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226: Cathedral Church of St Mary, Newcastle upon Tyne, England
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Cathedral Church of St Mary, Newcastle upon Tyne, England
Mystery Worshipper: Hippo Most Criticus.
The church: Cathedral Church of St Mary, Newcastle upon Tyne, England.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: Graceful 1844 Victorian Gothic building designed by Pugin: marvellously slender spire, and a light, spacious, interior with slim columns and no screen to hide the chancel.
The neighbourhood: The cathedral is set in the middle of a network of roads. Its nearest neighbours are the railway station and a new visitor attraction, the Centre for Life.
The cast: A visiting priest whose name I never did discover.
What was the name of the service?

How full was the building?
About a quarter full, but it was the fourth mass of the weekend, and still numbered about 200 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, I had to pick up my own service book from a table.

Was your pew comfortable?
Are pews ever comfortable? This was a bench with limited leg room, so my knees were in danger of damaging the kidneys of the person in front. Sensibly, nobody sat there!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Plenty of people coming in, bowing to the altar, and dropping to their knees. The choir was assembling, and seemed to be holding open forum among themselves about their duties.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father..."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Celebration Hymnal for Everyone, printed service sheet.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ and handbells.

Did anything distract you?
The fact that the visiting priest had not coordinated things adequately with the choir or the acolytes (for example, he expected the creed to be sung). He carried off the resultant hiccoughs with a cheerful explanation and a joke or two, though.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A liturgical service conducted with lively, meaningful and businesslike efficiency. The priest's marvellous voice made for all but perfect audibility, and showed only a few traces of what I regard as the typical Roman Catholic throw-away style of delivering the most solemn lines of the mass.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
9 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6. Lots of colloquial and fantasy humour ("I don't suppose you take a collection in the cathedral these days, you probably all have chips behind your ear which automatically debit your bank account as you go out!"), given fluently, without notes.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Don't think because you're not rich that today's Gospel reading isn't directed at you. Many other things can keep us from following Christ wholeheartedly.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choir's rendering of Bell & Maules's post-communion hymn, "Will you come and follow me, if I but call your name?" Even the priest was impressed, commenting that he would want them to sing it at his funeral!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
This is easy – the voluminous incense fumes! Even the officiating priest could hardly get some of his words out for choking.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Standing midway between shop and exit door, evidently I was totally invisible for the whole five minutes.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none: Café Cathedral was closed in spite of the noticeboard advertising Sunday opening hours as 10.00am to 2.00pm.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6. I like a church where the faith is presented as something bigger than anything this particular priest and congregation can achieve. There was significant female participation in the service. Also they know about TESSAs and ISAs, and magic chips can't be bad.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes it did.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The preacher's phrase, "Jesus eyeballed him".
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