Emmanuel URC< Cambridge (Exterior)

Cambridge Theological Federation, Cambridge, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Cambridge Theological Federation
Location: Cambridge, England
Date of visit: Wednesday, 1 March 2017, 7:30am

The building

The service was held at Emmanuel United Reformed Church. It is a large building, as large as the parish church across the narrow lane, in fact one of the largest non-Anglican church buildings in Cambridge. Inside, the church is dominated by its apse featuring stained glass from the workshops of William Morris & Co. The windows depict the poet John Milton, Puritan martyrs Henry Barrow and John Greenwood, and other notables, including local iconoclast Oliver Cromwell. The church also has a cafe and meeting rooms on its north side.

The church

Numerically dominated by Anglicans, who come from two residential colleges and one non-residential pathway, the Cambridge Theological Federation also includes a seminary for the United Reformed Church, a Roman Catholic women's college, a Methodist centre for international studies, and the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies. Teaching is held between colleges and every fortnight the Federation comes together for worship, led by one of the Houses. This service was led by Westminster College (a URC seminary) and the Margaret Beaufort Institute for Theology (a Roman Catholic women's lay education centre).

The neighborhood

This end of Cambridge is dominated by colleges. To the north, Emmanuel URC's immediate neighbours are St Catherine's and Kings, with Pembroke and Corpus Christi across the road and Peterhouse to the south. As such the area is popular with tourists and students.

The cast

The celebrant was the Revd Dr John Bradbury, vice-principal of Westminster College. Liturgy was also led by Dr Oonagh O'Brien, principal of the Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology. The preacher was Dr Melanie-Prjean Sullivan, the Cardinal Hume Visiting Scholar to MBIT from Bellarmine University.

What was the name of the service?

Ash Wednesday Act of Worship.

How full was the building?

Fairly full. Most houses of the Federation make this act of worship compulsory, so I would estimate that there were about 200 people present.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Two people stood at the door with orders of service. The person next to me, the principal of Ridley Hall (an evangelical Anglican seminary), greeted me and we spoke a little.

Was your pew comfortable?

Padded chairs, which were very adequate.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Fairly conversational, but quiet (it was 7.30am, after all!).

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Let us worship God. God sent Christ into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him." This was followed by the response, "God's love endures forever."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

All the words and music were on the printed order of service.

What musical instruments were played?

An organ, a Henry Willis opus dating from 1880, the only Willis organ in Cambridge. It was rebuilt in 1911 by Norman & Beard and restored by Harrison & Harrison in 1992.

Did anything distract you?

Interest in the unfamiliar liturgy, a merging of Roman Catholic and Reformed texts, piqued my curiosity.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Fairly stiff-upper lip, and a little subdued because of the hour. The opening hymn was "Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended," about which I'll have more to say later.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

7 – Dr Melanie-Prjean Sullivan was very listenable, but moved on to her next points sooner than I would have liked. I felt there was more she could have said.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The three traditional acts of Lent – prayer, fasting and almsgiving; and the almsgiving of time. She focused especially on the ecumenical nature of the service, and the discomfort we would all feel at various points. This was the price for our unity.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The sermon was very good, and it was marvellous to be with people from other houses. Usually there is a tendency for people from certain houses to bunch together, but I was surrounded by people from other houses.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

A deep discomfort, foretold in the sermon, at not being able to receive the eucharist.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

All of the worshippers left quietly to go to their respective colleges or, in some cases, to find breakfast.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

N/A – Federation worship, or FedWorship, is a very different kind of animal, and while we meet fortnightly, it wouldn't be possible to make this a regular church.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes, very much so.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The shocking realisation in the second verse of the opening hymn: "Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee. 'Twas I, Lord Jesus, it was I denied thee: I crucified thee."

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