Mystery Worshipper: Cornerstone
Church: York Minster
Location: York, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 13 March 2011, 10:00am
One of the most magnificent liturgical settings in Europe, the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter, York, is the seat of the Archbishop of York as both primate of the Province of York and bishop of the diocese. It is the cathedral church of the diocese of York. The great east window is the largest surviving expanse of medieval stained glass in the world. There has been a church on this site since the year 627. The present building was begun 1220. Construction took 250 years it was not consecrated until 1472.
As a cathedral, the community is both eclectic and gathered; it is welcoming to strangers and feels like a family as well. It has an archival library and a prominent ministry in the areas of learning and education, and has some very creative school visit plans that always seem to include a treasure hunt.
The city of York, in northern England, preserves over 2000 years of history in its beautiful architecture. Other cities pale by comparison. King George VI famously remarked that "York's history is the history of England." Since Roman times the city has been surrounded by walls, substantial portions of which remain to this day, including four main gates, or bars. One of these, Micklegate Bar, once displayed the severed heads of traitors. Modern day York is a lively and busy city full of contemporary shops and restaurants. The minster dominates the town – a stone island in an ocean of asphalt.
The Revd Peter Moger, canon precentor, led the service. The Revd Dr Gavin Wakefield, diocesan director of training, mission and ministry, preached.
What was the name of the service?Sung Eucharist
How full was the building?
The nave was reasonably full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. An elderly white-haired man with an official looking badge shook my hand, welcomed me to the minster, and encouraged me to sit forward to leave seats at the back for latecomers.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a chair, with a space in the back of the seat in front for books, in which roosted a copy of the (brand new, hot off the press) order of service along with other materials.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a hesitant and expectant atmosphere, broken by the precentor explaining who the preacher was, what the service was, and that the service books were new. He offered a prize for anyone who spotted any mistakes in the text.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to any visitors worshiping with us this morning."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The newly printed order of service, a notice sheet, and The English Hymnal. Readings appeared to be taken from The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version, but I couldn't be sure.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The precentor's challenge to find any printing errors in the new order of service was a bit of a distraction, and during the service we found four: two in the Latin canticle sung by the choir and two in the English translation of the same canticle. A few screaming babies and a couple of mobile phones echoing round the nave and some ignorant tourists added to the distractions.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Stiff and liturgical, with the emphasis on the latter. The choir processed round and sang in beautiful harmony.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – It was Dr Wakefield's first time in the minster and his nervous jokey start was echoed by a subdued giggle from the congregation. He read his sermon from prepared notes, in a stiff way not expected from someone with his credentials.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It meandered from wilderness experiences, the Japanese tsunami (which had just happened), Jesus engaging with the non-human part of creation, temptations we face, the diocesan environmental policy, and our need to reflect on how scripture encourages us to be strengthened to live as God intended.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The wonderful singing of the choir, especially as they left the building at the end of the service. A real tingle factor that transported me to the ceiling of this magical building.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Definitely the après service time in the chapter house: the coldness of the space and the queue for coffee, which was well stewed. The fairly uninspiring sermon was a close second. Coming in third were four blank pages in the order of service – so much for the diocesan environmental policy, I thought!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A man wearing a badge reading "Official Welcomer" encouraged me to join the queue for coffee. I was quickly swept along in a sea of human flotsam into the chapter house for coffee. The best biscuits appeared to have been gobbled by the choir before we got there!
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Stewed, probably a well known commercial brand of instant judging from the taste. Slightly cooler than warm, and served in a plastic cup. I wouldn't want a second cup. It was good to see the chapter mingling with the congregation, although the preacher seemed to have beaten a hasty retreat.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – It is all too big and done-to. It felt as though it would be all right if you want to be an anonymous worshipper in the hold, but not very conducive to being a member of the crew.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, on balance, but through what I gained from the texts, not from the preaching.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The singing of the choir, the harmonies of which lifted my spirits on an otherwise dull day.