Mystery Worshipper: Cracked Girl
Church: Birmingham Cathedral
Location: Birmingham, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 2 July 2017, 12:00am
The Cathedral Church of St Philip is an 18th century Baroque building, the work of architect Thomas Archer. The tower was added later. The apse was extended and the exterior refaced in the 1880s. It is beautiful inside, with coloured light flooding through the stained glass windows. It is small for a cathedral, beginning life as a church and having been elevated to the status of cathedral in 1905, when the Diocese of Birmingham was formed. But it still holds the feeling that you find in many cathedrals of all sizes and ages: that many have been here before. The interior was extensively damaged in World War II but restored in 1948. Several stained glass windows had previously been removed as a safeguard, and were reinstalled with the restoration. Outside, the cathedral is surrounded by a graveyard where people like to sit and eat their lunch. Pigeons abound, leading to the name Pigeon Park.
Due to its central location, the cathedral is a church for locals as well as a focal point as the mother church of the diocese. Choral eucharist and choral evensong are regularly scheduled. Their Tuesday Talks programme is described on their website as "a friendly, relaxed opportunity to explore modern issues through the lens of faith." They encourage group and school visits to be booked in advance to (again quoting from their website) "avoid disappointment [and enable them] to give your group a safe, friendly welcome."
Birmingham, in the West Midlands, is Britain's most populous city outside of London. Birmingham played a key role in the Industrial Revolution the industrial steam engine was invented here. The service sector dominates the economy of Birmingham today. There are four cathedrals in Birmingham: Anglican, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Coptic Orthodox. Around St Philip's can be found a mixture of offices, businesses, shops and pubs, bars and restaurants, as well as big train stations and universities. Additionally, a significant number of homeless people can be found in the centre of Birmingham. The community has a real mix of different people.
The Rt Revd David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham, presided. The preacher was the Revd Dr Kate Bruce, Director of the Centre for Communication and Preaching, Durham University, and Deputy Warden and Tutor in Homiletics of St John's College.
What was the name of the service?Choral Eucharist for the Ordination of Deacons.
How full was the building?
Bulging at the seams! Even the upstairs seats were occupied.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
There were stewards welcoming people on entering and handing out orders of service. We were left to find our way to our reserved seats on our own.
Was your pew comfortable?
There were chairs. They were not the most comfortable, especially as the service was quite long.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a definite buzz of excitement in the air before the service started. There were a lot of people bumping into people they knew. Overall it seemed a very happy atmosphere.
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?
There was a specially prepared order of service booklet that contained the whole service content, so no other books were required.
What musical instruments were played?
Mainly the organ was used. However, during communion there was a fellow playing guitar who was singing some modern worship songs.
Did anything distract you?
One of the stewards wore a large hat consisting of brightly coloured feathers that was somewhat distracting at times.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Despite the formality of the occasion, the service felt quite relaxed and celebratory. The worship felt genuine, and whilst it was not belting out worship songs with large worship bands, people really joined in and it felt like they wanted to do so. There was a palpable sense of God in there.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – I think that the way the sermon was aimed at the deacons was really good, but when it was then aimed at friends and family, it possibly went on a bit too long. However, the preacher was clear and personable as well as kind and reassuring to those about to be ordained.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was mainly about the role of the deacon. This was illustrated in various ways using unusual descriptions such as "treasure hunter," "satellite navigator of the church," "interpreter of the community," and "night club bouncer." The meanings behind these descriptions were stated clearly.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
For me, it was the enthusiastic worship of many people at a joyful occasion all joining in together. Singing in that environment was special. The other thing that felt like it was heaven was the massive round of applause and cheering that those who were ordained got from the rest of the congregation. It definitely was a celebration for these wonderful people who were ordained today.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I did struggle with this, but the only thing that temporarily spoiled the feeling of closeness to God and well-being was being told off quite rudely by a chaperone for returning to my chair from the wrong direction after communion. I did not think this needed to be done and it was a small, sour moment for me in an otherwise wonderful service. The volume levels for the guy singing during communion could have done with a bit of adjustment, too, but this was a small point.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
This was difficult to test out as there was so much going on, but when I got separated from my party of people, I genuinely did feel lost, as no one spoke to me. However, I think this is acceptable given the context of the service today.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
This was not provided, as people moved on to their own celebrations elsewhere.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I would consider coming here occasionally but prefer my own church.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very much so. And also very proud of those who took the step to get ordained and work for the church in that capacity. It made me glad too because it was so joyful.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The massive round of applause the new deacons got, as well as the sound of that many people singing together.