Lichfield Cathedral, Lichfield, Staffordshire, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Lichfield Cathedral
Location: Lichfield, Staffordshire, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 11 August 2019, 11:00am

The building

Photo: © Diliff and used under license Consecrated AD700, the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Chad was founded by St Chad, who is still remembered here. Most of it was built in the 13th century in the Decorated style, with three famous spires. It was ravaged in the Civil War, rebuilt in the 17th century but largely recut in the 19th, so it looks Victorian at first sight. It isn't.

The church

Lichfield is close to Birmingham, inclusive, friendly. The cathedral tries to make the Christian message relevant to the modern world and is currently hosting a space festival, with films and events. The nave has become the surface of the moon. There is a rocket under the crossing.

The neighborhood

Lichfield is a small, friendly market town, with lakes and the cathedral at its centre. It was a centre of culture in the 18th century, home to Erasmus; Darwin; Dr Johnson; the educator, writer and social reformer Hannah More; so it has substantial Georgian houses, as well as a beautiful cathedral close.

The cast

A female priest led the service. The dean preached. The Cambrian Singers sang Palestrina's Missa Brevis in Latin.

What was the name of the service?

Choral Eucharist.

How full was the building?

Choir and presbytery fullish – probably over 100.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

No, but I felt welcome anyway.

Was your pew comfortable?


How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Fine bell-ringing. Inside, pleasantly relaxed, with spectacularly robed (black with red tassels) vergers lighting candles, moving furniture, etc.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Book of Common Prayer, hymn book Common Praise. But everything was on the printed service sheet.

What musical instruments were played?


Did anything distract you?

Good-looking female verger. The priest taking the service also had shoulder-length fair hair. Together, they gave the occasion a welcome cabaret atmosphere.

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

Completely traditional and everyone knew it, except that some of the hymns seemed a tad unfamiliar. The communion hymn, however, was that old standby 'Just As I Am,' and the organist prefaced it with what sounded like an improvised chorale prelude on the tune. This evoked a smile when we actually began to sing the hymn.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

9 minutes.

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

1 — The dean started with a relaxing joke: 'You can't hear sermons if you're tense.' Then he rambled. I think I must have been too tense to follow him.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Text: ‘Be prepared.’ We enjoy badges of honour. Christ always turns worldly expectations upside down. We have to seek God's kingdom. 'Fear not, little flock' was written at a time when the Church was being persecuted. It was also the slogan of an anti-Nazi group who tried to kill Hitler. Only God can give Reich (kingdom). [The dean ended with the poem The Kingdom by the 20th century Welsh poet RS Thomas.]

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

'Heaven' to me is strong stuff. I often have experiences of heaven but they are pretty special. A Palestrina mass in a Gothic cathedral is not enough to trigger heaven automatically. Don't get me wrong – I enjoyed it all, including trying to get some meaning out of the sermon. There was nothing wrong with the service at all. It just wasn't like being in heaven.

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

It worries me that I didn't know what the dean was talking about. He was talking a language I thought I understood, but failing to get any meaning out of it made me feel damned.

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

In a cathedral I don't know that well, I'm more interested in looking at the building than in talking to people. This is my fault, not theirs. They were all polite and eager to share their summer programme with each other. Not very many people talked to me, but that was because I really wasn't there – in spirit anyway.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?


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

8 — I love Lichfield Cathedral but I would want to be able to understand the sermon.

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

Uncomfortable. I felt they were trying hard to pass on a message that has no meaning in today's world. With their rocket and space age imagery, they were trying to adapt the gospel (whatever that is, I am glad to argue, but not here) to appeal to consumers.

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

The organist's chorale prelude on 'Just As I Am.'

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