Gloucester Cathedral, Gloucester, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Gloucester Cathedral
Location: Gloucester, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 4 August 2019, 3:00pm

The building

Photo: © Saffron Blaze and used under license The Cathedral Church of St Peter and the Holy and Indivisible Trinity is known most of all for its beautiful cloisters (the earliest surviving fan vaulting), Norman nave, and Decorated Gothic quire. The east window (1350s) soars into an angel choir and includes a whispering gallery. King Edward II is buried here.

The church

Although a cathedral, it also has a community associated with it, whose activities are well documented on their website. Among these are Brunch ‘n’ Bounce, where (quoting from the website) ‘parents, grandparents and carers can read papers and magazines, chat and enjoy a hot drink and food’ while the children have a go at a bouncy castle, crafts, toys and games; Sip & Study (again quoting from their website) ‘where we use the ancient practice of Lectio Divina to explore the coming Sunday’s Gospel reading;’ and many more. The cathedral believes in passing on an ancient tradition to everyone.

The neighborhood

The City of Gloucester was a Roman, then medieval, centre of commerce. It still is, though the focus has moved slightly to Gloucester Quays, a large retail centre not quite in the old docks. The River Severn has always brought trade to Gloucester, although it is so dangerous that it was bypassed in the 19th century by the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal, now used for leisure.

The cast

A canon of the cathedral led the service and preached. The Three Choirs Festival only finished last night, so all cathedral staff deserve a break. The nave was still a concert hall.

What was the name of the service?

Choral Evensong.

How full was the building?

The quire stalls were full (about 50?).

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Many friendly ushers answered questions but did not force themselves upon us. They were very helpful.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes. It was a wooden choir stall, which is what I prefer. Good kneeler.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Commendably well managed, considering everyone must be exhausted and they have tourists everywhere (except in the quire) while the service is going on.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘O Lord, open thou our lips’ sung after the introit. The first spoken word was ‘Welcome.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

There was a printed service sheet for evensong. Also present were the Book of Common Prayer and the hymn book Common Praise.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ, an opus of Thomas Harris dating from 1666, extended and modified over the years and eventually redesigned and, after that, overhauled. The organ case is the only 17th century case surviving in England, and the pipes displayed therein still speak. Good organist from Texas.

Did anything distract you?

The east window steals any show in Gloucester. The poor canon's cough distracted her more than me but I felt for her. Owing to all the festival staging, the procession had to descend some steps, entering the quire from the east end, which made me apprehensive, but they just managed it.

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

Traditional and very well done. Procession with candles and dignified bowing.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

6-7 minutes. It merged into prayers at the end, so impossible to be more precise.

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

4 — Quite an original sermon with no text and no ending (and an absolutely conventional opening). I felt the canon’s sincerity, but this method of preaching could do with a bit of practice.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The canon started by describing a moving concert at the recent festival, about children who escaped the Holocaust. Family connections are necessary for our development. The Hebrew Shalom does not just mean peace, but also wellbeing, connectedness. Then we can pass it on. Become people who live in love.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The east window. Quoting from the cathedral’s website: ‘Made and assembled in the middle of the 14th century, the colourful glass reflects the hierarchical nature of medieval society as well as the Church’s interpretation of the Divine Order … The panels move from shields of nobility, through tiers of bishops and abbots, saints, apostles and angels. Its centrepiece is the Blessed Virgin Mary and our Lord Jesus Christ in majesty, flanked by the twelve apostles … Over the six centuries of its existence, the window has survived all the events of history and remains in good condition.' The window takes up the entire east wall from floor to ceiling.

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

Nothing as bad as that, but the visiting choir from Dallas, Texas seemed to feel that Anglican chanting should be as boring as possible. It was psalm 107 too (‘Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good’)!

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

You don't do that sort of thing in an Anglican cathedral. I sat in my stall and had a delightful conversation with my neighbour, who was from Dallas. We became friends. Only the fact that that they are on a very tight schedule prevented me from inviting the whole choir back to see my home.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

None – but I would be shocked to be offered it in a cathedral.

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

10 — I love the place and the standard of music is high.

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

Glad to be 'living in love' as the preacher recommended.

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

My dear neighbour.

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