St Clement is a Grade B listed building on a cramped, urban site, with its west facade right on the street. The churchyard has been taken in hand by one of the church's neighbours and is nicely planted and tended. Both arcades and the chancel arch date from the 13th century, and several modifications and rebuildings were made over time. The church was restored in 1843 and 1863. The most notable feature of the 19th century restoration is the decoration of the chancel. The building is shared with a Greek Orthodox congregation (see below), so the interior is a striking combination of Anglo-Catholic fittings and Orthodox icons. Instead of an east window, behind the altar is a splendid painting of Christ in majesty, surrounded by angels and (identified) saints, whose gold haloes shine through the gloom of the chancel. This painting, and the Arts and Crafts stenciling of the chancel ceiling, go well with the icons. However, the Italian Renaissance-style stations of the Cross look rather out of place.
The Anglican congregation of St Clement's has dwindled to a handful, but they are loyal and devoted, and determined to keep the church open. When I was there, a questionnaire was handed out, to be used in preparing a "viability statement" for the Bishop of Ely. The church building is now shared with a Greek Orthodox congregation, organized as the Church of St Athanasios, which meets for worship immediately after the Anglican service. The Orthodox congregation was much larger several dozen, perhaps a hundred, huge by Cambridge standards.
The church abuts a busy commercial street immediately adjacent to the major tourist attractions of the town. It is surrounded by restaurants, pubs, and shops catering to visitors, and the sidewalks are jammed (especially on weekends) with flocks of tourists, mostly young, from many lands.
The Revd Robert Van de Weyer was the celebrant and preacher. He was assisted by two laymen in cassocks and surplices. Father Van de Weyer is a well known economist and writer, and is one of several priests who serve the church on a rotating basis.
What was the name of the service?Sung Mass
How full was the building?
There were 13 in the congregation.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was welcomed at the door and handed a hymnal, prayer book, and service booklet.
Was your pew comfortable?
A comfortable wooden pew, unremarkable in every way.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The congregation prayed or sat quietly and listened to the organ, played softly and well. I did not recognize the music.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We have waited, O God, for thy loving kindness in the midst of thy temple."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymnbook New English Hymnal(?) I failed to take note; service booklet; Book of Common Prayer (handed out, but not needed).
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
Now and again tourists passing by on Bridge Street would wander in, take a photo or two from the back of the church, and wander back out.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Smells and bells, dignified and orderly, closing with the Angelus.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Father Van de Weyer stood at the front of the nave and spoke directly and conversationally to the small congregation. He used no notes, but the sermon was extraordinarily well-organized and delivered without hesitation, with a touch or two of appropriate humour.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He used three apposite examples: one from the news, one from the early days of television, and one from a social-science experiment, to illustrate the proposition that human beings like to conform. Until recently, to conform was to practice religion, at least to the extent of taking one's children for baptism. To be religious now, however, is to be nonconforming, which for many is uncomfortable. Organized worship provides at least one time and place where believers are conforming. Belief will not long survive without institutional support. Religious liberalism seeks to reduce nonconformity of religion by emphasizing practice and deemphasizing belief, but that doesn't work.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
One of the best sermons I've heard in a long time.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The tiny congregation with an average age upwards of 70 did its gallant best to sing the responses and the several hymns, but the result was inevitably thin and quavery.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Coffee was being served at the back of the church, so when I went there to "hang around" I was greeted amd offered coffee and cookies. Conversation naturally followed. I was introduced around and met some very interesting people. Frankly, I got the feeling that visitors are something of a welcome novelty.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee in china cups, with a selection of store-bought biscuits.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – If I lived in Cambridge I probably would make this my regular church. I find the Prayer Book Anglo-Catholicism of the liturgy congenial, and my presence might help to keep this fine church from going the way of several redundant or repurposed churches nearby.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, in a bittersweet sort of way.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Hard to choose: the splendid Victorian painting on the east wall, the thought-provoking sermon, the brave little congregation ... I'll remember all of them.