St George Cathedral, Jerusalem (Exterior)

St George's Cathedral, Jerusalem


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St George's Cathedral
Location: Jerusalem
Date of visit: Sunday, 24 November 2013, 11:00am

The building

The Cathedral of St George The Martyr was begun in 1891 and was consecrated in 1898. It was designed by late 19th/early 20th century architect George Jeffery, noted for his scholarly studies of Middle Eastern architecture. Jeffery designed a typically neo-Gothic English collegiate quadrangle that includes the bishop's residence and the deanery (now a guesthouse). The interior is typically Gothic but very narrow, with pointed stone arches, vaulted wooden ceiling, and a communion table in front of a rood screen.

The church

They have an Arabic speaking congregation as well as a congregation of British ex-pats. They also attract many visitors from many different places. They sponsor a women's ministry, youth gatherings, Bible study and home visits.

The neighborhood

The cathedral is located just up the road from the Damascus Gate and the Garden Tomb, thought by some to be the tomb of Jesus, close by to a rocky escarpment thought by some to be Golgotha. (This is in contrast to the claim made by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to have been built next to Golgotha and over Jesus' tomb.) Despite scholarly disagreement over which site is the genuine thing, the Garden Tomb has throughout the years been a popular pilgrimage destination, especially among Protestants.

The cast

The Very Revd Hosam E. Naoum, dean of St George's Cathedral and pastor to the Arabic and English speaking congregations. He was assisted by two others who were not named.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Communion.

How full was the building?

There were between 40 and 50 people: two groups of Holy Land pilgrims from nearby hotels (including ourselves), a handful of American students, and an embassy bigwig who was also visiting Jerusalem. There was only a handful of regular parishioners, although the earlier service was packed!

Did anyone welcome you personally?

No, but as we were in a big group with our own clergy from home, that was fine. Two somewhat flustered-seeming ladies handed out hymn books that had only just been collected in from the previous service.

Was your pew comfortable?

We sat in old wooden chairs that were a little rickety. However, beautiful thick kneelers made very comfortable cushions.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Very comfortable, as I was travelling with friends and fellow parishioners. We smiled and said hello to others as they arrived. Everyone was pleased to be celebrating the eucharist in Jerusalem.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A glossy printed service booklet with messages from the bishop and information about the diocese. It also had all the words we needed. We also used a hymn book. The service booklet was for sale at the guesthouse at the end of the service.

What musical instruments were played?

A very loud organ, an opus of the Austrian firm Rieger Orgelbau, who specialise in building instruments that can withstand huge temperature and humidity differences. It was being played rather well by a lady who was very modest when we congratulated her on her playing before we left.

Did anything distract you?

The organ was sometimes a little over-loud, and one or two of our group remarked on it. I personally liked it.

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

The service was completely familiar to members of our small Surrey parish: fairly standard Anglican Common Worship, with sung Gloria and Kyrie.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

14 minutes.

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

8 – Dean Naoum was a confident speaker and made plenty of eye contact with the congregation.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The dean spoke of conflict resolution, peace and reconciliation – a message we found particularly appropriate, as we had spent the previous day visiting Bethlehem and seeing first hand the effect the difficult political situation in Israel is having on the residents. It was good to hear some wise words about hopes for peace.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The wonderful organ playing and hearty singing.

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

Nothing particularly raised any ire in me – it was such a simple service. There wasn’t anything much to dislike.

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

We had no time to hang about, as we were off on another trip with our coach and guide.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

No tea or coffee, but there was cold juice being served in the courtyard of the cathedral. We were running late by then, so we said our good-byes and rushed off.

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

7 – I would like to have seen more regular congregants and I wondered how many there were.

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

I definitely felt glad to be a Christian! In this holiest of cities, to be given the opportunity to attend my own kind of worship with a group of firm friends, to be able to listen fully and attentively without being distracted (I am normally in the choir and sometimes get caught up in thinking too much about the next piece of music rather than giving my full attention to the liturgy) was a real treat.

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

The excitement of attending church in Jerusalem.

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