Derby Cathedral, Derby, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Derby Cathedral
Location: Derby, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 8 September 2019, 10:45am

The building

The Church of All Saints was founded in 943 as a Saxon church, but no visible trace remains of that structure. The Perpendicular style tower of the present cathedral was built between 1510 and 1532 – a very fine structure that is prominent in the city. The rest of the church, a rectangular building in the classical style, dates from 1723 and was designed by James Gibbs, one of Britain’s most influential architects of the 18th century, whose other works include St Martin-in-the-Fields. The side galleries were added in 1841 (Gibbs had written of his original design: ‘It is the more beautiful for having no galleries, which … clog up and spoil the insides of churches’). There is an ornate wrought iron chancel screen. The pews are very dark in colour. An eastern extension, providing a retro-choir, was begun in 1965 by Sebastian Comper, son of the great Gothic Revival architect Sir Ninian Comper. Over the high altar is a magnificent baldachin. The cathedral boasts the oldest ring of ten bells in the world, and a mechanical carillon that plays a different tune on those bells each day of the week.

The church

The parish church was upgraded to a cathedral in 1927 with the creation of the new diocese of Derby. Today the cathedral is a centre of worship and mission, and welcomes pilgrims and tourists throughout the year. It has a thriving number of groups (too many to mention here). It is involved in social outreach in the city, including the Derby Churches Nightshelter and the ecumenical Derby City Mission. It set up the cathedral school in September 2018, the first Church of England secondary school in the diocese. It is involved in the arts and puts on concerts, art exhibitions and films. There is also a bookshop and café.

The neighborhood

Derby was settled by the Romans, who called their town Derventio. The Saxons and Vikings made it a market town. Derby expanded rapidly during the Industrial Revolution and became a major rail hub in the 19th century. Today Derby is an important transport manufacturing centre – Bombardier Transportation, one of the world’s largest makers of railway locomotives and light-rail cars, is located there; as are Rolls-Royce and Toyota. The Cathedral Quarter, with its shops, cafés, restaurants, clubs and bars, is the centre of Derby's nightlife. Also nearby is the QUAD, a centre for art and film to which the cathedral has strong links. Special mention should be given to the fascinating Chapel of St Mary’s on the Bridge, more commonly called simply the Bridge Chapel, within walking distance, which dates from the 14th century and is only one of six surviving bridge chapels in England. In days gone by, arriving travelers would pop into the chapel to give thanks for a safe journey. Today the Bridge Chapel serves as a chapel of the cathedral and has limited opening times.

The cast

The sub-dean and canon missioner presided and preached. There was also a deacon and subdeacon. There were two acolytes and a crucifer plus a verger. The cathedral curate read the notices and introduced the two stewards. Two clergy members were hidden behind the screen but later emerged to administer at communion. The girl choristers and lay clerks sang the music to the service. Lay members gave the readings and led the intercessions.

What was the name of the service?

The Cathedral Eucharist on the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity.

How full was the building?

About two-thirds full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Somebody opened the door for me and welcomed me. Just beyond him were two stewards handing out service sheets. I was cheerily welcomed and handed a sheet.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pew was surprisingly comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

There was a bustle at the back with people coming in and the setting up of the refreshments and fair trade stall, but not overly noisy. Some people greeted each other, some quietly chatted, whilst others were reverentially quiet.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

The opening of the service was the hymn ‘When morning gilds the skies.’ The first spoken words were ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

No books, but a comprehensive service sheet containing lots of useful information on the first page. A separate leaflet was enclosed with notices and prayers for the week ahead.

What musical instruments were played?

The organ, built by John Compton, was played. It was quite a powerful instrument.

Did anything distract you?

The only thing that distracted me was one of the choristers slouching, fiddling with her ponytail, and yawning when she wasn't required to sing. Fortunately she was required to sing for most of the time.

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

I find it difficult to describe worship style unless it is at the extremes. I would call this typical Anglican middle-of-the-road catholic or semi-high. It didn't say, but I recognised that the service used the contemporary form found in Common Worship. The president wore a chasuble; everyone else wore albs. There was a gospel procession and the choir sang the Missa Brevis in C by Mozart. There were no smells or bells.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes approximately – I forgot to look at my watch at the beginning, but after a couple of minutes started timing.

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

10 — I very rarely give a 10. I'm used to a high standard of preaching at my home church, so this is a rare compliment. The preacher was engaging in a quiet way. She appeared not to use notes but she might have been doing so very unobtrusively.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The sermon could be summarized by Psalm 1:6 – ‘The Lord knows the way of the righteous.’ The preacher seamlessly linked the psalm and all three readings, with a bit of Socrates thrown in. She asked the question, ‘What is the good life?’ and said it went back to conversations about the good life with Jesus in the gospels. Socrates said that we need to practice the good life by doing the things that change and transform us. In Deuteronomy the Israelites are on the brink of the River Jordan and the Promised Land and they are invited to choose life. In his letter to Philemon, Paul wants his readers to push themselves a bit further. In the gospel, Jesus gives a stark choice between family and being a disciple. The preacher ended with an illustration of being lost children waiting for help to arrive. Adults think they know the way and just get more and more lost. It's scary to go where we don't know. We are called forward to the way of righteousness by following Jesus, but this may mean taking up our own cross.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The singing of the motet Ubi caritas et amor by the contemporary Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo after communion. The helpful stewards, particularly one standing by the step leading from the sanctuary to help anyone who might stumble.

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

If I was being really picky, I’d say I found the organ a bit too loud and powerful in parts in the singing of the Mozart mass setting.

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

The people in my pew chatted to me and we made our way together to the back, where I was greeted by the sub-dean. Nobody asked me to the after-service coffee, but all were invited in the service sheet. I tried to look lost but was swept along by a large number of people to the back of the cathedral. Members of the congregation were very friendly. I was asked where I came from and what I thought of the service. I commented on the sound system and that I could hear everything clearly – this is not always the case in my church. I was told that the system had just been tweaked, as there had been problems in hearing the sermon in particular.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I wasn't interested in tea or coffee, but it was served in china mugs. I had water, though. There was also squash, and it was served in a reusable plastic cup. There were biscuits, which I didn't indulge in. I'm not sure whether any of the refreshments were fairly traded, but as they have a fair trade stall once a month, I would guess at least some were. Lots of people stayed and there was a buzz about the place.

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

10 — I visit Derby Cathedral about twice a year and would definite make the effort to visit again, maybe going to evensong. It is a very welcoming place.

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

Yes, definitely.

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

The singing of the motet Ubi caritas et amor by Ola Gjeilo.

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