Liverpool Cathedral (CofE)

Liverpool Cathedral, Liverpool, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Liverpool Cathedral
Location: Liverpool, England
Date of visit: Thursday, 25 December 2014, 10:30am

The building

The Cathedral Church of the Risen Christ is a huge red stone building that dominates the skyline in Liverpool. It is the work of Giles Gilbert Scott, the designer of the classic red telephone box and the now defunct Battersea Power Station, and is the largest Anglican church in the UK. The foundation stone was laid by King Edward VII in 1904, but the cathedral was not consecrated until 1978, the two World Wars having interrupted construction. Scott oversaw the work right up until his death in 1960. Gothic with Art Deco touches, the building is full of artworks, with styles throughout the building's life, including an artwork by the well-known contemporary English artist Tracy Emin.

The church

The many community activities that the cathedral is involved in are all described on their website. The booklet for today's service included a description of the various charities the cathedral supports, plus information about becoming a chorister and how to sign up for their mailing list.

The neighborhood

One advantage of being the UK's largest cathedral is that it is impossible to miss! The cathedral dominates the skyline and is linked to the Roman Catholic cathedral via Hope Street. Nearby are many theatres and Liverpool's Chinatown area.

The cast

The Rt Revd Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool, preached. Presiding at the eucharist was the Very Revd Pete Wilcox, dean of the cathedral. He was assisted by the Revd
Canon Cynthia Dowdle, canon chancellor; the Revd Canon Richard White, canon for mission and evangelism; and the Revd Tim Watson, assistant curate.

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

The building felt mostly full, but we were sitting about six rows back, and it's a huge building. The last fifteen rows could have been empty for all I knew.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

We were handed a leaflet for the service as we entered, which also contained a Gift Aid envelope and a postcard to ask for more information about the cathedral.

Was your pew comfortable?

This cathedral has rows of chairs, which were slightly padded.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

It was quite noisy – lots of people chatting, including a loud Liverpudlian matron telling someone a few rows ahead, and the ten rows around, about her Christmas. Ten minutes before the service time, the organist started with a blast of Bach's Chorale Prelude In Dulci Jubilo, BWV 729 – very loud! Certainly a hefty hint for people to quieten down and start praying – alas, it didn't work! The organist then settled down to some quieter music. The hubbub resumed.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

At 10.30am the choir processed in singing "Ding Dong! Merrily on High", both a cappella for the chorus and accompanied for the verse. The clerical procession – all 28 of them, and nary a boat boy or thurifer among them – entered from the west during the singing of "O come, all ye faithful." The greeting was the formal "Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Leaflet with all the words included. The Bible version referenced was the New Revised Standard Version, Anglicanised Edition. Also referenced were Common Worship and Times and Seasons.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ and choir. The organ, an opus of Henry Willis dating from 1923, is the largest pipe organ in England and one of the largest operational organs in the world.

Did anything distract you?

The height and size of the building, and all the sculptures and art.

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

Formal CofE with choral settings, choir, processions and all. Choral selections ranged from old standards to Giovanni Gabrielli's Gloria and Bach's Break Forth O Beauteous Morning Light from the Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248. The thing that surprised me was the lack of incense in this setting – this formal I would have expected it. The different people got different bits of the service from the booklet – the curate got the lighting of the Christmas candle, for example – but most of the service was led by the dean. Lots of this was well done and well prepared, with well chosen readers.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

13 minutes.

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

7 – The bishop worked very hard to provide a message that was accessible to all flavours of Christianity within the CofE.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

It was about the Incarnation, although that word wasn't used ever within the sermon. Bishop Paul used a poem by the Welsh poet RS Thomas to top and tail his message about the way Jesus came to earth. Jesus came to show God's love and to stand with the suffering.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Two moments: The pause before the prayer of preparation in which we heard a child cry; and the second was post communion when the sun's rays lit the east window as the choir sang the contemporary British composer Will Todd's My Lord Has Come.

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

Being brought down with a bump from the prayer of preparation by the canon chancellor leading the prayers of penitence with a severe attack of the-importance-of-every-word-itis. This made nonsense of the phrasing of several of the prayers, which are some of my favourite of the church year. Also, the dirge-like pace at which we sang "See amid the winter snow." When we got to "Hail, thou ever blessed morn" it really didn't feel as if we were hailing anything joyous.

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

We had our hands shaken as we were carried on a tidal wave of people leaving.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none.

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

4 – It's a huge building and I suspect that a normal congregation would rattle in that structure.

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

Reasonably– it was good seeing so many people there at Christmas.

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

The light through the east window as the choir sang a modern carol. That was beautiful.

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