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|2673: St Edmundsbury
Church of St James and St Edmund, Bury St Edmonds, Suffolk,
of England, Diocese
of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.
A parish church named for St James was begun in 1503 on the
grounds of what was once a Benedictine abbey. The church was
elevated to the status of cathedral in 1914, exactly 100 years
ago. Today's building is a seamless blend of early 16th century
work and modern Gothic design, plain but richly decorated, and
capped with a millennium tower visible from miles around. The
tower dominates the skyline. All in all, a bright and cheerful
A typical cathedral community, apparently made up of those who
love choir-led sung services, those who are fed up with their
local churches, those who just want to be anonymous, and tourists
who can't make it out. They have a rich music program featuring
a full schedule of concerts and organ recitals as well as high
choral services. The Edmund Gallery, the cathedral's art gallery
and exhibition space, hosts a varied program of exhibitions
throughout the year. They support a large number of charities
including the Children's Society and Christian Aid. An interesting
bit of historical trivia: the affluent American summer playground
known as Martha's Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts,
was named after the daughter of Bartholomew Gosnold, who founded
the Jamestown colony in 1607. Martha was baptised at St James
Bury St Edmonds is an interesting medieval town set out on a
grid iron pattern based on the axis of the nave of the old abbey
church. The tomb of King Edmund, who was slain by the Danes
in 869, was located in the old abbey; indeed, the shrine of
the martyr king was the site of many reputed miracles.
The Most Revd and Rt Hon. Justin Portal Welby, Archbishop of
Canterbury, was the preacher. The Rt Revd David Thomson, acting
bishop of the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, and the
Very Revd Dr Frances Ward, dean of the cathedral, led the service.
The date & time:
29 March 2014, 12.00pm.
We have received a comment on this report.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Communion to celebrate the launch of the celebrations for
the centenary of the diocese.
How full was the building?
Full to capacity.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. Four people smiled at me; one handed me a book and one
shook my hand.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, the pew was reasonably comfortable, but would have got
uncomfortable had the service been longer. Hassocks everywhere
got under your feet.
How would you describe the pre-service
There was a general expectant hum about the place, and the organist
in his colourful little gondola strung high above the choir
tinkled on the ivories for a long time.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good morning and welcome to you all on this very happy occasion."
What books did the congregation use during the
Specially printed glossy service book with the hymns printed
out within, intended as a souvenir of the occasion as well as
a service book (I wonder what it cost to produce?).
What musical instruments
Organ, Steinway grand piano, violins, guitar, woodwinds and
reeds in variety (flute, recorders and sax), drum kit.
Did anything distract
The art in the nave was really good, if a bit over the top:
brightly coloured kids stuff, much of it collage in the style
of the duo known as Gilbert & George, known for their large,
colourful, sometimes shocking posters of contemporary life.
The incessant piano playing was more in the style of Elton John
than Isaac Watts, and it filled in every conceivable space in
the liturgy, sometimes overplaying it.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Hard to tell. Eclectic "world music" style probably describes
it best, with a bit of everything: incense (clouds of it!) candles,
gaily coloured clergy in their best gold carpet copes, flag-waving
children, dancing braves, virtuoso organ pieces, drama, modern
pseudo-spiritual songs, modern and ancient worship songs, lots
of laughter, joy and light. An under verger read the gospel
(when did you last see that in a church?).
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
9 The archbishop's sermon seemed to consist of prepared
answers to planted questions asked by children and young people,
but it was delivered as though unexpected with a light
ex tempore touch and apparently without a script. Impressive,
but then again he is the Archbishop of Canterbury!
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
The questions centred on the themes "What is a pilgrim and are
you one?", "Why is prayer important?", "What
do you think about gay marriage?", "How can I live out
my faith?", etc. The ABC's answers can be summed up by
saying that being a follower of Jesus Christ is the best thing
anyone can ever do.
Which part of the service was like being in
Wonderful singing. Also, the liturgical dance was uplifting
and most unexpected in this setting.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I have never been a fan of Elton John. Sometimes there was just
too much piano. If there is a piano in heaven, book me a place
elsewhere. Scripted prayers, over-long and over the piano. Call
to confession over the piano. Absolution over the piano. Communion
over the piano. Leaving over the piano. I almost felt relieved
to hear the organ!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Someone directed me to the tea tent outside and encouraged me
to "join the others."
How would you describe the after-service
Good strong fairly traded English tea from a tea pot. Spoon-melting
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 The service was so much not what you expect to find
in a cathedral. If this were their everyday style, I would definitely
join, but I suspect many others had a hand in its formation.
Did the service make you
feel glad to be a Christian?
Definitely.This showed what a cathedral can do when it gets
real about the need to produce truly uplifting model worship.
Nothing was sloppy and no time was wasted.
What one thing will you
remember about all this in seven days' time?
How the service unfolded with real polish.
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