Mystery Worshipper: Leo
Church: Pride Service, Bristol Cathedral
Location: Bristol, England
Date of visit: Saturday, 8 July 2017, 10:00am
Robert Fitzharding, a wealthy local landowner and royal official who later became Lord Berkeley, founded an abbey on this site in 1140. It was built just outside the walls of Bristol on high ground overlooking the river. The new monastery was dedicated to St Augustine of Canterbury. Initially all the abbey buildings were in the Norman style, but only fragments remain today. Between the 13th and early 16th centuries, a sequence of rebuilding projects transformed the church, showing the successive developments of Gothic style. In 1539 the abbey was handed over to the King's Commissioners when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries. In 1542 the disused abbey church was designated a cathedral. In 1887 the rebuilding of the nave was finally completed, 350 years after the original Norman nave had been demolished.
On the cathedral website, the Chapter of Bristol Cathedral stated: "Just over a year ago a vigil was held on College Green to remember those killed and injured in Orlando, Florida. They were victims of a hate crime directed against members of the LGBTQ community. At the end of that vigil on the Green, many of those present found their way into the cathedral. As a pledge of our commitment to the love of God, a perfect love that casts out fear, and to a community that still suffers the consequences of prejudice, we welcome Bristol Pride to the city centre." The cathedral is open every day and extends a warm welcome to everyone regardless of gender, sexuality, faith, political persuasion or denomination. Their mission in the city and wider diocese is one of invitation and welcome. Their website lists several organisations devoted to social justice that the cathedral supports. The cathedral holds a variety of special services as well as their regular worship schedule. They make an effort to be disability-friendly most of the steps have ramps and there was sign language for the deaf.
The cathedral, City Hall, and the neighbouring businesses and organisations form the civic heart of the city, based around College Green. The Green is a large open space where people like to stroll, relax, have lunch "an oasis of calm," one tourist has described it.
The Very Revd David Hoyle, dean; the Revd Canon Nicola Stanley, canon precentor.
What was the name of the service?A Service Before Bristol Pride.
How full was the building?
Thirty-seven people, many wearing "Christians at Pride" t-shirts. There were an estimated 30,000 at Bristol Pride, making it one of the largest outside London, but the brochure didn't advertise the service. Indeed, I only discovered its existence ten days beforehand.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Someone whom I vaguely know, and who knows that I've been ill, said, "You made it, then." Another, referring to the deafening noise outside, asked, "Do you think the peal of bells is just for us?"
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes upholstered chair.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Chatty but not too loud.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A specially printed booklet.
What musical instruments were played?
No music. It was meant to be a time of quiet preparation before the festivities outside.
Did anything distract you?
Memories of people I know who have been refused holy communion because of their sexuality musing on the slow but sure pace of change.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Formal call and response. The clergy wore cottas and white stoles. There were the standard two candles on the altar. The order was: welcome; psalm (said antiphonally); reading; abbreviated creed; prayer for renewal, including anointing; Lord's Prayer; Gloria (said); collect and blessing.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – An introduction rather than a sermon.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The dean described how, just over a year ago, crowds had demonstrated outside the cathedral after the Orlando nightclub shooting. He had opened the cathedral and over 300 people came in to pray and light candles. Many of them asked if they were "allowed to come in" and he was shocked that the Church appeared so unwelcome to gay people. And so he made a vow/promise to hold this service.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
We were invited to be anointed with holy oil as a sign of our wish to oppose prejudice and discrimination.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
We could have done with more celebration. True, the Church of England needs to repent of its attitudes, and this was done in the penitential rite. But Pride has grown over the years from a march against injustice to a family fun day that rejoices in diversity. True, the reading sees diversity as a gift from God. I hoped for more outrageous dress although one minister sported a rainbow waistcoat under his dog collar.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People were gathering at the back to join the Pride march.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None because of the march.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – Bristol Cathedral does liturgy well, both for great occasions and for the regular congregation. Although it is big, people can feel part of a community. But I am already committed elsewhere.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The rainbow waistcoat.