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St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, England
| Mystery Worshipper: Cornerstone.
The church: Cathedral
Church of St James and St Edmund, Bury St Edmunds,
of England, Diocese of St Edmundsbury
The building: Gothic, dating from the 1400s, erected on the foundations of
an earlier church. It has been extensively modified and
renovated over the centuries. There is a 21st century
crossing tower, built to celebrate the millennium, that
pleasantly dominates the view from every direction. The
present chancel was designed in 1955 by Stephen Dykes
Bower, known also for his work on Westminster Abbey.
The church: The cathedral church of the diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.
A large number of events and activities are documented
on their website, including concerts and a film society.
The neighbourhood: A settlement has existed here since Roman times. The name Bury
St Edmunds is thought by some to refer to the tomb and
shrine of King Edmund, who (the story goes) in 869 was
scourged, shot through with arrows, and finally beheaded
by invading Danes for his refusal to renounce Christ.
Others regard "bury" as a cognate of the Old
Norse borg, meaning castle. Through the ages
the town saw much conflict between ecclesiastical and
temporal authorites, and it was known as a locus of Puritan
sentiment during the 1600s. The Bury St Edmunds witch
trials of the 17th century, which served as inspiration
(if that's the right word) for the Salem witch trials
in the American colonies, saw hundreds of old women hanged
for offences ranging from sending toads to deprive neighbours
of sleep to causing "organic problems" in young
girls. Today's Bury St Edmunds is a quieter place. Centrally
located to the east of the town, the cathedral was originally
part of the medieval abbey, the ruin of whose front has
now been converted into upmarket houses. The cathedral
now shares a churchyard with the evangelical church next
The cast: The Rt Revd Nigel Stock, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich; the
Revd Canon Michael Hans Joachim Hampel, Sub-Dean and Precentor;
the Revd Canon Frances Ward, soon to be made Dean.
The date & time: 16 October 2010, at 2.30pm.
What was the name
of the service?
Installation of the Revd Canon Dr Frances Ward as Dean
of St Edmundsbury and Induction as Vicar of the Parish
of St James and St Edmund.
How full was the
Full to bursting, probably over 1000. A
mix of parishioners and waifs and strays from other surrounding
parishes wanting to be anonymous worshippers.
welcome you personally?
Yes – two stewards with nice smiles. One handed
me an order of service.
Was your pew
Reasonably comfortable, though the church kneelers got in the way a bit.
How would you
describe the pre-service
Tense and excited. Fairly quiet. No crying babies – in fact very
few under 16 present at all.
What were the
exact opening words of the
After the choir had sung an introit and the precentor
had chanted some obscure sentences, somebody at the back
of the church said: "People of the cathedral church of
St James and St Edmund, I present to you the Revd Canon
Dr Frances Ward, canon residentiary and theologian of
the cathedral church of St Peter, Bradford."
What books did
the congregation use during the
A service book with everything in it.
instruments were played?
An electronic organ and trumpets.
The pagentry, with loads of mayors with their chains of
office, and the judges wearing wigs that didn't seem to
fit their heads, and made one of them in particular look
very hot and sweaty.
Was the worship
stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Solid Anglican authoritative worship with all the formal bits required
by law, and a few nice touches, like the procession of things given to
the Dean as a badge of her office: wine, towels, bread, Book of Common Prayer, Common Worship book... and a map of
long was the sermon?
On a scale of
1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Dean Ward gave a very well crafted reflection
on the role of Anglicanism in society, peppered with irony
and theological quips.
In a nutshell,
what was the sermon
What is the Church of England here for? First: To encourage
people to regain the habit of going to church (consider
children who will only clean their teeth if you tell them
to). Second: We are good at remembering past mercies,
demonstrating beauty in built fabric. Third: Reminding
people that we are the body of Christ, and individualism
has no place in society. And fourth: The human spirit
is much more than targets and goals, and needs to involve
spirituality. We have the confidence to be bold in God's
grace, so stop being disparaging about the Church, which
is the means of God's grace to us!
Which part of
the service was like being in
The choir singing.
And which part
was like being in... er... the other place?
The unholy scrum afterwards for tea and biscuits, which
had all but gone by the time us mere mortals had got to
it, the procession of visiting clergy and choir having
got there first and gobbled them all up!
when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A couple of people who thought they knew me (but didn't) came up
and encouraged me to have tea in the tent outside.
How would you
describe the after-service
Non-existent. The tea was cold and stewed.
How would you
feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 =
Though cathedral life is very different from rural life,
so I can see pros and cons.
Did the service
make you feel glad to be a
What one thing
will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
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