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289: St Barnabas Cathedral, Nottingham, England
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St Barnabas Cathedral, Nottingham
Mystery Worshipper: Pilgrim.
The church: St Barnabas Cathedral, Nottingham, England.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: Stone-built Victorian Gothic, built 1841-44 by Pugin, with interior renovation in the 1990s. Interior stonework painted pale, giving light open feeling despite having very few and very tiny windows. Floors in original Victotian tiles. Interior decor in reasonably good taste visually, but total lack of carpet and fabrics make the building incredibly echoey. Every slight rustle is magnified a hundredfold.
The church: At this service they appeared to be genuinely all ages (with well behaved and quiet children), multi-racial and embracing the well dressed and the decidedly scruffy alike.
The neighbourhood: On one side is the busy Derby Road, on another a quiet area of huge, elegant Victorian houses, now used mainly as offices for top solicitors, medics, etc. The cathedral faces onto the 1960s architecture of the Nottingham Playhouse theatre.
The cast: The name of the priest was not announced and not printed on the notices.
What was the name of the service?
Mass (congregational sung mass).

How full was the building?
By the start of the service about 60 per cent full (about 170 people). Perhaps another 50 drifted in for the first 20 minutes of the service (some during the Gospel and even after the sermon).

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was handed a hymn book with little comment. When it came to the Peace, people shook hands but there wasn't a major outbreak of conviviality.

Was your pew comfortable?
Wooden pew with sturdy kneeler in front – felt perfectly adequate to me.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Some background noise as the architecture amplified every rustle dramatically, but there was no intrusive noise.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The priest started with "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Prior to that, a bell was rung and we stood up to sing the first hymn unannounced.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
"Hymns Old and New, Revised and Enlarged." (The first two adjectives are intended to refer to the hymns, the latter 2 to the book.) Nothing else was given out, though I noticed people helping themselves to a printed sheet. This turned out to be a notice sheet costing 5 pence! There were a number of prayers and responses (and the creed) which most regulars seemed to know.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
The latecomers during the first 20 minutes – I was near one of the entrances.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service began with a procession during the first hymn. The priest had a purple garment with gold trimmings over white robes, and was accompanied by four assistants (mainly young) in white, who carried a cross, two candles and a service book. During the administration of communion they were joined by a black lady in a dramatic maroon tunic with a broad lace collar emphasising a plunging neckline. Several sections of the service (the Psalms, Sanctus and Benedictus) were responsive, with an excellent amplified female soloist singing a phrase which the congregation then repeated. This made it easy for a visitor to feel involved even with unfamiliar music.

St Barnabas Cathedral, Nottingham

Exactly how long was the sermon?
5 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – He explained that the notes he reads as part of his personal devotions were so apt that he felt he should simply share them with us rather than write a sermon of his own. He read them out rather quietly and without much passion, conviction or fervour. He addded a few words of his own at the end.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
A brief meditation on the transfiguration. We too should be radiant in our daily lives.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
An occasion which is open, welcoming and appreciated by people of various ages, classes and nationalities gives a glimpse of heaven. Even though I felt as a non-RC I should abstain from the sacrament, the use of ecumenical texts including a great Wesley hymn helped me feel that I was also included. The tune "Southwell Irons" reminded me of my childhood in the Anglican cathedral at Southwell.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
A sense of disdain for great hymns. Quite a few people began to filter out as soon as the last hymn started.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I stood around at the end though most others were leaving promptly. No one spoke to me, and as people were coming in for the next mass I left and noticed the church hall next door was open. A few of the congregation were in there and coffee was available.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Sainsbury's instant coffee in real china cups with plain biscuits for a charge of 30 pence. Apart from the ladies serving it, still no one talked to me. When I made the effort, it was possible to exchange a little small talk.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – Hard to answer as I'm not a Roman Catholic.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, certainly.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The diversity of people in the congregation.

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