|188: St George's Cathedral, Jerusalem, Israel|
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Mystery Worshipper: Anonyma.
The church: The Cathedral Church of St George the Martyr, Jerusalem, Israel.
The building: Tiny, light, whitewashed Gothic revival church within complex surrounding a courtyard. An important feature is its guest house where interested persons could stay.
The neighbourhood: One walks a few blocks from the Damascus Gate of the Old City through a mixed urban middle-eastern neighborhood. Women would be more comfortable if modestly dressed (long sleeves, long skirt, modest neckline) and if not walking alone.
The cast: The Dean (did not get his name).
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
Very full for 11.00am worship on the last Sunday before Pentecost.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The Dean shook hands but did not speak, and an usher gave the bulletin. My friend (a 40ish Roman Catholic priest in mufti) and I looked around a bit and then found seats toward the front.
Was your pew comfortable?
No pews. Instead, cathedral chairs, and on each seat was a lovely thick kneeler embroidered and sewn by someone in a parish elsewhere (in England, mostly, from my cursory glance around me). Unfortunately, the rows were so close together that kneeling was a strain for my medium-slim frame, and I wondered if taller or stouter souls attempted that posture.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Absolutely lovely music, very capably played by the organist, set the tone. It could have been a village church in England.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"There are empty seats here and here."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A printed 10-page Order of Service and the English Hymnal (version with words only, no musical notation).
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The hymns were unfamiliar to me and (evidently) to most of the assembly as well. Each time we all tried gamely to find the tune of the hymns, one felt rather childish and trapped in a game but not knowing the rules. At one point the Dean reached for a larger version of the hymnal (one evidently that had the music) but that didn't help the rest of us.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
By the leaflet, which was based on the Church of England Alternative Service Book. Apart from the difficulty with the hymns, the whole was reverent, dignified.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
We celebrate not only the second millennium of God as flesh, but also the second millennium of human flesh having ascended to heaven, now sitting at the right hand of God. The destiny of human nature is to be lifted to the Father. Through the ministry of Jesus we will be judged fairly and remembering this grace, we could do well to judge others accordingly.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The purposeful and sincere atmosphere during the Prayers of the People.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
When the Dean snatched the leaflet from my hand at the end of the service just as I was introducing myself as visiting theologian, he cut me off, saying I could buy one from the desk at the guest house. I did.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The person who had invited me to come to the service found me, welcomed me, introduced me to the organist (a Jewish Russian émigré), and then took me out to a wonderful lunch.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8. If I lived in Jerusalem or were there for an extended period, I would certainly make St George's my regular.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely. There we were in Jerusalem! surrounded by the crackle of politics and religions, and a Babel of pilgrims flowing like ribbons or in streams from everywhere. The people next to me were from Melbourne, Australia (they didn't know the tunes either, but we laughed together at our shared attempt to sing anyway). The people who live there were there, too, and they support a school and a raft of projects for the people outside their courtyard and gates.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The Prayers of the People. The reader's cogent, timely and suitably pointed summaries of the areas which summon intercessory prayer still move me, and probably always will.