Home Away from Home
Our receptionist was very apologetic. In her best Liverpudlian accent - think Gina on Heartbeat - she explained. “The driver didn't want to get wet when he walked from his taxi to the foyer. So he turned around and drove away”. Great. Not the best start to our Sunday. The plan had been to take a taxi from our hotel to Saint Bride's Church, three miles away. We were in Liverpool for a family get-together. As we always do when we are away, Nicky and I like to take in a Sunday service. St. Bride’s had been recommended to us by a friend of my brother’s.
I went out into the downpour and managed to flag down a passing taxi. “Percy Street,” I said as we climbed inside. When we finally got there - about ten minutes later - I was surprised to see that the building was quite unchurch-like. Big & blocky, with a series of columns on the front porch, it looked more like a municipal hall or an art gallery than a house of worship. No cross. No notice board.
We went up the steps & in through a small door. We went through a set of double swing doors and found ourselves in a fairly cramped space. It looked like they were using the narthex & chapel for Sunday worship. The altar was on castors, & about 40 folding chairs were arranged in concentric circles. We took a couple of seats in the back row. We couldn’t help noticing the faded paint & the cracked plasterwork.
We were intrigued.
We got chatting to Linda, one of the parishioners. She told us about the church and its recent history. In a nutshell, ten years ago they had been in danger of closing. Attendance was down to about six people. The priest decided that the only option was radical change. A re-imagining of God’s plan. They determined to focus on inclusivity. Opening up the building to local groups, while remaining true to their Anglican traditions. The nave - about the size of All Saints - is now used as an art gallery & performance space. It’s too expensive to heat this space for worship. And anyway, they haven’t got the numbers yet.
Their biggest initiative so far has been something they call Open Table. “A food pantry, open to all?”, I asked. Nope, not even close. Its a concerted effort to bring in & welcome members of the LGBTQ/trans community. And it is proving very popular. Linda said that parish membership is over one hundred, though not everyone attends regularly. St. Bride’s is viewed as a bit out-of-the-ordinary. It’s part of a cluster of churches, & parishioners tend to support more than one church.
Our conversation was interrupted by a woman - she turned out to be the officiating priest - looking for someone willing to read a lesson. She wasn’t having much success, so I cheekily volunteered Nicky. The woman was delighted & gave Nicky the reading - Matthew 4: 1 - 11. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been to a church where a visitor would be allowed to read without having first been vetted or vouched for. But this approach shows exactly the path that St. Bride’s is taking: have a little faith; God is working with us. By the time the service started, most of the chairs were occupied.
The hymns were accompanied on a guitar & violin, & were familiar to us, though the lyrics had been tweaked a bit. Nicky did a grand job with the reading. The homily - delivered by a priest from the cluster - was a different take on Jesus-spends-forty-days-in-the-wilderness. During communion, we stood around the altar, & shared pita bread & grape juice. We stayed for coffee, afterwards.
The St Bride’s experience had a stripped-down, bare-bones feel to it. But it also had a vitality & integrity that was palpable. Afterwards, as we talked down the steps into the rain, I couldn’t help thinking that if we lived in Liverpool, we’d attend St. Bride’s, for sure.
Now, where can a couple of visitors get a taxi in this flogging downpour?
Check out their website http://stbridesliverpool.org.uk/