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  1017: St George's Cathedral, Southwark, London

St George's Cathedral, Southwark, London

Mystery Worshipper: Bishop's Finger.
The church: St George's Cathedral, Southwark, London.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: The original cathedral dates from 1848. Bombed in 1940, it was reconstructed in 1958. But the full scheme was not carried out and the proposed tower and spire were never built – the exterior of the cathedral therefore has a somewhat unfinished look. The interior, however, is light, lofty and austere, with a fine stained-glass east window and a reordered sanctuary with the choir stalls behind a free-standing altar. The effect is spoiled somewhat at the moment by scaffolding – rewiring is being carried out, and the south aisle is currently closed off.
The church community: This is the mother church of the Archdiocese of Southwark as well as a parish church, and is the focal point therefore for Roman Catholics across South London and much of the south of England. The cathedral ministers to a multi-cultural population, with outreaches to newer African and Latin American communities. Major diocesan services take place here, as well as concerts and other cultural events.
The neighbourhood: A residential area (lots of flats), but the main building of interest in the vicinity is the Imperial War Museum.
The cast: The Rev. Addison Okpeh presided, assisted by a robed server and a layman who read the first two lessons, the psalm and the intercessions.

What was the name of the service?
6.00pm Mass (with hymns) for the fifth Sunday of Easter.

How full was the building?
People continued to arrive throughout the first part of the service. Ten minutes before mass began there were about 20 present, but by the time we got to the gospel there were around 120! This seemed a fair sized congregation for the sixth and last mass of the weekend.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. Granted, we were very early, but there was no one on duty at the door at any time.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a fairly standard wooden pew of average comfort, with fold-down kneeler.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very hushed. People entered in ones and twos and knelt in prayer, but there was virtually no pre-service conversation. The organist began playing quietly a few minutes before the mass began.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening, and welcome to this mass."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Celebration for Everyone hymnbook (what a misnomer – see below) and a weekly news bulletin with the psalm response and gospel acclamation. No mass book as such, no Bibles, and no means of following the readings.

What musical instruments were played?
Just the organ – though I understand that a small mixed group of instrumentalists is being recruited to play at this particular mass once a month.

Did anything distract you?
The public address system didn't seem to be working very well. There was a bit of an echo, which distorted the priest's and reader's voices somewhat. This may have had something to do with the scaffolding spoiling the acoustics. Traffic noise from Lambeth Road was also noticeable.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A typically minimalist RC Mass (one priest and one server), with rather muted responses from the congregation. One or two people raised their hands during the Lord's Prayer, but apart from that there seemed little sign of enthusiasm.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
8 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Father Addison spoke ex tempore from the sanctuary step, accompanying his words with graceful hand and arm gestures.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The readings during Eastertide give us a picture of the first days of the early Church. However, despite the numbers being baptised (especially after the day of Pentecost), the "heavenly community" soon found itself being spoilt by strife and human weaknesses. The same is true of the Church today. When John Paul II died, there was debate as to who should succeed him – a liberal or a conservative? A black Pope or Latin-American? Now there is debate as to which way the Church will go under Benedict XVI, but this too may lead to division and therefore uncertainty. Jesus says, in today's gospel, "In my Father's house are many rooms." He wants us to live together in unity, because colour, race and gender do not matter. We are all created by God; we are his children and carry his identity in us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Not a great deal, I'm sorry to say, but I was impressed by the expressive way Father Addison preached and led the service. He enlivened the liturgy by his inflections and graceful gestures.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well, I've never been to a service where the congregational "singing" was so absolutely dismal! Even Auntie (a devout Roman) called it poor! Out of the 120 or so present, I reckon only three or four (and they were right at the front) were making any attempt at singing – and all three hymns were quite familiar. Auntie and I tried singing the first hymn as lustily as possible, and then gave up out of sheer discouragement. I can only hope that things are better at the sung mass (with choir) on Sunday mornings. The poor organist did his best, but he might as well have stayed at home for all the response he got.

If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
The prayers were very brief. I don't recall the general election being mentioned, but Father Addison added a short prayer for God's blessing on Benedict XVI, whose investiture had taken place in Rome that morning.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People were drifting out during the non-singing of the last hymn, so if we'd hung around we'd have been the only ones in the place. A few people were talking to Father Addison as we left, but he seemed to be busy collecting his sponsorship money following his successful run for charity in last week's London Marathon. Pity, as I might have enjoyed a chat with him, but frankly at that point I just wanted to leave.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – Not a chance!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Up to a point. It reminded me that there are few apparent differences between the Roman and Anglican eucharist, and it's always good to worship in a church of a different denomination.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The awful singing (or lack of it).
 
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