southwark cathedral

Southwark Cathedral, Southwark, London


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Mystery Worshipper: Party Girl
Church: Southwark Cathedral
Location: Southwark, London
Date of visit: Tuesday, 11 May 2010, 12:45pm

The building

This is a gothic cathedral, located on the south bank of the Thames, opposite the City of London. The building dates from the 13th century, when it was part of an Augustinian monastery, and it's only been used as a public cathedral since 1905. There has been a church on this site for over 1,400 years, making this the oldest cathedral in London.

The church

The cathedral is involved in all kinds of projects, locally and abroad, including a winter homeless people's shelter and al Al Anon family group. See details of their work on the cathedral website.

The neighborhood

The cathedral is right by London Bridge station, the River Thames and the historic Borough Market, and is rather overshadowed by the roads, bridges and surrounding office blocks. It is also a good resting place if you're walking the Thames Path, along London's South Bank. The churchyard next to the cathedral is a garden where local workers come to sit and eat their sandwiches at lunchtime.

The cast

The celebrant was Neville Smith. Two unnamed people were assisting him.

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

This lunchtime eucharist wasn't held in the main part of the cathedral, but in the Harvard chapel, named after John Harvard who founded Harvard University in the United States. He was born near the cathedral and was baptised there in 1607. There were 35 seats available and 11 people present (including the three leading the service).

Did anyone welcome you personally?

When I arrived at the main cathedral entrance, I wasn't sure where to go. A young lady explained where the service was being held, but as English wasn't her first language, it took a little while to work out what she was saying. When I found the chapel, there was no one on the door, so I just took a seat. I was handed a service sheet by another member of the congregation.

Was your pew comfortable?

There were modern wooden chairs with kneelers hanging on the back of them (just as well, as the floor is made of stone).

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Everyone was sitting quietly, waiting for the service to start. I would guess that none of the people there knew one another.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"On behalf of the Dean and Chapter of Southwark Cathedral, welcome to the daily eucharist."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

No books were needed, but a laminated service sheet was available. I was the only person who seemed to need one!

What musical instruments were played?

As it was a short lunchtime service, there was no music or singing.

Did anything distract you?

A few things. Firstly, one of the congregation insisted on saying all the responses in Welsh! However, it was obvious from a brief conversation we had during the peace that he spoke perfectly good English. I love hearing Welsh spoken (I'm half Welsh myself, though I don't speak the language) but there's a time and a place for everything. He also made strange noises from time to time, which sounded like he was sucking his teeth. Secondly, a tourist opened the chapel door just as we were about to receive communion. Instead of discreetly leaving, he stood there watching us, as if we were exhibits in a museum!Lastly, for some reason one of the congregation got up and left just before we got to the communion part of the service. Perhaps he hadn't realised it was a communion service.

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

The service consisted of liturgy, responses, prayers, the peace and receiving communion. It was fairly high church: there was a stand where one could light candles, and most of the congregation crossed themselves at various points during the service, and genuflected when they left.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

There was no sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Several things. Firstly, the fact that this service has probably happened every day for hundreds of years, regardless of what else is happening in the world. I love that long line of continuity and knowing that I'm part of it. Secondly, the fact that the prayers were so concerned with what was going on in the world, including war in the Middle East, and the UK post-election discussions.Thirdly, after I left and was looking around the cathedral, I noticed that one of the assistants was speaking to a young lady who was at the service. I then noticed him praying for her. I was really touched by that.

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

As the service was so short (25 minutes in total, shorter than a lot of sermons!) there wasn't much opportunity to feel as if I was in the other place. I was very embarrassed, and felt rather guilty, when I dropped my Mystery Worshipper calling card into the donation box and a steward who obviously thought I'd made a donation said "thank you" with a big smile.

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

Everyone left the service as soon as it ended. However, the celebrant, Neville Smith, was standing by the door and thanked each person for coming along. He asked me if I was a visitor and I explained that I was temping nearby. We had a pleasant chat and he explained that he is a retired vicar who takes the daily eucharist service two or three times a month. He was very friendly.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There were no after-service refreshments. There is a refectory in the cathedral, but I didn't have time to visit it as I needed to get back to work.

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

8 – This wouldn't be my regular church as I live too far away, in East London. However, I enjoy attending the lunchtime eucharist when I am working in the area.

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

Yes. I love the fact that a group of people, who will probably never set eyes on each other again, can come together to worship God and share the bread and wine together. We truly are the Body of Christ.

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

The lovely sight of the kind man praying with the young lady.

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