Liverpool Cathedral

Liverpool Cathedral, Liverpool, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Liverpool Cathedral
Location: Liverpool, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 22 April 2012, 3:00pm

The building

Massive. Designed by the noted English architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the Cathedral Church of Christ is made of local Storeton sandstone on the scale of Battersea power station! This is the largest cathedral in England, visible for miles around. Surprisingly, although it looks every bit as medieval as any of its older cousins, it is a work of the 20th century. The cornerstone was laid in 1904 by King Edward VII and the consecration took place in 1924 in the presence of King George V and Queen Mary, but the cathedral was not completely finished until 1978. The bells are the highest and heaviest ringing peal in the world. The enormous interior features much artwork and beautiful stained glass windows. The cathedral sucks you in at the west end and, about two hours later, it blows you out again onto St Jamess plateau. Such is the attraction of this huge place that people flock to it from all over the world, not just Merseyside.

The church

The cathedral sees itself as the focus of all diocesan activity. As such, it takes pride in its liturgical and ceremonial expertise and strong music program. In the cathedral gardens, St James graveyard, is a spa, the Chalybeate Spring, discovered in 1773. The Rodney Street specialists used to send patients here to cure ailments ranging from headaches and heartaches to rickets and rheumatics.

The neighborhood

Georgian villas and terraced houses; student accommodation close to the university. Rodney Street leads to the cathedral past doctors and dental surgeries, specialist and consultants in this and that (and the other), also barristers' chambers. There are panoramic views across the whole city and beyond to the Welsh hills.

The cast

The Most Revd and Rt Hon. John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, preached. The Revd Canon Myles Davies, acting dean, presided. Professor Peter Davies, of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, introduced the service.

What was the name of the service?

The Healthcare Service.

How full was the building?

Not very full; about 130 folk in the nave.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

The bells were ringing out across the whole city as I made my way up to St Jamess plateau that afternoon, the deep resounding tones of the great tenor bell drawing us toward evensong on a sunny Sunday afternoon in late April. But upon arrival there was no welcome whatsoever. Rather surprising given that this magnificent prominent building attracts thousands of visitors from every corner of the globe each year. There are, however, welcome notices in diverse languages on the way in. So, in view of my flu-like virus, I headed outside to the Chalybeate Spring to partake of the healing water.

Was your pew comfortable?

Red seated and backed chairs. The padded seat was comfy and had a place to put one's books.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

A gentleman battled with his inside-out umbrella on the steps at the west door whilst a coach spewed its passengers onto the cobbled piazza of the cathedral car park. "Is there an entrance fee, do you know?" enquired a foreign voice of the coach driver. I failed to hear the reply, it being lost to the wind. (There is no admission charge, by the way.) Once settled inside, I found the atmosphere rather quiet, a bit subdued, really. The organ was playing quietly in the background.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good afternoon. Welcome to the cathedral this afternoon for the Healthcare Service."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Printed order of service.

What musical instruments were played?

Huge five-manual pipe organ, an opus of the Liverpool firm of Henry Willis. The instrument was completely overhauled in 1958-1960 and again in 1977. New stops were added in 1997 and 2007.

Did anything distract you?

A girl sitting near the front reminded me of Minnie Mouse. She had black hair in two large circular bunches like Minnie's ears. I couldn't stop looking at her.

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

Oh dear! Perhaps it's because the service was evensong, which is not exactly a participatory service, or perhaps it's because I wasn't in the best of health that day myself. But I'm sorry to have to say that the Healthcare Service was, in the opinion of this Mystery Worshipper, lifeless. Constipated. In need of a dose of castor oil! I felt like I was sitting in the waiting room of the doctor's surgery. The only things that impressed me were the long green cloaks that the vergers wore.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

17 minutes.

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

4 – Archbishop Sentamu's style is somewhat disjointed and difficult to follow. He is hard to understand, bless him, having a pronounced accent. Plus the acoustics didn't help – too much delay and reverberation. I had come especially to hear him preach but I couldn't really hear him at all!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The archbishop spoke on the theme of the Good Samaritan: love of God and love of our neighbour. He quoted St Therese of Lisieux: "We are the hands and the feet of Jesus." He compared lawyers to rhinoceroses - they keep their heads down and charge! Unkind words can kill and wound more deeply than being stabbed. Be the neighbourly Samaritan!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The interior of Liverpool Cathedral is vast and soaring, and the light is truly wonderful. One feels very small. Looking up, it is like a lift shaft to heaven. Theres even an angel popping his head round the organ blowing a trumpet.

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

I was feeling decidedly rough with a flu-type fuzziness. I kept going hot and cold but I thought. "Well, at least I'm surrounded by medics. They can scoop me up off the floor if I flake out!"

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

Because of my malaise, I only hung around briefly, but the lady behind me smiled and nodded as I made my way toward the exit. The congregation were warmly invited for tea and coffee after the service in the Lady chapel, as per the order of service. I did not avail myself of the refreshments.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I didn't partake.

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

5 – It's a spectator sport, I feel; one is removed from the proceedings and is an innocent bystander in cathedral worship.

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

It made me wonder if I am a Christian.

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

The long green cloaks worn by the vergers.

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