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||1017: St George's Cathedral, Southwark, London
Mystery Worshipper: Bishop's Finger.
The church: St George's Cathedral, Southwark, London.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: The original cathedral dates from 1848. Bombed in 1940,
it was reconstructed in 1958. But the full scheme was not carried out and
the proposed tower and spire were never built – the exterior of the cathedral
therefore has a somewhat unfinished look. The interior, however, is light,
lofty and austere, with a fine stained-glass east window and a reordered
sanctuary with the choir stalls behind a free-standing altar. The effect
is spoiled somewhat at the moment by scaffolding – rewiring is being carried
out, and the south aisle is currently closed off.
The church community: This is the mother church of the Archdiocese of Southwark
as well as a parish church, and is the focal point therefore for Roman Catholics
across South London and much of the south of England. The cathedral ministers
to a multi-cultural population, with outreaches to newer African and Latin
American communities. Major diocesan services take place here, as well as
concerts and other cultural events.
The neighbourhood: A residential area (lots of flats), but the main building of interest in the vicinity is the Imperial War Museum.
The cast: The Rev. Addison Okpeh presided, assisted by a robed server
and a layman who read the first two lessons, the psalm and the intercessions.
What was the name of the service?
6.00pm Mass (with hymns) for the fifth Sunday of Easter.
How full was the building?
People continued to arrive throughout the first part of the service. Ten
minutes before mass began there were about 20 present, but by the time we
got to the gospel there were around 120! This seemed a fair sized congregation
for the sixth and last mass of the weekend.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. Granted, we were very early, but there was no one on duty at the door
at any time.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a fairly standard wooden pew of average comfort, with fold-down kneeler.
How would you describe the pre-service
Very hushed. People entered in ones and twos and knelt in prayer, but there
was virtually no pre-service conversation. The organist began playing quietly
a few minutes before the mass began.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good evening, and welcome to this mass."
What books did the congregation use during the
Celebration for Everyone hymnbook (what a misnomer – see below)
and a weekly news bulletin with the psalm response and gospel acclamation.
No mass book as such, no Bibles, and no means of following the readings.
What musical instruments were played?
Just the organ – though I understand that a small mixed group of instrumentalists
is being recruited to play at this particular mass once a month.
Did anything distract you?
The public address system didn't seem to be working very well. There was
a bit of an echo, which distorted the priest's and reader's voices somewhat.
This may have had something to do with the scaffolding spoiling the acoustics.
Traffic noise from Lambeth Road was also noticeable.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
A typically minimalist RC Mass (one priest and one server), with rather muted responses from the congregation. One or two people raised their hands during the Lord's Prayer, but apart from that there seemed little sign of enthusiasm.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 Father Addison spoke ex tempore from the sanctuary step,
accompanying his words with graceful hand and arm gestures.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
The readings during Eastertide give us a picture of the first days of the
early Church. However, despite the numbers being baptised (especially after
the day of Pentecost), the "heavenly community" soon found itself
being spoilt by strife and human weaknesses. The same is true of the Church
today. When John Paul II died, there was debate as to who should succeed
him – a liberal or a conservative? A black Pope or Latin-American?
Now there is debate as to which way the Church will go under Benedict XVI,
but this too may lead to division and therefore uncertainty. Jesus says,
in today's gospel, "In my Father's house are many rooms." He wants
us to live together in unity, because colour, race and gender do not matter.
We are all created by God; we are his children and carry his identity in
Which part of the service was like being in
Not a great deal, I'm sorry to say, but I was impressed by the expressive
way Father Addison preached and led the service. He enlivened the liturgy
by his inflections and graceful gestures.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well, I've never been to a service where the congregational "singing"
was so absolutely dismal! Even Auntie (a devout Roman) called it poor! Out
of the 120 or so present, I reckon only three or four (and they were right
at the front) were making any attempt at singing – and all three hymns
were quite familiar. Auntie and I tried singing the first hymn as lustily
as possible, and then gave up out of sheer discouragement. I can only hope
that things are better at the sung mass (with choir) on Sunday mornings.
The poor organist did his best, but he might as well have stayed at home
for all the response he got.
If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
The prayers were very brief. I don't recall the general election being mentioned,
but Father Addison added a short prayer for God's blessing on Benedict XVI,
whose investiture had taken place in Rome that morning.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People were drifting out during the non-singing of the last hymn, so if
we'd hung around we'd have been the only ones in the place. A few people
were talking to Father Addison as we left, but he seemed to be busy collecting
his sponsorship money following his successful run for charity in last week's
London Marathon. Pity, as I might have enjoyed a chat with him, but frankly
at that point I just wanted to leave.
How would you describe the after-service
There was none.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 Not a chance!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Up to a point. It reminded me that there are few apparent differences between
the Roman and Anglican eucharist, and it's always good to worship in a church
of a different denomination.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The awful singing (or lack of it).
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