Mystery Worshipper: Hermione
Church: St German’s
Location: Adamsdown, Cardiff, Wales
Date of visit: Thursday, 15 June 2006, 3:32pm
From outside, St German of Auxerre is nothing spectacular, a church slightly hidden away in the back streets. Inside it is glorious. The ceiling is incredibly high (apparently the roof is as high again as the walls) and there is a splendind reredos at the east end, with Our Lord enthroned with eight saints. There is a rood, but no screen to mess with sight lines. Most of the windows are not stained, so this is a lovely, light, airy space. Around the walls, starting at the north-west, are the words, "With angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, for evermore praising his glorious name and saying 'Holy Holy Holy, Lord God of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory, glory be to thee, O Lord most High."
It is known for being in the Anglo-Catholic heartland of Cardiff. The church hall is well-used, partly as a day centre for the local community. I wanted to visit the church for Corpus Christi, but it was difficult to find out any information about it. The church website did not tell me anything, so I explored at the church the day before. The porch of the church was open, and I could see the church through the glass doors. Unfortunately the notice in the porch gave daily mass times and said to see the church notice sheet for festivals. I could see a pile of things on the table at the back of the church, which might have been them, but I couldn't reach them. I ended up phoning the vicar on the morning of Corpus Christi and left a message. Fair play to him, he got back to me within a hour.
There are a few other churches nearby, which caught me out when I was trying to find the church the day before. One of them was a Methodist Church with a spire.
The Revd Roy Doxsey was the celebrant. There was also an MC, crucifer and thurifer (in cassocks and cottas) and a random man in an alb who led the intercessions and administered the chalice. I suspect he was an ordinand from St Michael's College in nearby Llandaf. The organist was high above the chancel and there was a retired priest in the choir.
What was the name of the service?Mass for Corpus Christi, with Procession and Benediction.
How full was the building?
Pratically empty. When I arrived there were about five in the congregation. I think we eventually got to nine, plus the cast of seven. The building can accommodate 700, according to the website. I think perhaps a certain football match had taken its toll.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. Someone smiled and handed me the books needed and commented wryly that there was plenty of space. It was pleasant and friendly without being over the top. The person in the row in front smiled at me. The peace was handshakes and smiles, and didn't disturb the flow of the service with personal questions.
Was your pew comfortable?
We were sitting in chairs arranged in rows, but not attached together. The one in front didn't move when I leant on it while I was kneeling, but I didn't attempt to rest my bottom on the seat - it's risky with single chairs, as they tend to move. The kneeler was thin, but I think I find that more comfortable than a four-inch hassock. It didn't run away either.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet, although a couple of people were exchanging greetings. A server came out to place two candles by the eagle lectern and his cotta was hanging strangely. One of the women in the row in front (who I later discovered to be his wife) indicated this to him. This amused me, as I'd had the same thought.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We hail the presence glorious," sung by me as a solo. At least, that's what it felt like. The procession weren't singing and it appeared that the congregation did not know the hymn. The rest of the singing was fine.The first spoken words were: "The Lord fed his people with the finest wheat. Alleluia! And with honey from the stony rock their hunger was satisfied. Alleluia! Alleluia!" – which is the entrance antiphon for Corpus Christi. I was surprised that the priest said the lot, rather than us responding with the words after the first "Alleluia". Then it was: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The New English Hymnal, and a locally produced mass booklet, based on a 2004 order for the eucharist produced by the Church in Wales. There was also a sheet giving the sentences and readings for the day.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
Realising that I'd not picked up my handbag when I went up for communion, which I would tend to do in churches that are "open." Worrying about it was not what I should have been thinking about while preparing to receive communion. I was struck by the injunction to "Ponder nothing earthly minded" in the communion hymn ("Let all mortal flesh keep silence"), as I'd just failed at that.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Quiet Anglo-Catholic. It was a shame that there weren't acolytes. But there was plenty of smoke!
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The sermon was preached from the lectern, which is where the gospel had been read from.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The eucharist. He reflected on the gospel reading (John 6:51-58) and the mystical eating of Our Lord – and it not being cannibalistic, as was the accusation of some in the early centuries of Christianity. This was good, solid eucharist theology.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The haze of smoke filling the sanctuary during the eucharistic prayer, especially the silence between that and the Lord's Prayer. Silence is all too often something we are afraid of. It was particularly heavenly as I'd been meditating on Isaiah 6:1-11 at lunchtime, and that passage spoke of "smoke filling the temple."
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The opening hymn! I am not a soprano or a soloist, and it felt like I was both. Thankfully the rest of the singing was fine. In fact, it was impressive for the size of the congregation.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't get a chance. I stayed in the Lady chapel, where we'd ended the procession (a figure of eight round the church with umbellino) and had benediction. After the end of the voluntary, I wandered back into the church to look around, and someone said hi, and I stood around chatting to a couple of people. They couldn't tell me who the saints in the reredos were, but Father Roy obliged. Our Lady was to Our Lord's left (the south side) and St John to his right. The other three saints on the north were the forerunners (Moses, King David and John the Baptist), while the figures on the south were St Paul ("I'm not quite sure why, except he was a great teacher"), St David (the patron saint of Wales) and St German, the patron of the church.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasn't any on this occasion, but I wouldn't expect it for a weekday feast.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I'll probably be back, at least for festivals, if I can find out the details.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. It was a wonderful chance to give thanks for the wondrous gift of the eucharist. Singing "Let all mortal flesh" was lovely, especially as I'd had lines from it going through my head earlier in the day (after reading the Isaiah passage).
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Hopefully the haze of smoke during the eucharistic prayer, but possibly singing the first hymn as a solo.