Mystery Worshipper: Nick M Bari
Church: Liverpool Cathedral
Location: Liverpool, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 21 May 2006, 10:30am
The Cathedral Church of Christ is the largest cathedral in England. It is a glorious and majestic structure, visible for miles around. Surprisingly, although it looks every bit as medieval as any of its cousins, it is a work of the 20th century. The cornerstone was laid in 1904 by King Edward VII and the consecration took place in 1924 in the presence of King George V and Queen Mary. The final stone was not set in place until 1942. The interior seems enormous and features strikingly beautiful artwork and stained glass windows.
The cathedral's mission statement on its website notes that a cathedral is more than a large parish church, but rather is the focus of all diocesan activity. As such, the cathedral prides itself on its liturgical and ceremonial expertise and strong music program.
Liverpool is a large city in northwest England, perhaps most famous as the birthplace of the Beatles. The cathedral is located in a residential area near one of Liverpool's three universities, about a 15 minute walk from centre city. The Roman Catholic cathedral, coincidentally of the same name, is not far away, and the road connecting the two sites is called Hope Street. Ecumenical?
The Rt Revd Dr Rupert Hoare, assistant bishop in the diocese of Liverpool and dean of the cathedral, was the celebrant. The Revd Canon John Roberts, honorary chaplain to visitors, preached.
What was the name of the service?Cathedral Eucharist.
How full was the building?
Any crowd would seem sparse in this enormous space, especially on this miserable, rainy morning. But people were scattered about, giving the appearance of comfortable fullness. The back section of 15 rows remained mainly empty.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A steward said hello and handed me a stack of no fewer than four booklets and a hymnal.
Was your pew comfortable?
Typical cathedral chairs. Comfortable. No kneelers.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and reverent. I noticed two small groups chatting amongst themselves, but the huge space swallowed up any chance of their being overheard by others. The organist offered a great prelude, an Arioso by the 18th century Belgian composer and choirmaster Gioseffo Hectore Fiocco. Almost mystical.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Mass Booklet for Eastertide, New English Hymnal, a bulletin with readings and collects of the day.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ. The cathedral's magnificent instrument is the work of the Liverpool firm of Henry Willis. With pipes enclosed in two cases on either side of the choir, it is said to be one of the largest church organs in the world.
Did anything distract you?
The lighting was bizarre, sort of a hazed brown/gold that made the vestments look brown.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very formal and staid. It seemed more Lutheran than Anglican. There had been a tragic death in the congregation, so this could account for the lack of spontaneity. Bishop Hoare had a friendly style and gave a welcome. A woman cleric sat in the middle of the main aisle throughout the entire service for no apparent reason. They brought the Gospel to her to read – very strange.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – I would call Canon Roberts's style old school evangelical. He held his Bible up at least twice. I admired his style but his content stirred me up negatively.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Being chosen by God - rather than us choosing God or Jesus for ourselves. He recalled his ordination in the cathedral, 46 years ago. The sermon had three C's, but only two of them have stuck for me: chosen, commissioned, and can't remember the third!
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choir is super, and the hymns were well chosen, but singing is nearly impossible in this vast, cavernous space. I couldn't hear the words sung by the choir. Psalm 98 sung as an Anglican chant provided the most ethereal moment of the whole service.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The hymn singing was hard and exhausting, and was a rather lonely experience. It also didn't help that the accompaniment was somewhat bizarre and the introductions so short that you could barely find your place in the hymnal in time to start singing. There was no hymn board and no announcement of the hymn number – we were left to find the listing in the sheet. Message: please do not sing hymns!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was greeted by someone I had met on a previous visit.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
An informal gathering, much more like a parish than a cathedral.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – Visitors were kept "outside" until the service ended, instead of being asked to join in the back seats of the nave. One woman did take a book, though, and came in after communion.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I am always glad to be a Christian, yet I felt more that I was fulfilling a duty than celebrating in worship.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The vast beauty of the building and the many art features, but, alas, not much of the worship or sermon.