York Minster (Exterior)

York Minster, York, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: York Minster
Location: York, England
Date of visit: Monday, 2 February 2015, 11:00am

The building

There is very little that can be said about York Minster that has not already been said. Let me simply call the reader's attention to the building's breathtaking grandeur and its magnificent stained glass windows. Surprisingly, despite its size, the interior gives an immediate impression of airy lightness.

The church

The word minster comes from the Latin monasterium and was originally applied to any settlement of clergy living a communal lifestyle and praying the daily office. Over time, as the parish church became more widespread, the term was applied to any large or important church, especially a collegiate or cathedral church, as a title of honour. Today York Minster is the administrative headquarters of the province of York. There is a comprehensive programme of daily worship and special events and ceremonies.

The neighborhood

Encircled by medieval walls and gateways, the Minster is close to quaint narrow streets that seem little changed since the Middle Ages. York has evolved from the Roman city Eboracum. It has been a Saxon settlement and has been invaded by the Vikings and the Normans. Nowadays, tourists flock to see these medieval buildings and the Roman and Viking remains, as well as the Minster.

The cast

The Most Revd and Rt Hon. Dr John Sentamu, Lord Archbishop of York, Primate of England and Metropolitan; the Rt Revd Dr Martin Warner, Bishop of Chichester; the Rt Revd Tony Robinson, Bishop of Pontefract; the Rt Revd Glyn Webster, Bishop of Beverley.

What was the name of the service?

Consecration of the Revd Philip John North, Team Rector of the Parish of Old St Pancras, to be Bishop Suffragan of Burnley.

How full was the building?

It was completely full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes, there were lots of friendly and attentive stewards around.

Was your pew comfortable?

It was a comfortable chair.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

There was a lot of greeting going on as people recognised their friends. The BBC had cameras ready and a reporter interviewed some people. Five minutes before the start, the Archbishop announced that he would delegate certain parts of the ceremony to "other bishops who share [the Revd North's] theological conviction regarding the ordination of women." I was most impressed with the Archbishop's remark: "It is my prayer that the Church of England's gracious magnanimity, restraint and respect for theological convictions on this matter may help others to substitute love for fear and hope for despair."

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 36 page specially printed Order of Service.

What musical instruments were played?

David Pipe, assistant director of music, and George Lacey, organ scholar, played the Grand Organ, which stands magnificently on the quire screen. This organ was completed in 1903 by the firm of JW Walker & Son, incorporating some ranks from the earlier Hill instrument. In 1917, Harrison and Harrison added the famous Tuba Mirabilis stop facing into the nave. The organ was altered in 1960 and again in 1993 and is highly regarded for the quality of tone it produces in the acoustics of the Minster. Robert Sharpe, director of music, conducted the magnificent choir.

Did anything distract you?

I couldn't see the organist, and wondered where he was.

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

It was very formal and ceremonial. The huge procession consisted of groups preceded by their cross and lights, and a verger. In order was the Minster choir, the ordinand, assisting ministers, interfaith and ecumenical guests, the guardians of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, the chapter of St Paul's Cathedral, the chapter of Blackburn, the bishops, canons emeriti of York, the college of canons of York – the list goes on and on! Last but not least came the Archbishop of York and his chaplain. The Archbishop presided and preached, but pursuant to his opening remarks, some parts of the service were overseen by the Bishop of Chichester, who led the Bishops of Pontefract and Beverley in laying hands on the new bishop and presided at communion. After he was consecrated, Bishop Philip was greeted by all of the bishops present, including the Rt Revd Libby Lane, Bishop of Stockport.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

14 minutes.

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

5 – I am sure it was wonderfully thought out, but the Archbishop has a pronounced accent and it was very difficult to make out exactly what he said. The reverberating acoustics in the nave certainly didn't help.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He went over the story of Simeon meeting Jesus in the temple. Then he directed his attention to the ordinand, giving him words of advice to come to Jesus, be holy, and receive God's guidance.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The Bishop of Chichester eloquently spoke the litany of ordination. After the ordinand had made his vows, he was presented with a Bible, anointed with oil, and given the Episcopal ring. The congregation then welcomed him with the words: "We welcome you as a shepherd of Christ's flock. Build up the Church in unity and love, that the world may believe." Then followed tremendous applause as we greeted our new bishop. It was magical.

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

After about an hour, I realised I wasnt just cold; I was freezing. I could feel an icy cold blast on my face and wondered if some of the windows were missing or if perhaps the huge doors had been left open. When it came to offering each other a sign of peace, everyone had icy cold hands!

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

I met up with others from my own church.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I am sure the clergy would have a marvellous reception, but as far I could see nothing was laid on for the congregation. In my ultra cold state all I wanted to do was get into a nice warm shop!

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

9 – I'm sure if I lived in York I would certainly worship here a few times. However, there are many old and interesting churches in the city and I would want to investigate them as well.

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

Undoubtedly. I think Archbishops Welby and Sentamu have worked very carefully to try to heal the rift between the traditionalists and those who have wanted female bishops for such a long time.

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

Seeing Bishop Philip and Bishop Libby looking so happy as they stood together outside the Minster with Archbishop Sentamu and the other bishops.

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