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Cathedral, Bristol, England
|Mystery Worshipper: Leo.
The church: Cathedral
Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, Bristol, England.
of England, Diocese
The building: The site has probably had a church for over a thousand years.
In 1148 the building became the Abbey of St Augustine. The
nave, choir and aisles are all the same height, making it
the major example in Great Britain of a hall church. When
the abbey was dissolved in 1539, the nave was destroyed. The
church became a cathedral in 1542. In 1868, the nave was rebuilt
to its medieval design under the direction of GE Street, the
architect responsible for the Royal Courts of Justice in London.
JL Pearson, designer of Truro Cathedral, added two towers
at the west end and further reordered the interior.
The church: Like other cathedrals, its congregation has grown considerably
in the past few years. I think people are attracted to good
music and intelligent preaching. Members of the congregation,
as well as the previous dean, have commented that they prefer
the relative anonymity of a big congregation and the comparative
lack of endless committees and enforced chumminess of their
The neighbourhood: Outside is College Green, a grassy area good for sunbathing.
Somewhere beneath the grass lie the relics of St Jordan, who
accompanied St Augustine on his travels but dropped off in
Bristol and stayed here (many of us do – it's a lovely
city but is known as "the graveyard of ambition" because people
don't move on). Jordan may not be a very well-known saint
but he is often commemorated in the eucharistic prayer and
there is an icon of him in the north quire aisle. The area
in front of the cathedral is loved by skateboarders but the
previous dean seemed to be on a personal mission to get rid
of them. He failed – and the current diocesan directory
depicts a successful skateboarders' event at another big church
in the diocese! A hospital pulled down during the dissolution
of the monasteries is now the lord mayor's chapel, the only
church in Britain owned and controlled by a local government
authority, whose council house is also in the area.
The cast: The Rt Revd Michael Hill, Bishop of Bristol; the Very Revd Dr
David Hoyle, Dean of Bristol. A girls' choir, the Girls of
the Cathedral Consort.
The date & time: Maundy Thursday, 21 April 2011, 10.30am.
What was the
name of the service?
Diocesan Chrism Eucharist with the Renewal of Commitment to Ministry
and the Collation and Installation of the Revd Canon Christine Froude
as Archdeacon of Malmesbury.
How full was
Packed, with about 650 people, 230 of whom were robed clergy and lay
welcome you personally?
Yes, a steward at the door handing out service booklets. Also one of
the vergers, whose politics I dislike but who is a lovely man and a
Was your pew
Yes, though I was a bit hemmed in by the people on my left and right. I
am used to having a pew all by myself for less well-attended services!
How would you
describe the pre-service
Expectant. People from opposite ends of the diocese exchanged greetings
What were the
exact opening words of the
"Good morning and welcome to your cathedral." The new-ish
dean introduced himself and reminded us (in Latin!) to silence
mobile phones. He also told us that the laying on of hands
and anointing was available in the Elder Lady Chapel, just
off the north transept. He added: "For those of you who don't
know your apse from your ambo, that's over there [pointing]."
What books did
the congregation use during the
A specially printed order of service with all the hymns and
readings included. Although it's bad for trees, I do like
this arrangement because my mind wanders all over the place
if I don't follow the readings in print, and I am not the
sort of Christian who carries a Bible to church.
instruments were played?
The person sitting on my left had a squeaky chair so we got
the giggles. I was mentally listing all the people I wanted
to talk to afterwards and also wondering why the three deacons
who carry the oils wear different coloured dalmatics –
purple for the oil of unction, green for baptism, and white
for chrism. Nobody, even on the Ecclesiantics board, has ever
come up with an explanation beyond "It's C of E; it's what
Was the worship
stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Joyful and affirmative. The chrism eucharist is the annual
occasion when oils are blessed. The clergy renew their ordination
vows and take the oils back to their parishes. Because this
is usually the only time such a wide representation comes
together, it felt like a diocesan family annual event. I dislike
the term "family service" but this is what it was.
long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10,
how good was the preacher?
10 – Even though Bishop Mike is my bishop, I'd have
no hesitation in giving him a lower score if necessary. But
in fact he is a very engaging speaker who uses carefully chosen
quotations, stories and anecdotes to keep your interest without
distracting you from the serious bits. The sermon was scripted
and is on his blog, but he hardly ever referred to the script
and maintained eye contact throughout. The bishop was slightly
tearful when he spoke about his daughter's risk-taking when
she did a bungee-jump in New Zealand. He said it was done
in pitch darkness but someone filmed it – miracle camera?
In a nutshell, what
was the sermon about?
Collaborative ministry, based on 1 Corinthians 3:1-7, where
Paul challenges the superficiality of the worship at Corinth,
its conformity to worldly standards, and its individualism.
Today's Christians need to be less worried about finances
and the wranglings within the Anglican Communion. We need
to be imaginative and to take risks.
Which part of
the service was like being in
The voices of the girls' choir soaring up the Gothic arches.
The service lasted two hours and I usually get bored after
an hour but I felt emotionally high throughout. I rejoiced
that about half the robed clergy were women (after all, Bristol
Cathedral was the place where the first ordinations of women
to the priesthood happened). Roll on women bishops! I liked
it when the bishop breathed deeply into the oil of chrism.
You feel that you are about very serious business here.
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
Also the music – I love Britten's Missa Brevis and Ireland's "It is a thing
most wonderful" but I'm fairly sure that they have sung those
every chrism mass (with last year being the exception) since
I started going to it about 13 years ago. I also felt a tad
sorry for the people of St Mary's Shirehampton, whose vicar
had been taken from them to be the new archdeacon. Canon Froude
was very popular and had built up the church. She took risks
and courted the media.
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
No chance. An evangelical priest asked me how we high church
types do the triduum. He was genuinely interested and a far
cry from the sort of evangelicals I knew as a teenager who
would decry "idolatry" (after all, we do
kiss a cross and genuflect to a giant candle). I was then
accosted by someone who had been in the same year as I was
at university. Then I met a former colleague from the school
where we used to teach, as well as one of our past curates
and someone who regularly posts on the Ship. Finally, I spotted
a priest who looked like he was nicking the vestments (a white
high mass set), but he told me they belonged to his church
and he lends them to the cathedral every year. I couldn't
get away! Finally, when I left to catch my bus, it was just
my luck that the bus broke down!
How would you
describe the after-service
We had wine, sausage rolls, and panini. Sadly I had to have
fruit juice because I am taking antibiotics.
How would you
feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 =
10 – Bristol Cathedral was fairly shambolic when I came here 30
years ago. Services tended to start late and the choir often had
badly-creased surplices hanging off their shoulders. Thanks to the
present and the previous precentor, services have style and grandeur
with a prayerful, liberal catholic feel.
Did the service
make you feel glad to be a
Very much so, unusually since I have been a Christian for about 50
years and have become somewhat jaded and cynical.
What one thing
will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The sermon. Actually, I can still remember the sermon he preached three
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