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||1453: The Abbey and Cathedral of St Alban, St Albans,
Photo: Jacqueline Banerjee, Victorian Web
Mystery Worshipper: J Whitgift, accompanied by two others.
The church: The
Abbey and Cathedral of St. Alban, St Albans, Hertfordshire, England.
The building: Huge – it has the longest nave of any cathedral
in England. The building itself is a mixture of architectural styles incorporating
carved stone, Roman brick and other building matter. A tour around the outside
of the building will show a mish-mash of architectural styles and materials.
Internally a number of medieval wall paintings remain, reminding us of how
colourful the church would have been before the iconoclasm of the English
Reformation and Commonwealth. These have now been supplemented by modern
icons of the saints which have been placed in the niches of the choir screen
behind the nave altar.
The church: There are four eucharistic celebrations each Sunday,
as well as matins and choral evensong. Each weekday there are two eucharistic
celebrations, including a Roman Catholic mass on Fridays and Lutheran and
Free Church services once each month, as well as morning prayer and evensong.
The ecumenical outreach of the cathedral is strong, with several non-Anglican
clerics on staff who participate fully in the spiritual life of the cathedral.
The cathedral also maintains an education centre that conducts workshops
to tie in with national curriculum demands, as well as a primary school
and a study centre offering courses on biblical subjects, prayer and spirituality,
Christian doctrine, philosophy, and church history. The work and upkeep
of the cathedral is supported by a host of volunteers working in several
The neighbourhood: St Albans is a small dormitory/market town in
Hertfordshire. The surrounding area is a mixture of small beautiful cottages
and town centre facilities. Verulamium, the Roman settlement where St Alban
was martyred, is close by. The cathedral is surrounded by attractive parkland.
The cast: The Most Revd Desmond Tutu, archbishop emeritus of Cape
Town, presided at the service. The Venerable Mark Oakley, archdeacon of
Germany and Northern Europe, was the preacher. Concelebrating with Archbishop
Tutu were the Rt Revd Christopher Herbert, bishop of St Albans; the Very
Revd Dr Jeffrey John, dean of St Albans; the Rt Revd Richard Neil Inwood,
suffragan bishop of Bedford; the Rt Revd Christopher Foster, suffragan bishop
of Hertford; and the Most Revd Maurício José Araújo de Andrade, primate
of the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil. Also assisting were various
visiting priests, deacons, lay readers, and ecumenical representatives.
The date & time: Saturday, 23 June 2007, 11.30am.
What was the name of the service?
Solemn and Concelebrated Eucharist for the St Alban Festival Pilgrimage.
How full was the building?
Packed to the rafters quite literally. According to their website, about
5,000 people had come for this special event. Loudspeakers had been set up
outside the cathedral to accommodate those who could not fit inside.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. Given the size of the congregation it would have been impossible. However,
being that the main part of the cathedral was full when we arrived, we were
directed to the Lady chapel at the back, where more seating was available.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. It was a wooden seat which served its task adequately.
How would you describe the pre-service
Chatty/noisy with the arrival of people. But this does not mean that the
atmosphere was undignified. There remained a feeling of prayerful and expectant
What were the exact opening words of the
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
What books did the congregation use during the
A specially prepared service booklet.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ and what sounded like an accompanying band which included at least one trumpet.
Did anything distract you?
As we were sitting in the Lady chapel, we had to view the service on plasma
screens. Unfortunately the image wasn't brilliant or always in focus, making
it difficult and sometimes distracting to try to watch.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Liberal Anglo-Catholicism at its best, with solemn liturgy and the exuberant singing of hymns recounting the life of St Alban. The service had a festival atmosphere with plenty of colour, incense and ceremony. All the visiting clergy concelebrated with Archbishop Tutu, reciting the words of the eucharistic prayer and extending their hands toward the sacred elements at the moment of consecration. Archbishop Tutu's presence can only be described as charismatic he has a wide, joyful smile, and when he looked at the congregation and smiled, as he did several times during the service, we felt like we were transported several feet into the air.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 Archdeacon Oakley spoke at great length at the beginning of the
service about the work both Archbishop Tutu and Dean John had done in the
field of inclusion in society and the church.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
The archdeacon spoke about the martyrdom of St Alban. Alban had been made
a witness to a glimpse of the glory of God, and we are to be the same. But
the false gods of the modern world (Gloss, Obese, Instantaneous and Punch)
would demand our allegiance. We must turn away from them and turn back toward
Christ, who, like Aslan (the central character in CS Lewis' The Chronicles
of Narnia), is the "defroster," removing the winter from
our hearts so that we may witness the kingdom of Heaven.
Which part of the service was like being in
Being present at a service that included one of my all time heroes, Archbishop
Desmond Tutu. Also the general festive atmosphere, including concelebration
by so many priests and bishops.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Trying to get into the cathedral before the service. The main body of the
church had become so clogged with people that it was almost impossible to
move either forward or backward. I generally don't suffer from claustrophobia,
but I felt it quite badly on this occasion.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing. With so many people visiting the cathedral for the service, we
just followed the rest of the congregation out.
How would you describe the after-service
There was no after service coffee, but there was a burger stall and ice
cream van. There are also a number of good pubs locally, which we visited
following evensong later in the day. Several events had been planned for
the afternoon, which were all quite good; these included a Roman chariot
race (after all, if it weren't for the Romans there would have been no Alban)
– our team lost! It was good to see so many people catch up with their
friends in the cathedral grounds.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 Whilst the service was brilliant and the theology embodied by the
dean, Jeffrey John, very much one I subscribe to, this was nevertheless
a special event and probably not indicative of everyday spiritual life at
the cathedral. However, I couldn't make it my home church because it is
too far away from where I live.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Absolutely. Whoever said that liberal Anglicanism is dead was wrong. The
service was affirming both of our life in Christ but also of our need for
unity as a church.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The sight of the altar absolutely covered in ciboriums and chalices awaiting
consecration by Archbishop Tutu and his concelebrants.
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