St Mary's, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, England

St Mary's, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, England


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Mystery Worshipper: Salskov
Church: St Mary's
Location: Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 29 August 2010, 10:00am

The building

An apparently classical frontage as produced in the 19th century, with pediment, statue of the Virgin and Child, and solid wooden double doors as the main entrance. In fact, most of the congregation entered through the back, where car parking facilities are available, so the vestibule with notice board, service sheets, etc. is there. The interior of the church is a rectangle, with the altar against one of the long, lavender coloured walls. The furnishings are all modern light wood, including altar, crucifix, statues and stations of the cross. The chairs are upholstered, with an integral kneeler behind and a channel for books. The semi-circular layout was attractive, providing equal "access" visually to what was going on. The lobby at rear housed a statue of St Benedict.

The church

This church belongs to the Benedictine Abbey of Ampleforth, and the Parish Priest is the Revd George Corrie ,OSB, a monk of the abbey in permanent residence at the church. The notice board in the lobby featured information on missions to Zimbabwe, befriending Alzheimers, fair trade, pregnancy support, St Anthony's project for homeless addicts, bereavement counselling, Cruse Bereavement Centre, recruitment for the Carmelites, many leaflets on activities at Ampleforth, and the entrance criteria for local Catholic schools.

The neighborhood

Knaresborough is a historic market town four miles east of Harrogate. It was mentioned in the Domesday Book. The Norman castle was destroyed after the Civil War, principally by locals looting the stone for their own buildings. "Castle Stone" is still a feature in the town. Knaresborough forest was reputedly a favourite hunting ground of King John, who signed the Magna Carta. The Wednesday market dates back to 1206, and received its charter from Edward II in 1310.The town is famous for Mother Shipton's Well, an annual bed race, and its annual arts festival. Guy Fawkes of Gunpowder Plot fame lived in nearby Scotton, and the four knights accused of the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral took refuge in the town.

The cast

The Revd George Corrie, OSB.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Mass

How full was the building?

Full. I would estimate that it could hold 120, and once the children were back from their Sunday club, there were very few empty seats.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A lady handed me the hymnbook and service sheet. Another asked me if I needed help when she saw me scanning the notice board. She also identified the statue in the lobby as being of St Benedict, and commented that the saint's name really ought to be posted!

Was your pew comfortable?

Very. But the chairs, although generously proportioned, were a little too close together.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Bustling and chatty. Lots of greetings and gossip. The guitarists were warming up and practising, and made us sing a couple of verses of hymns through as a rehearsal.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. May I ask the children to go with ..." (to their activities). The children came, collected a book, and left with their carers.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The diocesan service sheet for the day and Celebration Hymnal for Everyone.

What musical instruments were played?

Two acoustic guitars, amplified. The guitarists sang very pleasantly. There was an organ, but it was not used that day. On their website, this service is described as featuring folk music on alternate weeks. I chanced to attend on one of those weeks.

Did anything distract you?

This is embarrassing. When I re-entered the church after having examined the lobby, the only free seat was next to a lady who appeared to have hygiene issues – but read on!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Cheerfully inclusive without being over the top. Father Corrie wore a green chasuble of modern fabric and design, with an integral cross woven into the cloth. This graceful vestment seemed to epitomise the attractively unassuming style of the service. He made a point of involving the children when they returned ahead of the eucharist – such as in bringing the offertory from the back of the church to the altar. The music, too, was tactfully amplified. We had no need of earplugs. The congregation was fully involved and sang everything, under the leadership of the musicians.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

6 – Father Corrie read his sermon in an unhurried way. His slight Irish accent came across unfamiliarly to me, though the congregation probably caught everything he was saying.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Starting with the gospel of the day, he reiterated the idea of humility, reminding us that Jesus did much of his teaching at meals, which were a special ritual in Jewish life. The sermon was interrupted by a young child who either had not been taken to the children's activities, or had escaped too soon. When I was able to hear again, Father Corrie was reciting what was evidently a poem. I would have liked to have heard the poem's beginning and how it fit into the theme of the sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Communion was brought to my neighbour, the lady who I thought had hygiene problems. In fact she had mobility difficulties. I was glad that the treatment she received was so much better than my initial reaction to her had been. Shaming, but uplifting too.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

That child who managed to disrupt the sermon. It's not that the priest stopped talking, but I couldn't hear him! While not an epicure of sermons, I felt a certain resentment at being deprived of part of this one for what felt like an unreasonably long time, though it was probably only a couple of minutes. The other annoyance was that while the numbers for some sections of the mass setting had been posted on the hymn boards, not all were, which left me unable to join in with the whole of the mass.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

There seemed to be a determined surge for the exit, so I assumed that there were no after-service refreshments, especially as I nipped out of the main door to take a couple of photos of the frontage (it had been raining when I arrived) and came back to find the remaining people chatting. Father Corrie was greeting people at the back entrance, and I asked him about the church's connection to Ampleforth. It was only when I had a chance to read the non-service parts of the handout that it became clear that refreshments had been available in the church hall.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I didn't know there was any!

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

8 – Despite the coffee glitch, this did seem a very friendly church. I wonder if they'd let me join in the music?

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


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

My neighbour being so well treated.

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