal holds a patterned glazed baptismal bowl. Should one enter via the rear door instead, one would be welcomed by a life-size statue of St Benedict.
St Austin's is part of the parish of St Wilfrid. They maintain a primary school that earlier this year sponsored a trip to Poland, including a visit to their partner school at Przemysl and the Auschwitz and Birkenhau concentration camps. The parish is planning a pilgrimage to Lourdes for July. Later this month (June 2015), St Austins will close as part of the reordering of the parish. In the lead up to this closure, a commemorative Open Day and Exhibition has been held with special services of exposition and prayer, to enable as many as possible to come and view the church.
Grassendale is a well-to-do suburb of Liverpool, very green and primarily residential. There are a few shops of the general variety, as well as a petrol station and a take-away. St Austin's Church stands at the side of a busy arterial dual carriageway.
The Revd Andrew Unsworth, parish priest, celebrated and preached. He was assisted by the Revd Joe Kendall, assistant priest; a master of ceremonies; two servers; and a thurifer.
What was the name of the service?Mass
How full was the building?
Mainly full 60 communicants in all (I counted them).
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, but I had arrived very early. I helped myself to a service booklet printed specially for the occasion containing hymns, readings, directions and prayers, with a picture of St Augustine on the front. However, when I sat down, a lady next to me said hello quietly.
Was your pew comfortable?
Probably, as I didnt notice at the time what I was sitting on. Looking at it later, I noted that it was a bench pew in varnished pine with a drop-down kneeler and ledge for books.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Prayerful candles being lit and general puttering around.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to church St Austins, and the Feast of St Augustine."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Celebration Hymnal for Everyone.
What musical instruments were played?
A pipe organ stands in the gallery at the west end, which is supported on iron pillars and has a wire fence to stop you from falling over the edge. However, the organ remained silent tonight, and we had to make do with guitars and violins.
Did anything distract you?
I distracted myself writing my notes!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Traditional Roman Catholic. The entrance hymn, "For all the saints", rang out with gusto despite the absence of solid organ support. All of Grassendale must have heard it!
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The Revd Andrew Unsworth is a good orator. He spoke easily and freely, putting his message across in a simple effective way.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It takes courage to go out and proclaim the gospel. St Augustine was called by Pope Gregory to lead a mission to England, but he almost turned back upon hearing of the uncivilized tribes spreading violence and mayhem throughout the land. His courage almost failed him. But Augustine continued on and was warmly received by King Aethelbert and Queen Bertha. The king took instruction and was baptised, and Augustine and his monks converted many by their example of prayer, good works and preaching. We ourselves must do likewise. We are on a journey of faith, sent out to bring peace and to live the gospel. The people of St Austins Church have lived the gospel; they are a good team. We must have courage to face the future, whatever it may hold.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
St Austins has a very special feel to it a heavenly feeling. The walls are steeped in a long history of prayer. It was lovely just to sit there and soak up the atmosphere.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Churches, sadly, have to close. It must be like hell for those who have a fondness and attachment to a special place of worship a bitter pill to swallow.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone was trooping through to the parish hall for refreshments: tea and cakes. Two ladies took me under their wings and shepherded me through. I had a great time hearing their reminiscences of their weddings, childrens first communions and other family get-togethers at St Austins. They had both worshipped here for over 60 years.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Very welcoming. Tea, coffee, cakes, soft drinks. Interesting display of photos and memorabilia charting the history of St Austins.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – Id have loved to have been a part of this parish. Perhaps I will attend the daughter church on another occasion instead.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It reminded me that I am a Christian and that we should rejoice in the Lord always. Plus, a church is not just bricks and mortar its the people; they are the true church after all. It is up to us to carry the message out of the church.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
"For all the saints" sung with such vigour.