A compact 15th century Gothic pile. Inside it's wide and spacious, including north and south chapels for two Cambridge colleges, Trinity Hall and Clare Hall, respectively. It is nicely decorated, not fussy, with stained glass and various plaques.
St Edward's, sometimes called Teddy’s, is known as the cradle of the English Reformation, for it was here on Christmas Eve in 1525 that Robert Barnes, one of the Cambridge men who were wont to gather at the White Horse Tavern for Bible reading and theological discussion, delivered a sermon criticising the church. Brought before Cardinal Wolsey, Barnes was given the choice of imprisonment or burning at the stake. Preferring neither, he escaped to Europe, where he met Martin Luther. He eventually returned to England but his Lutheran ways were too much for Henry VIII, who in 1540 saw to it that he was burned after all. St Edward's has recently become a centre for meditative Christianity. There are also regular Gothic eucharists on alternate Tuesday evenings. These are candlelit services with a customised liturgy. Looks interesting.
The church lurks amongst the shops, colleges and cafés of the centre of the university town of Cambridge, enclosed in railings and its own small churchyard, providing an oasis of quiet amidst the commercial bustle.
The presider was the Revd Dr Fraser Watts, chaplain. The Revd Dr Malcolm Guite, associate chaplain, was the preacher (and poet).
What was the name of the service?Dedication Festival and Baptism.
How full was the building?
There were about 40 people in total, not obviously empty but room for many more. It's one of those churches with very short pews where anyone sitting in a pew discourages others from sharing it and you feel you've got to ask permission, because you're invading their personal space.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Hymnbooks and service sheet were handed to us on entry without any particular greeting. There are lots of pillars restricting view, so we moved to the front and asked a lady in the pew behind if it was reserved for anyone. She replied, "Reserved? No!" This was encouraging.
Was your pew comfortable?
No! Narrow and very upright. Fortunately there was plenty to distract us from this.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and serene apart from occasional noises from one or two children (probably for the baptism).
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and a very warm welcome." (Actually the church wasn't warm but rather chilly.)
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Ancient and Modern New Standard, with melody (the melody was useful because I didn't know some of the tunes). Book of Common Prayer (used only for a psalm). Duplicated service sheet.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
Sitting at the front, we were removed from distractions by those behind us, apart from occasional noises. There was a splendid stained glass window ahead of us.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Traditional but enthusiastic. It sounded as though those immediately behind us meant what they were saying.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The associate chaplain was not only a preacher, but also a poet.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Following Genesis 28:10-17, the story of Jacob's ladder, the sermon linked this to the dedicated place of the church, appropriate to the dedication festival. The ladder touches both earth and heaven, but is at best a gate, in fact a gate to the human heart. In our hearts there is a pulpit, a lectern, a font and a communion table. This gives us a picture of the beauty of the human heart.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Most of it! Malcolm Guite had written four sonnets about Latimer's pulpit (Hugh Latimer, one of the key figures of the English Reformation, preached from this pulpit and was martyred in 1555), the lectern, the font and the communion table; he read each of these at their location. An anthem, Locus Iste by Anton Bruckner, was beautifully sung by five singers. Even the plainsong invocation "In this temple", chanted by the presider, was strangely moving.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The pews could have been designed by those people who design bus shelters, who presumably imagine that buses really do come along every minute! Deep enough for extremely small people only. And it was a bit chilly, but the other place doesn't have that reputation!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No one spoke to us at all without us making the first move. "Tea or coffee? Milk? Sugar?" was about the extent of the unsolicited conversation. However, I said hello to the priest and we looked around at the windows and the plaques.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was instant coffee in cup and saucer, and the biscuits were not bad.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – Judging from the list of services, there is great variety. Although very keen on 1662 Book of Common Prayer apparently, there was no suggestion of slavishly following it. I suspect you couldn't easily get bored here.
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 art and creativity in the service: poetry, anthem, plainsong.