Chichester Cathedral, Chichester, West Sussex, England

Chichester Cathedral, Chichester, West Sussex, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Chichester Cathedral
Location: Chichester, West Sussex, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 2 August 2009, 11:00am

The building

The architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner called Chichester "the most typical English cathedral." The building dates from 1075 and is of early Norman design with additions in varying Gothic styles. The original cathedral was badly damaged by fire in 1114 and again in 1186. Repaired, it was rededicated in 1199. Over the years much has been added, including a doubling of the aisles in the 13th century; a free-standing bell tower in the late 14th century (making Chichester unique among English cathedrals in this regard); and a spire in the 15th century (rebuilt by Christopher Wren in the 17th century and rebuilt again after it suddenly collapsed in 1861). The interior is full of art treasures ancient and modern. There is a table tomb on which lie the effigies of Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel, and his second wife Eleanor, holding hands – inspiration for the poem An Arundel Tomb by Philip Larkin. There can also be found the shrine of St Richard of Chichester and the grave of the composer Gustav Holst.

The church

Upkeep of the cathedral is largely dependent on a number of volunteer groups. The cathedral sponsors educational programs and is host to a number of exhibitions, concerts, lectures and social activities throughout the year. It is also home to a family of peregrine falcons who come back year after year to nest high in the roof. In 1965 the cathedral commissioned the American composer Leonard Bernstein to write a work for the Southern Cathedrals Festival. The resulting Chichester Psalms, in Hebrew, has won favour with more advanced English and American church choirs, especially the hauntingly beautiful second movement (Psalm 23 interrupted by Psalm 2).

The neighborhood

Chichester is a small city built with a cross in the centre from which radiate four major streets in each direction of the compass. The cathedral is on West Street in the centre of Chichester close to all the busy shops. There is lovely green outside the cathedral.

The cast

The Revd Canon Tim Schofield, precentor, was the celebrant. The Very Revd Nicholas Frayling, dean, preached.

What was the name of the service?

Sung Eucharist

How full was the building?

Full, only a few empty seats.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

We were greeted by sidespeople who gave us the service booklet but left us to find seats by ourselves.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes. Padded seats which were very comfortable on the bottom although a bit close to the seat in front, which meant that if you did want to kneel, it would be difficult.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Muted chattering but surprisingly no pre-service organ music.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"A very warm welcome to this cathedral eucharist."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The service booklet produced by the cathedral and a news leaflet.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ. The cathedral's organ, dating from 1678, contains pipework from many of England's most noted organ builders. It was originally mounted on the rood screen but was moved to the north transept just in time to escape damage from the collapse of the spire in 1861. Botched renovations in the 1950s rendered the instrument unplayable, and it was not until 1985 that the reconstructed and reassembled organ was rededicated for service. The action is tracker throughout, without any electric or pneumatic assistance.

Did anything distract you?

There was a very well-behaved child sitting behind me who kept busy at a colouring book. The sound of the pencils was distracting until I discovered what it was. Someone close by kept adjusting his hearing aid so the service was interrupted by the telltale whistling. Although the seats were comfortable, they were designed with a wooden shelf attached to the back for the benefit of the row behind; any movement such as sitting up or straightening one's posture had a tendency to cause items to fall off the shelf. A box of gift aid envelopes went crashing to the ground at one point.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Traditional Anglican, as you would expect in a cathedral. There was a grand procession at the start of the service with the priests and all the associated candle and incense bearers. Incense was only burnt at the beginning. (We were later told by one of the coffee ladies that as the incense smell dies away it gets replaced by the smell of coffee, but only if you are around the choir stalls.)

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

9 – Well constructed and delivered with an easy manner, very approachable.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The dean began by reminding us of what theologian Karl Barth once said: "Preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other." He commented on the news over recent days, the responsibilities that the prime minister and government have to bear, confusing advice regarding swine flu, controversy surrounding unlawful rendition, etc. Do sunbeds cause cancer? Should the so-called peace walls separating Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods in Northern Ireland stay up or come down? How can we think theologically about all this? Jesus said, "Do not be afraid." Fear is a characteristic of the old self. What do we do in times of trouble? We must return to the works of Jesus. God is life, and belief in God is to be not afraid. We can see glimpses of the divine in the present. We are in danger of losing sight of this in the current obsession with being right or even righteousness. We reject those with whom we disagree as we surround ourselves with like-minded people. Exclusivism excludes.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The wonderful music, both the organ and also two visiting choirs from St Nicolas, Guildford and St Albans, Gossops Green, Crawley. We were told there were also members from other choirs. They were especially excellent in the motet, the lovely Prayer of St Richard of Chichester by Malcolm Archer.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The whistling hearing aid, the falling box of gift aid envelopes. Also, the exchange of peace was very short – we had no time to greet the people around us.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

Coffee, wine and squash (fruit drink) were served in the south transept.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

The coffee was delicious and served with a friendly smile in plastic cups with holders (no tea, though). The ladies serving were very friendly. I asked if the coffee was fair trade, and one of the ladies was kind enough to find out and even look up the brand name for me. Whilst we sat drinking our coffee, the ladies came round with coffee pots to offer refills.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

6 – It was lovely if you want the grand celebration, but because the cathedral is so large and because of the layout, I felt that I was not really a part of the service. I could not see anything that was going on during the service.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Despite the above, yes it did.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The fantastic music and the friendly coffee ladies.

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