Thursday, 26 August 2021

5. Southwark Cathedral: August 2021

 Well, after a long break since February 2020 due to the Pandemic, here we are again visiting another congregation, this time Southwark Cathedral by the Thames and next to Borough Market and The Shard.  St Paul's serves the north side and Southwark the south side of London.

The excellent cathedral website contained all the information we needed to plan our visit.

We were welcomed by cheerful and helpful stewards and took our place, wearing face masks, in the nave.  The chairs had been thinned out, four in a row bunched in twos and just about every one was taken.  

We were given a hefty service leaflet on entry containing the liturgy and notices; a booklet consisting of no less than 28 pages!

The organ that morning was played by a young man just about to take up his new position as Organ Scholar at Christ Church, Oxford and the choir were a visiting group standing in for the regular Cathedral Choristers who were on holiday.  So, although the usual musicians and singers were away this August Sunday the service was still full of beautiful music.

We attended Choral Eucharist in the Anglican tradition.  It lasted a full hour and contained sermon and sacrament.

I was struck by just how much scripture we encountered as the service went on.  The Psalm was sung by the choir, the Old and New Testament readings were delivered with such thoughtful presentation by two members of the congregation and the Gospel was read by one of the clergy with us all standing accompanied by 'Alleluias'.  It used to be said that Baptists were a 'People of the Book', well if this service is anything to go by, Anglicans can claim that title too!

And it was deeply moving to hear these ancient words of scripture read in such an honoured and valued way.  In the middle of a bustling city where so much seems transient here was a message from the past that contained eternal values of love and dignity that brought so much hope and perspective.

And the sermon was in similar vein.  Fifteen minutes long containing both humour and scholarship alongside pastoral sensitivity and just a very 'human' presentation.  I felt inspired, comforted and challenged by the preacher - so what more could one ask for!  We happened to sit next to his table in the refrectory afterwards so I told him how helpful I had found it all.

Most of the service was sung for us, with just one congregational hymn slipped in the middle.  At the point of reception in Communion we were guided up to the nave altar where we received in just one kind, bread but no wine, because of Covid.

Returning to my place I couldn't help but notice how diverse the congregation was.  A cross spectrum of ages were present, some families even with young children, a good ethnic mix and surprisingly a lot of single older men.  This felt like a real south London community.

Well by now you will have gleaned that I simply loved the whole experience, made even more personal by the knowledge that just over two hundred years ago my great grandparents (x4) were married in the Cathedral before setting up home in Bermondsey Street just down the road.

And...if I lived in Southwark I think there would be no question that in this congregation I would have found my own 'spiritual home'.

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