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|2026: General Synod comes to York
and Metropolitan Church of St Peter, York England.
Church of England, Diocese
Does this building need any introduction except in superlatives?
The biggest medieval cathedral north of the Alps. The most complete
collection of medieval stained glass in any church in Europe.
The biggest single expanse of medieval glass (the great east
window) anywhere in the world. The famous heart of Yorkshire
tracery in the great west window. All are only part of what
makes this cathedral so famous and much loved. This massive
medieval cathedral contains all three major medieval styles:
early English (the transept); decorated (the nave); and perpendicular
(the choir and Lady chapel). There are also the remains of the
Norman cathedral lurking in the crypt. The building visible
above ground was started by Archbishop Walter de Grey in 1220
and it was de Grey who built the transepts. Work continued down
to the 15th century. Since then the cathedral has caught fire
in 1829, 1840 and 1984. Major work on the foundations in 1967
stopped the central tower from falling (and the massive concrete
bands holding things up are clearly visible in the crypt).
This cathedral is a minster church, originally meaning that
the building was a centre for missionary activity. Now the Minster
is the mother church of the northern province of the Church
of England, base for the Primate of England and a venue for
a range of activities and services, from the University of York's
graduations to diocesan events such as ordinations, the enthroning
of archbishops, and the consecrations of bishops of the northern
province. Of course a large part of the congregation at daily
evensong and Sunday services are the huge numbers of tourists
who come year round.
Originally a Roman fort, then a Viking settlement, the area
around the Minster is now a cathedral close. York Minster is
surrounded by picturesque medieval streets (including the world-famous
Shambles), medieval churches, the Minster Song School and Dean's
Park, a large grassed area to the north of the cathedral. Very
little modern intrudes to spoil the picturesque quality of the
surroundings. The area always buzzes with tourists.
The Most Revd and Rt Hon. Rowan Douglas Williams, Lord Archbishop
of Canterbury and Primate of All England; the Most Revd John
Sentamu, Lord Archbishop of York and Primate of England; the
Dean and Chapter of York; visiting clergy, nuns and members
of religious orders, including the Community
of the Resurrection; the choir of boys and men; the master
of music; the organist; and a full party of acolytes, crucifers,
deacons and altar servers, along with the president, registrar,
officers and members of the Synod.
The date & time:
Sunday, 11 July 2010, 10.00am.
What was the name of the service?
Sung Eucharist attended by the Officers and Members of the General
Synod of the Church of England.
How full was the building?
The cathedral was packed – thousands of people. I arrived 20
minutes beforehand and could only sit up the back.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A lady smiled at me and a sidesman found me a spare seat.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was bearable. There was a lot of sitting, as it took forever
to administer communion.
How would you describe the pre-service
The cathedral was throbbing, not least as it was full of members
of one the most fractious and divisive synods in recent history.
However, the atmosphere wasn't unpleasant, but simply intense
with discussion and prayer.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Welcome to York Minster," spoken by an unnamed cleric
who then made the obligatory request for us to turn of our mobiles.
What books did the congregation use during the
a printed order of service with liturgy, readings and hymns.
What musical instruments were played?
The cathedral's vast pipe organ, whose nearly 6000 pipes surmount
the pulpitum. The singing was led by the boys and men of the
cathedral choir, who offered an anthem that was receiving its
world premiere (it was OK, but the world will cope without a
Did anything distract
In York Minster, there is plenty to distract the eye! Medieval
carvings, stained glass windows, that weird dragon's head halfway
down the nave clerestory – that and losing count of the
number of dog collars in the congregation. I've never seen so
many in one place. I was also distracted by the way the Archbishop
of Canterbury handled his mitre. Most bishops just seem to plonk
it on and off, but the archbishop used refined and sweeping
gestures and the mitre positively glided through the air.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Actually very plain, in that there was no incense and the vestments
were all very restrained (mostly surplices and stoles for clergy,
a chasuble for the Archbishop of Canterbury, and rochet and
chimere for the Archbishop of York. The gospel was proclaimed
with multiple alleluias. Archbishop Williams genuflected so
profoundly after consecrating the elements that he actually
disappeared out of sight behind the altar.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
9 Archbishop Sentamu preached a witty sermon. His message
of brotherly and sisterly love was very clear but also very
charged in the immediate context of sometimes nasty synodical
debates. My only problem was the amplification, which made it
very hard to hear him, as there was terrible reverb at the end
of the nave.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
The archbishop took as his text the parable of the Good Samaritan
(which had been the gospel reading). He compared the man who
was left lying on the side of the road, beaten almost to the
point of death, to the Church, the "wounded people of Christ."
We must be prepared, he said, to help even those who have brought
their own misfortunes on themselves. He urged the Synod to stop
battling and to start behaving as children of Christ.
Which part of the service was like being in
Archbishop Williams single-handedly provided this particular
sensation. My word, the man is charismatic! Simply seeing him
walk down the aisle made me shiver in excitement. But the most
wonderful discovery was his exquisite singing voice. Being blessed
by not one but two primates as they processed out was also rather
thrilling. Archbishop Williams provided another heavenly moment
– as he was blessing the elements, he spoke the words over gentle
singing and organ playing, and the words, music and his delightful
voice together created an almost mystical atmosphere.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing about the service took me down there, but it was impossible
to forget the immediate context of this service; the Church
of England in crisis once again, pockets of misogyny and homophobia
rearing their heads, threatened defections, and the apparent
ruination of the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
It was a long service, what with about 2000 people to communicate.
After the service I made straight for the north transept in
the hope that Archbishop Williams himself might appear. He did!
I stood within metres of him (and filmed him in conversation
on my mobile) and again it was a total thrill.
How would you describe the after-service
Horrible milky tea, but worth it for the opportunity to get
up close to the Archbishop of Canterbury. I kept getting more
as an excuse for diving back into the crowd where he was to
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 I am certain that the Archbishop of Canterbury will
be the principal celebrant of daily eucharist in heaven. And
if I could hear mass every day as celebrated by the archbishop,
I would be in heaven!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Pleased to be an Anglican and it's nice to be surrounded by
other Anglicans en masse.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Above all else, Archbishop Williams' elegant and deft way of
getting his mitre on and off.
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