Mystery Worshipper: The Yam Yam
Church: Worcester Cathedral
Location: Worcester, England
Date of visit: Thursday, 2 February 2012, 5:30pm
Not among the very largest of English cathedrals, the Cathedral Church of Christ and Blessed Mary the Virgin is nevertheless a fine sight seen from the River Severn. Nothing remains of the original cathedral that had been founded in 680. The current structure dates from the 12th and 13th centuries, with the crypt being older than that. The building is a mixture of Norman, Perpendicular and Gothic styles and is fashioned of red sandstone, which does not weather well. It was very extensively restored in the 19th century but, although the patina of great age has largely gone, the alterations were scholarly. Much of the stained glass dates from that time. The tower houses a peal of 15 bells, considered to be one of the finest toned rings ever cast.
Worcester is one of the ancient episcopal sees of England, founded in the 8th century. Originally a cathedral/priory (staffed by monks), at the Reformation it was dissolved and re-established with dean and canons. From their website: "Today the Cathedral is the centre of a vibrant community of clergy and laypeople, offering the praises of God each day, serving the city and diocese of Worcester, and attracting visitors from all over the world." Each year they host numerous civic and religious events.
In the 1960s the city of Worcester authorities redeveloped the town centre immediately north of the cathedral in what architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner described as an incomprehensible act of self-mutilation. The historic street plan and buildings were obliterated and replaced with a traffic island, dual carriageway, multi-storey car park, and egregious concrete tower block. To add insult to injury, facing the cathedral is a shopping precinct, its original name (Lychgate Centre) and pedestrian entrance a cruel parody of the last remaining cathedral lych-gate in England, which was destroyed in 1965 to make way for it. Pevsner likened the redevelopment to hara-kiri by the city. Ceremonial self-disembowelment seems particularly apt.
The Very Revd Peter Atkinson, dean, preached. The Revd Canon Georgina Byrne, residentiary canon, presided, assisted by the Revd Canon David Stanton, canon precentor.
What was the name of the service?Sung Eucharist for the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.
How full was the building?
There were about 40 in the congregation and another 25 or so in the choir/altar party. We sat in the choir stalls, so it was quite intimate and not sparse, even though it is a large building.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A man handed me a candle and service booklet.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a 19th century choir bench that augments the misericords dating from 1379, and it was okay.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Reverential. A few people were talking quietly.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The printed service booklet included music for the congregation's sung responses, and there was a sheet with the readings and hymns.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ and choir, which were especially good.
Did anything distract you?
What caught my eye was the tomb of Bishop Bullingham (on my way in to the choir). The otherwise not-out-of-the-ordinary effigy of a 16th century cleric had a tiered box standing where the waist should have been. It was like one of those boxes used for the magician's sawing-the-assistant-in-half trick.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was very dignified cathedral worship. The liturgy was from Common Worship, fairly high church with incense. The mass setting was contemporary British composer Jonathan Doves' striking and splendid Missa Brevis, although the creed was read in the normal way. At the conclusion of the service, the congregation lit candles. The Nunc dimittis was sung in plainsong. The choir and congregation processed out of the choir, through the nave and into the cloister. It reminded me of how these large churches would often have had processions, and that their design had these in mind.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The dean had a prepared, concise sermon, delivered with measured received pronunciation. I've become used to great big hum-dinger sermons in my own church and it helped not only to get that we were celebrating a particular point in the church year, but to understand the significance in the context of the liturgical calendar.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was a brief homily on the place of the feast of the Presentation in the church calendar. We look back to the Nativity, forward to Holy Week and the cross. Simeon and Anna gave a hint of what was to come. We would share the eucharist, a reminder that Jesus lives eternally.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Cathedral worship is good stuff. As we queued for communion in the splendid surroundings, the choir singing the Agnus Dei, I felt humbled and privileged that I was about to receive the sacrament. It felt like a glimpse of heaven.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
As soon I sipped the wine, I remembered that I am abstaining from alcohol! I went back to my seat in some confusion.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Some people were chatting afterwards, but my much-loved auntie and uncle, with whom I had come, had to go, so we did not tarry.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I enjoy dipping into cathedral worship and used to attend (not here) quite often. However, I now like the community one gets in a busy parish church, which I don't think would happen in the same way in a cathedral.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?