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Cathedral, San Francisco, California, USA
Cathedral, San Francisco, California, USA.
Episcopal Church, Diocese
Gothic in style, but actually made of poured concrete, one of
the largest poured concrete structures in the world. Construction
began in 1928, and the cathedral was completed in 1964. There
are two square towers, one of them housing a carillon that was
tinkling tunefully as I arrived. Below this is a labyrinth pathway
available for walking at all hours. Inside, the church is enormous,
visually very impressive with a high ceiling and a large number
of high windows filled with stained glass in strong jewel colors.
Below these the internal walls are painted with a series of
murals about the history of the church in California. Between
the back of the church and the pews there is a wide space, about
half of it taken up with another labyrinth path on the floor.
At the back of the cathedral is an interfaith AIDS memorial
chapel, which, when opened, was the first of its kind.
Grace Cathedral describes itself as an "iconic house of
prayer for all" locally, nationally and internationally.
The congregation are inclusive, embracing innovation and open-minded
conversation. There is a wide range of social outreach locally,
and the cathedralís online postings show engagement with national
and international issues. The cathedral hosts cultural events
in the visual arts, music and drama, often in partnership with
other major cultural institutions of the city. Worship is offered
daily, with at least two services every day and three or four
on Sundays. Some Sunday and weekday services include contributions
from a choir of men and boys, said to be one of only seven remaining
in the United States.
The cathedral is on historic Nob Hill, which offers some spectacular
views of the city. Favored in the 19th century by San Francisco's
wealthiest citizens for their posh mansions, the Nob Hill area
was completely destroyed in the great earthquake and fire of
1906. The wealthy chose to rebuild elsewhere following that
disaster, but Nob Hill retained its upscale character as mansions
were replaced by swank hotels. Today the area is home to many
of the city's upper-class families as well as a large young
urban professional population. Nearby Chinatown has been expanding
into Nob Hill during the past 20 years, giving the neighborhood
an eclectic flavor. Across the street from the cathedral stands
the Nob Hill Masonic Center. The California-Van Ness cable car
line stops directly in front of Grace Cathedral, enabling worshippers
to arrive for service by cable car should they so choose.
The Very Revd Jane Shaw, dean of Grace Cathedral, presided.
The preacher was the Very Revd June Osborne, dean of Salisbury
Cathedral, England. Also assisting were the Revd Deacon Nina
Pickerrell, and lay assistant Paul Daddona. Lawrence Thain,
assistant director of music, conducted the choir.
The date & time:
Second Sunday in Lent, February 24, 2013, 11.00am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
The nave seating looked just over half full at the start, but
a lot of people arrived during the service. Its was about two-thirds
full by the end. Perhaps 250, maybe a few more.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Grace Cathedral has a lot of doors, and the one through which
I chose to enter turned out not to be the one where a greeter
was handing out service booklets. I walked over to her and got
a smile and a booklet but no greeting. I was given no directions
about where to sit.
Was your pew comfortable?
Traditional pews, comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service
On the noisy side. I could hear the carillon outside and the
choir practicing at the front, and they were producing different
tunes. There were also a couple of fretful babies. It should
be understood that this vast building is extremely resonant;
the tiniest sound gets magnified and by the time all the different
sounds reach the back pews they are mushed together.
What were the exact opening words of the
"To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul" (Psalm 25), sung
by the choir in procession. This was followed by the opening
hymn. The first spoken words were those of the liturgy: "Blessed
be the God of our salvation." There were no words of welcome
until after the sharing of the peace, more than halfway through
What books did the congregation use during the
All the words of the service, including hymns, were in the service
booklet handed out on arrival. Melodies for all sung parts of
the service were included. The Hymnal 1982 and the
Book of Common Prayer were supplied in the pews but
were not needed for the service.
What musical instruments
Organ, installed in 1934, opus 910 of the venerable Æolian-Skinner
Organ Company of Boston and said to be one of the finest examples
of the American classic school of organ design.
Did anything distract
Those fretful children were distracting. They were not unwontedly
noisy, but in so resonant a building every little whimper carried
a long way.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Choral communion service. The music was quite a feature: two
items from the choir in addition to their opening psalm, and
the congregation were expected to join in with singing plainchant
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 The opening section of Dean Osborne's sermon was well-planned
and closely linked to the readings for the day, but the final
comments about cathedrals did not seem to fit with the rest.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
Lent teaches us to deal not only with our personal shortcomings,
but also with lifeís dilemmas. Abraham faced the dilemma of
having no heir. Paul faced the dilemma of how to manage those
quarrelsome Christians in cosmopolitan Philippi. Even Jesus
was warned by friendly Pharisees that he should not go to Jerusalem.
For him the choice was whether to carry on to do his Fatherís
will, or not. There are no simple solutions. We, too, have to
struggle with our dilemmas. We will rarely find a perfect path
and we will have to live with apparent contradictions, but through
them we can find deep truths. Jesus had little choice if his
ministry was to flourish; he had to go ahead and carry his work
into Herodís terrain. It is through such paradoxes that we can
become more rooted in God. Humans can bring their paradoxes
into the sacred space of cathedrals, which are no strangers
to understated expressions of faith. There new hope and new
meanings may emerge.
Which part of the service was like being in
The very beautiful patterns cast by the stained glass on the walls and pillars of the cathedral. These made the whole ambience very numinous.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The acoustics. Hard to hear the choir or the organ and very hard to sing in time with either.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The celebrant had invited everyone to coffee and had given clear
directions how to find it. However, there was no obvious attempt
at the end to gather up newcomers; one had to follow the crowd.
But once among the coffee-drinkers, it was not difficult to
join in conversations.
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
Coffee, hot and of good flavor, was served from pump-flasks.
An interesting selection of biscuits was also offered.
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 I found the building and its acoustic intimidating
and the act of worship rather remote. I cannot imagine feeling
"at home" here.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes, because it was well planned and sincerely carried out.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The stained glass windows.
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