Mystery Worshipper: ASmithee
Church: St Mary's
Location: Moseley, Birmingham, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 16 October 2011, 10:00am
The earliest known reference to St Mary's is a document from Pope Innocent VII dated 2 February 1405 authorising "old men and pregnant women and other weak persons" living "hard by the town of King's Norton" to use "the nearer and more convenient Chapel of St Mary" for divine services. That document may, however, have referred to a private chapel different from the present church. In 1496 the tower was begun and is still in place today, despite the church itself having undergone many transformations in the interim. By 1780 the chapel had fallen into disrepair and was encased in brick, only to be "regothicised" with plaster and ironwork some 40 years later. Further renovations were done in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, culminating in repairs to bomb damage sustained during World War II. A peal of eight bells was restored in 1991 and rung for the first time in over 80 years. Permission was recently granted to install solar panels on the church roof. There is interesting stained glass, including one known as the Magnificat window.
They are part of a benefice including nearby St Anne's Church. Their choir was for many years the only youth club sponsored by the church. Former choristers often return to visit, and several have embarked upon professional music careers. The church belongs to the Moseley Inter-Faith Group and carries on a ministry to sheltered housing and care homes.
Moseley is a village community situated three miles to the south of Birmingham city centre. Although mentioned in the Domesday Book, Moseley came into its own in the early 20th century, when large houses of the Edwardian middle class began to displace the area's farmland. By the late 20th century it had fallen into decline, with crime, drugs and associated problems becoming commonplace. Moseley has recovered, however, and the village is now one of the more affluent suburbs of Birmingham. It is home to an amazing mix of people. It particularly comes to life in the evening and on weekends with numerous pubs, independent restaurants and events. The noted author JRR Tolkien spent his early years in Moseley, and the surrounding area is believed to have been his inspiration for the tranquil Shire in The Lord of the Rings.
The Rt Revd David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham, presided and preached for the service, attended by his chaplain, the vicar, and two other priests, one of whom was being licensed at this service as assistant priest to the benefice. There was also a reader and two choirs: a traditional robed choir and another group in academic gowns. Mick Perrier, director of music, conducted the choirs.
What was the name of the service?Confirmation and the Licensing of the Revd Caroline George.
How full was the building?
It seemed mostly full. I reckon the church can hold about 300 people and it looked as if there were around 200 present.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, there was a team of greeters at the door welcoming people and handing out service sheets and notices.
Was your pew comfortable?
Not really. It was the typical Victorian pew that had a fabric run on it that didn't provide much comfort.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was a mixed atmosphere: people catching up with each other, children making noise, babies crying, and some that wanted quiet time to themselves. Personally I found it difficult to reflect quietly, and so I perused their weekly leaflet and enjoyed the organ music prior to the service.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, and welcome to St Mary's."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A single service sheet that had the hymns printed in, but we had to share, as they had run out! Some of us opted to follow along in Hymns Old and New. There was also the weekly news sheet and various notice sheets. I kept dropping them, as there were lots!
What musical instruments were played?
Organ and the two strong choirs. The organ is an opus of Henry Jones of Brompton dating from 1887 and refurbished in 1996. The music was excellent, and included what I think was a Monteverdi madrigal. The music director, Mick Perrier, has occupied the post for over 30 years and has taken the choirs on tour in Europe and America.
Did anything distract you?
During the service there was a constant noise of children, either in the other rooms for Sunday school or in the activity areas within the church. Some parents insist on being oblivious to the noise their children are making! During the sermon there were problems with the microphone. This irritated some members behind me, who were heard to mutter that this has gone on for three weeks. I think also some of the younger choristers on the chairs in the choir were getting restless! (As we all remember when we were little!)
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It is difficult to describe the style. It was formal in the eucharist, processions, prayers, music and readings but was relaxed with the sermon (done without notes and on the wireless microphone). The children were led out to their groups in song ("Give me joy in my heart") and the bishop questioned them afterward about what they had done in their Sunday school groups. The service itself was nice but it missed several parts, including the Gloria and intercession prayers. It went with a pace and was finished within the hour. There were no bells, incense or chanting. The licensing ceremony itself was brief: the Revd Caroline George was presented by the vicar and then the bishop read the deeds of institution. It was over in a flash! There were two adult confirmands presented, and their confirmation was done with grace and dignity. In the service sheet it was clearly printed where to sit and stand, but the vicar had to signal everyone nonetheless.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – I have heard Bishop Urquhart preach before and he always seems very relaxed. However, it was extremely difficult to hear him as the wireless microphone kept feeding back and the background noise made it difficult to appreciate his sermon to the fullest.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The bishop's text was Matthew 22:15-22 ("Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's"). He linked this to the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, when coins will bear Her Majesty's likeness on both sides. Sorry, but that's all I could get due to the poor sound.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Well, certainly the music was like being in heaven. The communion service was Harold Darke's in F, and we also had Veni Creator Spritus by Douglas Mews. This along with lovely and well-known hymns.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It is a shame that despite the wonderful music, most of the congregation left their pews during the organ postlude to queue up for refreshments. And they made a right noise of it too, battling the poor organist! There were lots of problems with the microphones and sound system as previously mentioned.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was friendly members of the congregation and younger gentlemen in the choir who signposted me to the refreshments. Some of the clergy (including the bishop) were milling around. One of the clergy chatted to me, asking how I was.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was a variety for all because of the special occasion. There were biscuits, along with tea and coffee in cups. Also wine and fruit juices and nibbles on the table.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – It is a shame I live so far away but it does live up to its name for the music provided there.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes it did, because of renewing your faith at a special occasion with newly confirmed people as part of the wider church family.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The stunning music and welcome by people in the church.