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|1771: St Aidan's,
Carlisle, Cumbria, England
Photo: Robert Cutts
Aidan's, Carlisle, Cumbria, England.
Church of England, Diocese
St Aidanís is a very pleasant turn-of-the-century Gothic building,
large and airy. The sanctuary is dominated by a large crucifix,
and the dominant colour is pink Ė rarely an advantage, but in
this case not nearly as bad as it sounds. It's not a thoughtful
liturgical choice, but it is quite restful and comforting. Everything
is laid out in a very proper Anglo-Catholic way, including six
altar candles and a prominent shrine to the Blessed Virgin.
The parish is faithful to the Anglo-Catholic tradition and is
a member of Forward in Faith. There are two low masses, one
high mass, and evensong with benediction each Sunday. Mass is
celebrated each weekday at varying times. Confessions are heard
Carlisle is the most northerly city in England and traces its
origin to a 1st century Roman outpost associated with Hadrian's
Wall. It is a busy industrial and marketing town and a major
rail centre. The church is set in a tree-lined, well-kept area
called Botcherby, which looks about the same vintage as St Aidanís.
We were a bit uncertain whether we had come to the right place;
the notice board was unreadable from the road. We had to ask
someone if this were indeed St Aidanís. There were half a dozen
or so cars parked in the area adjacent to the church, so the
congregation may not have been entirely local.
The celebrant was the Revd David Miller, a fact that could be
determined only by looking under the "Thanks" section
at the back of the service sheet. We later learned that he was
standing in for the parish priest, who was on holiday. The acolytes,
the organist and the reader were unnamed.
The date & time:
Sunday, 5 July 2009, 10.30am.
What was the name of the service?
Solemn Mass and Sermon.
How full was the building?
Pretty empty. There were probably around 30 people in a building
that might hold between 400 and 500. There were no children
present; indeed, I donít believe I saw anyone under 60 or 65.
Did anyone welcome you
A pleasant couple, presumably man and wife, greeted us warmly
with a very smiley "Good morning."
Was your pew comfortable?
Normal standard church pew, perfectly satisfactory.
How would you describe the pre-service
Very quiet and reverential.
What were the exact opening words of the
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the
What books did the congregation use during the
Celebration for Everyone hymnal (words only) plus a
mass book and service sheet.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The uncertainty of the organistís fingers. From beginning to
end, I was on tenterhooks as to whether we were going to survive
musically. The harmonies of the hymns were clearly not those
intended by their composers. The six mature ladies who sat in
the choir stalls were past their vocal prime Ė so much so that
one of them had opted to sing an octave lower than the rest.
At first I couldnít figure out who in the sanctuary was singing
in the baritone register. When I went up for communion, there
she was – and giving it her all!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
It was certainly high church – solemn, remote and detached,
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 A solid exposition of the gospel text, well preached.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
Father Miller preached on the gospel for the day, Mark 6:1-6
(the story of Our Lordís visit to his home town and his inability
to work any miracles there). He likened this incident to the
moment before Christís crucifixion when the people shouted for
Jesus to come down from the cross. Why then did St Mark alone
include this incident in Nazareth in his account of the gospel
story? What does it tell us? He suggested that people will judge
Jesus and his Church by what we do, and that if we fail to listen
to him, he can do no miracles in our lives. In contrast, God
was able to perform a miracle when Mary said "Yes"
when told that she would conceive a child by the Holy Spirit.
Our co-operation is vital if God is to do things for us. We
can do great things if we will but let him work through us.
Which part of the service was like being in
Attending an Anglo-Catholic mass in a part of England where
such events are comparatively rare. At the end of the service,
we learned from Father Miller that St Aidanís is the only Anglo-Catholic
church in the entire diocese of Carlisle.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The singing, without a doubt. In the first place, though we
wanted to join in the hymns or the mass setting, we were not
provided with music Ė only the words. What conclusion could
we draw but that strangers and newcomers are not meant to join
in the musical part of the worship? It must be admitted, though,
that St Aidanís is by no means alone among English churches
in this regard. This is bad enough in churches that offer time-honoured
hymns and mass settings, but it is absolutely unforgivable in
churches like St Aidanís that appear to prefer obscure tunes
throughout. (Might this be one reason why there was such a sparse
congregation?) The single most horrible example of hymn choice
and rendering was the communion hymn – a version of Elvis
Presleyís "I canít help falling in love with you"
re-vamped and attached to a singularly banal text. I am not
making this up. The angels must have put their hands over their
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
A little lapdog suddenly popped up from under one of the side
pews the moment the mass was over; it had obviously been lurking
there throughout the service. The bulletin stated that there
was coffee in the hall. We walked back up the long aisle toward
the sanctuary, where we passed through still-lingering clouds
of incense to a door that led down a twisting and turning passage.
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
Coffee was served in proper cups along with a choice of biscuits
Ė including custard creams and bourbons! Everyone was friendly;
indeed, we had the distinct feeling that visitors are rare and
highly valued as a conversational novelty.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 For Catholic-minded Anglicans there are no other choices
in this part of the world. If I lived in Carlisle, I fear I
would feel compelled to expand my carbon footprint and repair
to another diocese. Or possibly a conversation with the resident
priest might change my way of thinking.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Alas, no. Despite the quality of the sermon and the welcome
from those we met at coffee hour, I felt a bit depressed by
the whole experience. The hymnal the parish has chosen to use,
Celebration for Everyone, should be renamed Misery
for Everyone Ė at least for everyone with any poetic or
musical sensibilities. How could one possibly feel glad trying
to sing words such as: "Go through the park, on into the
town, the sun still shines on, it never goes down ... Take seeds
of his spirit, let the fruit grow, tell the people of Jesus,
let his love show."
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The little lapdog.
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