Coventry Cathedral

Coventry Cathedral, Coventry, England


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Mystery Worshipper: Extreme Harmony
Church: Coventry Cathedral
Location: Coventry, England
Date of visit: Saturday, 9 April 2011, 4:00pm

The building

Much has been written about the history of the Cathedral Church of St Michael; I will try not to repeat what is already well known. The old cathedral, destroyed by German bombs during World War II, dated from the late 14th and early 15th centuries. Its spire is still the tallest structure in the city. The words "Father Forgive" are inscribed on the wall behind the ruined altar. Plans for a new cathedral, to stand as a sign of faith in humanity and the rebirth of a nation, were laid almost immediately after the destruction. The original plans called for most of the ruined cathedral to be demolished, but these were rejected in favor of a design that preserved the ruins as they were. Ground was finally broken in 1956 by Her Majesty the Queen. The new Coventry Cathedral is rather 1950s on the outside, but the inside is very beautiful and architecturally interesting.

The church

As with many English cathedrals, tourism plays an important role in Coventry Cathedral's everyday life. Tourists and parents of choristers seem to be the main attendees at the cathedral's services.

The neighborhood

Coventry lies 95 miles northwest of London in the area known as the West Midlands. Coventry became the world's first "twinned" city when it was twinned with Stalingrad, Russia, during World War II; today it is "twinned" with almost 30 cities worldwide. Once the centre of Britain's motorcar industry, today only taxicabs are assembled in Coventry, their bodies manufactured in China. The cathedral is situated in Coventry's inner city, as one would expect.

The cast

I was able only to ascertain the name of the guest choir, which was the In Spiritus Chamber Choir. The names of the clergy conducting the service were not available to be known.

What was the name of the service?

Choral Evensong.

How full was the building?

Not full at all – only a handful of people. Very poor turnout.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

If you consider being snapped at a greeting, then I suppose someone did welcome us, yes. A woman at the door shot us a "You do know that a service will soon be starting here?" as we approached. We replied as politely as we could: "Yes. Evensong, isn't it? May we come in?" This earned us a huffy "Will you stay for the entirety of the service?" On our assurance that we would, the woman thrust an A3 photocopy of the service sheet into our hands, declaring that the books were all gone and that we would have to share. (The cathedral has, like, four books, then? I wondered to myself.) But in fairness to the woman, we are young and we were wearing our Church of England Youth Council hoodies. Perhaps she was afraid that we were there to steal her purse or tag the altar with graffiti.

Was your pew comfortable?

Padded chairs. Aesthetically appealing and comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Calm and meditative. We could hear the "welcomer" woman walking around and some behind-the-scenes murmurs, but nothing offensive to the ear.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"O Lord, open our lips."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The aforementioned A3 photocopies. Had the cathedral not run out of the few copies of Common Worship that they apparently have, we could have followed along there. The readings were from The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, I think.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ. The guest robed choir sang.

Did anything distract you?

Somebody texting next to me with their phone on vibrate. Whoever decided that "vibrate" and "silent" could describe the same cell phone setting committed a grave error in judgment. Slightly "off" soloist. Also, I couldn't help but notice that the conductor seemed to be a little in the way. Whenever anybody tried to pass there'd be obvious (but very polite and silent) confrontation.

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

Traditional Anglican. Organ playing, choral music, standing and sitting at the right time. Well rehearsed – no improvisation.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

No sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The choir and organ combination was fantastic. Riveting, almost.

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

The "welcome". I really don't like to feel under attack when I would like to pray. The church statistics on young people are unsurprising if more young people experience this kind of interaction when they enter God's house.

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

People just filtered out. The clergyman who took the service winked at me and then walked up to the lady at the door and had a short conversation with her. I don't know what they may have discussed, but after ten minutes or so we left. Although we smiled at the lady and thanked her, we received no response.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

The cathedral cafe was sadly closed.

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

1 – It's no wonder that so few people attend services here if they're all "greeted" the way we were "greeted".

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

Yes, but I'm not sure that the Christians there made me feel glad to be a Christian.

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

Unfortunately, the door-lady.

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