St Edward King and Martyr, Cambridge, England

St Edward King & Martyr, Cambridge, England


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Mystery Worshipper: The Token Non-Goth
Church: St Edward King & Martyr
Location: Cambridge, England
Date of visit: Tuesday, 17 January 2006, 8:30pm

The building

Nestled in a corner off the central market square, St Edward's is easy to overlook. From the outside, it's an interesting mixture of architectural styles, with a stone chancel, brick-built nave, and a very old bell tower. On the inside, it seems more architecturally balanced, giving the feel of a traditional parish church.

The church

St Edward's is a Royal Peculiar, which gives it a certain independence from the Church of England. It has two side chapels, the south labelled Clare and the north labelled Trinity Hall. These refer to two nearby colleges which have close connections with the church. St Edward's has also traditionally been a cradle of reformers – figures such as Hugh Latimer preached against the misdeeds of the Church during the Reformation period. The pulpit where Latimer preached is still in use. In modern times St Edward's has become a centre for mystical and meditative Christianity. It has close links with the psychology and religion departments of Cambridge University, and actively engages with groups such as the New Age movement and the Goth community. Indeed, the service described herein was held for the benefit of the Goths. Goth is a modern subculture dating from the early 1980s, an offshoot of post-punk. Its followers favor "gothic" tastes in music and clothing as influenced by 19th century gothic literature.

The neighborhood

St Edward's is in the centre of Cambridge, which means it's surrounded by the prestigious colleges of the University. The Haunted Bookshop lies a mere ten paces away, for those who are interested in books, or ghosts, or both.

The cast

The Revd Marcus Ramshaw, assistant chaplain, was the celebrant, and the Revd Dr Fraser Watts, vicar-chaplain, was the preacher.

What was the name of the service?

Goth Eucharist.

How full was the building?

The congregation consisted of about a dozen people, all seated in a semicircle in the chancel.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Someone welcomed us as we approached the chancel, explaining that the service was being recorded by local newspeople for the first anniversary of this service. We weren't handed service sheets – they were laid out on the chairs.

Was your pew comfortable?

It was a cushioned chair, of the type often found in churches. Very comfy indeed.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The church was in total darkness except for candles and lighting around the altar, setting the right mood for the service. Initially it was all quite frantic, as the press were rushing around taking photographs (including several of me and my companion), setting up lights, and interviewing the vicar. As the service start time approached, the atmosphere became somewhat more hushed, except for the occasional click of a camera.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

A piece of Goth music was played on a CD player, and when it had finished the celebrant said, "A very warm welcome to St Edward's Church for this Goth Eucharist."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The special Goth liturgy written by Chaplain Ramshaw was included in a booklet laid on our seats.

What musical instruments were played?

A CD player was used for most of the music. The preacher sang "Before the ending of the day" unaccompanied.

Did anything distract you?

The blasted cameramen! They distracted considerably from the overall atmosphere of the service. One memorable moment occurred when a cameraman knelt down at the altar rail facing the congregation, to film us just as we were being invited to receive communion. He got out of the way pretty quickly after I knelt down next to him!

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

It's hard to say. According to their website, the Goth eucharist reflects the darker sides of our lives before moving toward a position of hope and happiness found in Christ. The whole service was worship – the musical interludes were mainly secular tracks from the Goth community, which were quite moody and dark but moving in a way. Chaplain Ramshaw's liturgy likewise is dark, to be sure, but also intimate and reassuring. I felt that I was worshipping more during the liturgy than during the music – I found it difficult to engage with the music and didn't find it particularly worshipful. Maybe I just wasn't making enough of an effort.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

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

8 – The preacher expanded on the story of Lazarus.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Fraser Watts read the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead. In this story, Jesus is confronted with the terrifying reality of death. His response to Martha and Mary – that he is the Resurrection and the Life – gave a new meaning to doctrines they had been brought up with. As he commanded people to roll away the stone on Lazarus' tomb, so he commands us to reveal the hidden, dark aspects of our lives and let his light in.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Heaven at a Goth service? Well, I must admit that the words of the liturgy (particularly the confession and the prayer at the invitation to communion) were very moving and they reassured me of God's infinite love – something I need to know at this time.

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

During the peace, we were encouraged to share "a handshake, an embrace or a kiss – whatever you feel comfortable with." I don't mind embracing people I have met before (and many of my friends are Goths), but I was slightly unnerved by a tall scary man with black lipstick who approached me with arms wide open. I quickly offered my right hand to signify my limited intentions.

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

As I walked through the nave of the church, a lady from Radio Cambridgeshire asked if she could interview me. I obliged, and spent the next few minutes trying to answer questions about the Goth community. Ironic, considering I'm not really a Goth.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none. But many of the congregants go on to "The Calling," a Goth night at a local nightclub. No doubt there's plenty of drinking to be done there.

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

8 – The service is only fortnightly, but I found it very moving and meaningful and will definitely go again.

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

Yes. In particular it restored my sense of God's grace and the love of Jesus, which had been flagging in recent days.

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

The service's attempt to face up to the dark side of life, whilst not losing sight of the hope we have in Christ.

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