I’m not sure any more if 30 minutes is a reasonable journey time. Or 6 miles an acceptable sphere of diocesan influence. But I had heard on the grapevine that Southwark Cathedral is a good place for worship. And as the intrepid church commuter I am, I duly went.
I was late. Not hugely late, but I missed the welcome, the first hymn, the collect, the Kyries and the first reading. I also lost a good 60 seconds being distracted by the Cathedral shop. It is most bizarre going to a church which seems to be first and foremost a tourist attraction. I wouldn’t be surprised if part of their community outreach involved ministering to the people who actually buy the tat found in cathedral shops. Multi-coloured arch-shaped pencil sharpener anyone?
Once over the metaphorical haha of consumer temptation, I found myself in a packed service. The only spare seats were on the stone buttresses at the side; great view of the pulpit and an escape route should the incense get too murky.
The service itself is very high church. There is a full male choir, traditional choral settings, the aforementioned incense and the sanctus bell. The gospel is read from the centre of the church, there is what seems to be a Greek chorus of celebrants and I got the unnerving feeling that I should know the moves – like being on the dance floor when Saturday Night Dance comes on and I can’t quite keep up.
Despite this, the Peace barely registered on the Palm-sweat scale, as it was one of the most welcoming Peaces I have shared in a long time. We 6 scattered along the side of the nave warmly shook hands with each other and then watched as one of the greek chorus – a charming and graceful man who I later shared the journey home with part way – greeted every single person down the right-hand side of the cathedral, including ourselves. His efforts extended well into the second hymn, but I felt were just wonderful. In a place of worship where so many of the congregants are likely transient, it seemed a very honest representation of what the “Peace” should be.
The sermon was excellent. The preacher was Canon Andrew Nunn and he spoke on the parable of the fig tree: Not before we know God, we know ourselves and we can love ourselves, can we change. Ironically, considering the reputation of Southwark Cathedral, he used the words of Oscar Wilde to emphasis this and his story of the Selfish Giant. I was glad that I had come to the service if only to hear such a good sermon. I like that feeling.
Excitingly, the service sheet has Cliffs Notes throughout – useful snippets of trivia, suggested prayers and the occasional reflection, which reads a little like a biblical fortune cookie. I’ve kept it for bedtime reading.
At the end of the service I wandered through to have coffee. Well, technically I went to find the toilet, but it turns out that was also the way to the refreshments. Had I not needed the rest room, I would have probably aimlessly found my way out through the shop, bought a bookmark and left wondering if coffee was served at any of the other four Sunday services.
Small plastic cup in hand, I turned to find myself face to face with someone I knew. Fortunately he thought the same thing. We ran through home towns, uni, friendship groups and church mistakes before we remembered meeting at Greenbelt last year. Gosh darn, is the Christian world small.
I was home by 1pm and it felt like a very restful, refreshing Sunday morning. While high church isn’t something I would be able to get used to on a regular basis, it was a good experience. I think perhaps in the same way Anglican churches are starting to embrace alt worship styles, there is always a place for high church pomp and procession to bring a new aspect of God and spirituality to the year.