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  1076: St Paul's Cathedral, London

St Paul’s Cathedral, London

Mystery Worshipper: The Church Mouse.
The church: St Paul's Cathedral, London.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: The dome of St Paul's Cathedral graces the London skyline, but to discover the true, breathtaking beauty of Wren's 400 year-old masterpiece, you have to go up the tourist-covered steps and through the doors. Inside, while a wealth of intricate carvings and mosaics can only be glimpsed at the moment, as parts of the cathedral are hidden by scaffolding in an extensive cleaning project, St Paul's is still awe-inspiring.
The church community: Clergy, the lay community, stewards and tourists define St Paul's community. As central London's Church of England cathedral, St Paul's is often the spiritual focus of the nation. Since the first service took place in 1697, events of overwhelming importance to the country have been celebrated, mourned and commemorated. Two days after my visit, Archbishop Rowan Williams stepped into Wren's angel-graced pulpit.
The neighbourhood: The cathedral is surrounded by tall, clean buildings, but on the day of my visit, I discovered its immediate neighbour safely hidden by flower bushes in the shadow of the great building. Sleeping on a bench with pillows and a sleeping bag, he looked quite cosy and secure, his shoes neatly tucked under his bed.
The cast: Precentor Canon Lucy Winkett led the worship. Virger: Karl Huber. Reader: David Duff. Karl and David are members of St Paul's lay community.

What was the name of the service?
Evening service: Christina Rossetti.

How full was the building?
The semicircle of chairs under St Paul's famous dome were about half full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Before the service began I approached a steward and asked if I could go and listen to an organ recital which had begun 15 minutes earlier. The steward, who reminded me of a young Kenneth Williams, said this would not be possible. As I stood at the barrier, others asked him the same question, and he told a woman: "I'm very, very generous, I am, because I let people sit down after 10 minutes into the event." When the cathedral was ready to accept the congregation, he approach the crowd that had gathered behind me by the barrier and with a warm, welcoming smile. Then he looked at me and in tones befitting a Carry On movie said, "Ooh it's my friend!" as he gave me priority entrance and an order of service.

Was your pew comfortable?
The wooden chairs were quite comfortable, until I knelt for prayer. I was a little close to the row in front, which prompted a little girl to look at me and loudly ask an accompanying adult what I was doing.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Church candles and red lights beautifully and simply arranged on the altar created a prayerful atmosphere. This was sadly spoiled by tourists asking the child in front of me if she was a princess (she was wearing a tiara).

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening and welcome to St Paul's. Welcome to the evening service."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The order of service included hymns. I took my own Bible.

What musical instruments were played?
St Paul's heavenly organ.

Did anything distract you?
The beautifully carved pulpit, with its delicate-looking, winding stairs and the intricate carvings of cherubs. The tourists were slightly distracting as was a glimpse of "my friend" the steward, who had a suave way of undoing the barrier rope and slipping through it. It concerned me that he seemed to be preventing latecomers from joining the service.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service was reflective, as we remembered the poet Christina Rossetti. This perhaps explains the simplicity of the service. The canon and verger wore black cassocks and no vestments, while the altar cloth in gold and white stripes spoke of the season of Easter.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The simple liturgical flow of the service, the Old Testament reading chosen from the Song of Songs, and the reading of Christina Rossetti's poetry.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The feeling that I was singing solo, which is not usually encouraged! I was surrounded by people who were not singing, which was rather sad, given that we were singing the two lovely hymns, "Come down, O Love divine", and, "Love divine, all loves excelling".

If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
We prayed for our brothers and sisters in the Roman Catholic tradition, but Pope Benedict XVl was not specifically mentioned by name. We also prayed for Iraq. The intercessions included an invitation to come forward and light a candle for individuals or a specific event. Three queues formed to do this, though the silent nature of the prayer was threatened by the clunking of coins in the metal stands to pay for the candles. Once we had returned to our seats to say the Our Father, the three stands of candles in front of the candle-laden altar added to the reflective atmosphere.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
"My friend" came along, ushering people to the door and declaring rather loudly, "The cathedral is now closed". I approached another steward at the door and asked where the young people were meeting – the order of service stated that they gather at the back of the church. The steward found David Duff, who said that despite the invitation in the order of service, they were not meeting that night due to illness, but usually they gathered near the clergy after the service and then retired to the bar across the road. If I was regular and frequent, I would be welcome to join them. The bar had a menu outside and seemed reasonably priced. At first glance this group seemed exclusive, but youngish postgraduates are rarely catered for in churches, and London can be quite isolating.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I already knew that this extremely busy cathedral didn't provide after-service refreshments. So before the service I pulled up a pew in the Crypt Café, which closes at 5pm, an hour before the service begins. The tea was respectable and the homemade cake was delicious. The café sells some fair trade products, but this wasn't extended to the tea. My only complaint is that using a paper cup and plate, and plastic culterly, raises environmental questions.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – Although I was disappointed not to hear Lucy Winkett preach a sermon which could have brought together the theme of love encapsulated in the wonderful poetry of Christina Rossetti.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it was a lovely service which could have been improved with a sermon.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The image of the candles on the altar as Lucy Winkett stood in front of the amazing pulpit reading Christina Rosetti's poetry.
 
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