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  1195: Corpus Christi College Chapel, Cambridge, England

Corpus Christi College Chapel, Cambridge, England
Photo: Cambridge2000.com

Mystery Worshipper: Mr Ricarno.
The church: Corpus Christi College Chapel, Cambridge, England.
Denomination: The chapel is Church of England but welcomes all members of the college regardless of denomination or faith.
The building: As one enters the main gate of Corpus Christi College, the stained glass of the chapel's west windows catches the eye. The sanctuary is done in white stone with oak pews on the north and south sides – very clean and well kept. Like in many college chapels, the organ is located above the west door.
The church: A large number of activities are sponsored, including Bible study, choir, ecumenical services, visits to inner-city areas, etc. Guest speakers visit regularly. The chapel maintains close ties with the nearby church of St Bene't.
The neighbourhood: Being in the centre of Cambridge, the chapel is surrounded by other colleges and parishes very densely packed together. When it comes to religious and cultural life in this part of Cambridge, the colleges and churches compete fiercely to attract locals and tourists.
The cast: The Rev. James Lawson, chaplain, celebrated. The Rev. Yazeed Said, assistant chaplain, was deacon.
The date & time: Ash Wednesday, 1 March 2006, but I can't say the time – read on!

What was the name of the service?
Sung Eucharist with imposition of ashes, joint service with St Bene't's Church.

How full was the building?
Mostly full, with the choir taking up a significant amount of space.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I had inadvertently arrived late due to lack of communication. St Bene't's stated on their website that the service was to start at 6.30, and I arrived at 6.20 only to find that the congregation were already saying the penitential prayers. One of the wardens beckoned me in and motioned me to the space next to him.

Was your pew comfortable?
I was kneeling most of the time! But my cushion was very comfortable, yes. And when I did sit down, I found the pew to be not uncomfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Sadly, I can't.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
No idea, though I'm reliably informed that they were, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A specially-prepared booklet, and the New English Hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ with choir.

Did anything distract you?
Evidently other people had been misinformed about the service's start time, as people kept arriving even later than me! That was very distracting. I also felt rather disoriented, having joined the service halfway through.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very much middle-of-the-road Anglican. I think I was the only one crossing myself and bowing at the name of Jesus, so it certainly wasn't "high". The music was very well played and well sung, as one would expect in a Cambridge college.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
There wasn't one (or if there was, I'd missed it).

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Listening to the choir. I'm not sure which setting of the mass they were using, but it was beautiful and gave me some time to settle myself down and consider the meaning of Ash Wednesday.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I felt highly embarrassed at my late arrival. And the chaplain was so soft-spoken that I couldn't understand what he was saying, especially when he announced the hymns. The hymn numbers weren't printed on the service sheet, and I couldn't find "hymn number mumbledy-mumble" on my own.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I handed my hymn book to a warden, who smiled and nodded at me. I looked lost for a couple of minutes and was ignored by all except the chaplain, who said hello. I soon realised that if I wanted to find out how I'd managed to arrive late, I'd have to take the initiative and approach somebody. It turned out that it had been announced the previous Sunday both at the chapel and at St Bene't's that the time had changed, but no one updated the time on the website – an unfortunate oversight.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasn't any. The choir and chaplain probably went to a formal dinner in the college hall, as is the custom in Cambridge.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I would have given the chapel 7 or 8 if they'd managed to communicate the change of time properly. Otherwise, it was a good and helpful service, and I'll probably go to the chapel again sometime.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, despite my disorientation and embarrassment. But the chapel seems to be a close-knit community, and I didn't feel part of it.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Seeing all the crosses drawn on people's foreheads. I'd been to Ash Wednesday services before, but the image is still very striking. And I got some very funny looks from people as I walked back through the town centre.
 
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