The Cathedral Church of Christ in Liverpool is a 1920s monstrosity designed by Gilbert Scott. The red stone building towers over a Regency cemetery in a disused quarry. A Greek Revival temple, tunnel, catacombs, chalybeate spring and ramps in the cliff-face make the setting well worth a visit. The interior of the cathedral is well-loved and appreciated by many tourists. There is a restaurant overlooking the cemetery and downstairs rooms enthusiastically used by less traditional groups.
The cathedral is bravely trying to cater to all wings of the broad Anglican Church. Downstairs there is Zone 2 (cafe-style worship) while simultaneously choral eucharist is celebrated upstairs. I chose Zone 2.
Great swathes of the Georgian West End of Liverpool were pulled down to make way for the cathedral, which has a fine history of making the best of a bad job.
Two gentlemen whom I will call Bloke A and Bloke B. They were both wearing street clothes and it wasn't clear whether they were clergy or laymen.
What was the name of the service?Zone 2.
How full was the building?
Five round tables, each seating eight, were a bit more than half-full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Friendly introductions. We introduced ourselves to each other at the table.
Was your pew comfortable?
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Informal and friendly.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
‘Good morning, everybody.’ (I think – it was so informal it was impossible to be sure.)
What books did the congregation use during the service?
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
There wasn't really anything to be distracted from.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
More like dropping in to see a neighbour than worship. The style was more like a kindergarten than a service, although most of us were elderly. We were told that if you want a passive church, you've come to the wrong place. We were given coffee and a mince-pie. Proceedings were informal, so it was hard to know when anything began or ended, but there was some news, an Advent candle was lit, a 'poem' by St Augustine was recited (we were asked to close our eyes – St Augustine, after all, advised us to ‘fix the eye on faith’) and then we sang a few hymns. Next we were told that today is about a special person, who turned out to be John the Baptist. We were invited to eat ‘locusts’ dipped in wild honey (not bad though they stuck in the teeth) and had a jolly community chat about getting ready for Jesus. We were given a basket of craft materials – I made a paper chain. Then prayer: we prayed for the homeless and especially for a group of people just going into rehab. There was more music.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Impossible to say. Ideas were thrown in among the games.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
3 — It was important that the speaker, Bloke B, wasn't preaching. He aimed at being a good infant teacher and I think he succeeded. His style was interactive rather than story-telling.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Being prepared; getting ready for Jesus. ‘I fancy a bit of that security.’
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The prayer. Just for a moment, it all made sense.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Everything else, but I realise this was not aimed a me.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A kindly gentleman at my table told me I could catch the end of the service upstairs, so I did. It struck me as equally far-removed from the people of Liverpool. Their very creative organist played a thunderous exit.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Good, but we had it first.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 — I find the building hard to take and I am not often in Liverpool – and when I am, there is so much I want to see. However, I am interested in what they do here.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
If I had dropped in with no preconceptions, I don't think I'd be any the wiser about Christianity.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?