Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Entries Tagged as 'Churches and Cathedrals'

One of the Cathedral’s many Education Days!

May 8th, 2011 · No Comments

May 4: 9:30-3:30, Norwich Cathedral, Supervised by Juliet Corbett

Today I got to participate in The Creation! That’s sort of a big deal.

I got to work closely with Juliet, which was awesome because when I volunteered at the Cathedral before I didn’t get to see her very often because she was so busy. She and I, along with one other volunteer who took the groups on tours of the Cathedral, worked with two groups of children- one which consisted of kids ages 4 to7 and one of kids 8 to11- to tell them the story of The Creation in a way which they could easily understand. Mary would take one group on a tour of the Cathedral while Juliet and I did a crafts project with the other group.

First we took the kids to the Herb Garden where they got to look at all of the different herbs and cut off pieces to use in a craft project later. When we got back to the room, Juliet would tell the story of The Creation with visual aids and would then explain the activity, which involved gluing things of their creation to a large backdrop consisting of a land- and seascape. We helped children, then, as they created the animals and plants to be part of the world of their creation. It was actually amazingly fun. I really got in touch with my inner child: when we had a free moment I made a tiger out of felt. I’m pretty proud of its artistic merit.

The kids, who were great fun, came with their teacher and some parent volunteers all the way from Diss. The teacher made the effort to get to know things about me and even asked if I was planning to go into teaching. The children also were very curious about who I was (particularly because of my accent) and really enjoyed telling me about themselves.

Unfortunately, because of British law, I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures of the activity because it involved children so I had to settle with using the image from the Cathedral’s website about community learning.

Photo courtesy of Norwich Cathedral (http://www.cathedral.org.uk/learning/community-learning-introduction-.aspx)

Photo courtesy of Norwich Cathedral (http://www.cathedral.org.uk/learning/community-learning-introduction-.aspx)

After volunteering I, once again, got to experience a side of the Cathedral that most people don’t get to see: Juliet took me to look at (and play with) some really old Bibles. One was from 1536 and another was supposedly the Bible on which Queen Victoria was sworn in!! It’s obvious that volunteering opens the door to all kinds of cool experiences that I could never anticipate!

Tags: 2010 Jessica · Churches and Cathedrals

The Norwich Cathedral Easter Experience, Day 1!

May 8th, 2011 · No Comments

April 12: 9:30-3:30, Norwich Cathedral, Supervised by Juliet Corbett

(Juliet Corbett (jcorbett@cathedral.org.uk)
Norwich Cathedral
12 The Close
Norwich, Norfolk
Tel 01603 218320

My job at the Easter Experience was to supervise the arts and crafts table, one of nine ‘stations’ located around Norwich Cathedral. At the crafts table, children ages 3-11 could do a few different Easter-related activities, including colouring pictures, completing word searches, creating ‘fortune tellers’ featuring Bible trivia, and, the most popular activity, making their own cardstock Easter baskets to take to the Cathedral’s herb garden for an Easter egg hunt.

photo courtesy of the Norwich Cathedral (http://www.cathedral.org.uk/learning/information-for-teachers-introduction.aspx)

Photo courtesy of the Norwich Cathedral (http://www.cathedral.org.uk/learning/information-for-teachers-introduction.aspx)

The entire Experience was put together by the Education Team at the Cathedral which aims to educate children through fun, hand-on activities, promoting creativity and faith. The Experience was open to anyone (as long as they within the required age range) and it seems that a lot of people, both from Norwich and surrounding villages took advantage of the opportunity. Sarah and the other volunteers running the egg hunt in the Herb Garden had a donation

box to help cover the cost of the supplies, but there was no entry fee.

I had an awesome time working at the Cathedral! I was initially a little worried because I’m really shy and not exactly the best at interacting with people I don’t know, but I needn’t have worried because the activities were

fun and most of the people were so friendly. My job was mostly to help the younger kids with constructing their Easter baskets (which were even too challenging for some of the parents to figure out) which means that I spent a lot of the day covered in glue and glitter and felt pen. Many of the kids were really appreciative and their parents would engage me in conversation about my time in Norwich as an American.

As someone who is non-religious, it was not only an interesting experience, but also an enlightening one. It was really interesting to see the inner workings of a religious institution and how it handled one of the most important holidays of the year. At six of the ‘stations’ in the Experience, volunteers would tell the kids about the story of the Resurrection in manageable chunks in order to hold their interest. The volunteers would engage the children, both by conversing with them and by letting them participate in some of the activities. For example, at the Garden of Gethsemane station, they got to make little animals out of modelling clay, and at another station they had their feet washed as Christ was said to do. I thought the Cathedral did an excellent job of organising and activity day that was education about the faith without being overly preachy or indoctrinating.

All of the volunteers I met were extraordinarily welcoming and friendly and I definitely had a great experience working at the Cathedral.

Juliet Corbett (jcorbett@cathedral.org.uk)

Norwich Cathedral

12 The Close




Tel 01603 218320

Tags: 2010 Jessica · Churches and Cathedrals

Greeting at the Norwich Cathedral

May 3rd, 2011 · No Comments

Every Monday morning (and some Wednesday afternoons) I volunteer at the Norwich Cathedral.  My official title is that of a “Cathedral Greeter” but in reality my duties are far vaster than that.  When I met with Canon Pastor Richard Caper and Juliet Corbett in early April they told me that they were having trouble engaging the youth of the community in the Cathedral and that they thought that I would be a good person to help try to fix their problem.  They decided that I should work as a greeter – a job that involves me talking to every person that comes into the Cathedral during my shift – so that I could be a demonstration of how the Cathedral can appeal to all ages, not just the elderly who tend to volunteer there.  So, after what was quite possibly the most awkward hour of my entire life (coffee with the Canon Pastor took an hour but we talked for maybe a grand total of 35 minutes; the rest was uncomfortable silence with an occasional comment about the weather; he was quintessentially English and reserved and I was the nervous young American who was afraid to appear to brash and aggressive), I was put in touch with David Strawgner who runs the greeter program at the Cathedral.  A few days later David gave me a call and asked me to come in so that I could get to know the Cathedral and so that we could arrange what days I would be there.  David turned out to be a delightful older gentleman who has more passion for the Cathedral than most people have for their families.  After an intense afternoon of seeing the ins and outs of the Cathedral and writing down every factoid that a visitor might want to know (ranging from where the bathrooms are to hidden mason marks around the Cathedral) I was given my badge and told to show up at 9:30 the following Monday morning.

My first day, 18 April, I arrived fifteen minutes early armed with my official Cathedral volunteer badge and a somewhat nervous smile. I walked into the Hostery (the new more modern part of the Cathedral which is where visitors enter and where the greeters are stationed) and met up with David.  David introduced me to Mandy, another greeter and my coconspirator for the morning, who has been disabled all her life and had been volunteering for almost a year.  She said it was one of the two weekly activities that she does outside of her convalescent home.  She also told me that she volunteered as a greeter as a means to try and build self-confidence.  David, who was also with us to show me the ropes for the morning, told me about another woman who comes in during the week that was seeking the same self-confidence that Mandy was.  The woman in question had been in an abusive marriage for many years and the Norwich Battered Women’s Shelter had sent her to the Cathedral to try and help her build not only her self-confidence but also her basic ability to interact with people as well as to regain her sense of self.  According to David, as the months passed, this woman had learned to smile again and to be herself.  I was beginning to get the sense that this was the true purpose of the Cathedral – not to act as a popular tourist destination, but to help the people of Norwich with whatever personal demons they were facing.

My morning went without a hitch and I quickly got my schpeel down to a science: “Good morning!  I’m Amy, I’m a greeter at the Cathedral, and here are a few things you should know…”  I then tailor my speech to whomever it is I’m talking to.  If it’s families with young children I point out the labyrinth outside in the cloisters which is a great place for families to play when the weather is nice; if it’s older couples I talk about the history of the Cathedral and the evolution of the newer parts of the complex (the hostery, the loqutery, and the refectory have all been redone in the last few years) as well as the conservation work that’s currently going on; and for everyone else I answer questions, give helpful hints for the self-guided tour that we hand out and generally try to give the impression that the Cathedral is a warm and welcoming place.

During my first shift I mentioned to David that classes were over for the year and I was looking for more to do with my days so he told me that I should come in on Wednesday afternoon as well.  Two days later I returned and worked with a lovely retired lady who had been volunteering for the last six months. She told me more about David, who was busy elsewhere at the time (he was finally convinced that I could welcome people without scaring them off).  It turns out that David is finally starting to feel his age and that being at the Cathedral only makes it worse.  His wife has begged him to stop volunteering (he is there all day, every day, constantly on his feet and on the move).  But, David loves the Cathedral and refuses to leave it behind.  He loves meeting the children that come through (he says that they remind him of his many grandkids) and welcoming strangers to the building he loves so much.  This afternoon I also had my first encounter with what I’ve come to recognize as The Eccentric Old People Of The Cathedral (my term and not one I share with most the people I come across as they do tend to fit into this category).  Basically an EOPOTC is an old and but impossibly interesting person who comes to the Cathedral.  They tend to come alone (although there have been exceptions to this, see below) and are looking less at the Cathedral and more for an opportunity to interact with strangers.  They are, without exception, an endless source of factual information as well tidbits of wisdom about life in general.  EOPOTCs have quickly become the highlight of my time at the Cathedral and I harbor the hope that someday I can grow up to be one.  While much of the basic facts of history are recorded in textbooks, the true tradition of Norwich –its tales and its character — are the possession of the EOPOTCs.  They are the protectors and distributors of the stories of Norwich (and Norfolk in general) and they seem to possess this honorable sense of duty to impart what they know to the next generation as well as to act as sponges, collecting new information to be stored in the annals of EOPOTC history.  They are the oral historians of England.  They are also undeniably and unabashedly fun and can always be relied upon to elicit a smile.  My first EOPOTC I found wandering around the hostery furtively glancing over his shoulder every few minutes as if he were afraid of something.  I went over and asked him if I could help him in any way and he desperately asked if I recognized him.  When I answered in the negative a look of relief rushed over his face.  It turns out that 76 years ago, when he was just a “young lad,” he had been banned from the Cathedral for acts of “hoolaginism.”  He staunchly refused to define “hoolaginism” to me or to in any way clarify the reason for his life long ban but he was clearly bemused by both my American-ness and my confusion.  We chatted for a little while about Norwich and then changes he has seen in the community over his life-time and then he wandered off.  That same afternoon was a funeral for a prominent Norwich businessman who had died suddenly and unexpectedly the previous week.  First of all, I’ve never seen the Cathedral this crowded (before I started volunteering this term I had spent time there just looking around).  Second, I took one of my first lessons at the Cathedral in the eccentricities of British culture: men in yachting clubs wear the most colorful jackets I have ever seen.   In homage to their fallen brother, men of all ages and sizes had donned yellow, blue, and black vertically stripped blazers that had bright pink satin lining.  It was like watching a herd of mourning peacocks.  They were a walking oxymoron: solemn in attitude but bright in dress.  There aren’t quite words to describe it but my fellow greeter and I decided that it was probably better that way.

The next Monday I came in and was informed that, as it was a bank holiday, Mandy could not be there (she could not get transportation on bank holidays) and that another lady, Allison, would be with me for the next two weeks.  First, Allison turned up an hour late.  But when she did get there she walked into the hostery wearing a sundress, massive straw hat, fishnets, and combat boots like she owned the place.  Allison is probably in her late thirties and she splits her time taking care of her elderly mother and a gentleman who is blind and an amputee.  However, Allison’s true passion is art and when asked what she does, she says she’s an artist.  It was a slow morning (there was an organ recital, which meant the main doors of the Cathedral were open and who wants to go through the hostery when the huge main doors are available), so Allison and I spent our shift chatting about everything from art in Norwich to medieval history and my focus of study (i.e. gender history).  Allison is well on her way to becoming an EOPOTC (she is full of fun facts but at the same time a bottomless pit of curiosity; she grilled me for the better part of our shift about medieval history, Latin, and life as an American).  I am sure that someday she’ll pop in just to chat with the next generation of Cathedral greeters and to impart stories of the olden days when she worked at the Cathedral with a somewhat shy but enthusiastic American student who knew a thing or two about medieval history.  Nevertheless, she is extremely interesting and absolutely loves interacting with the people who come through the Cathedral.  I also met my second EOPOTC.  He was an older gentleman that I talked to for about half an hour and who could list every parish in Norfolk, its founding date, and how tall the tower was.  Someday I hope to be such a font of information.  He was one of those people who gives you the impression that he has forgotten more than you will ever know.

The next Monday I came in and was, once again working with Allison (who was, once again, over an hour late).  David was not feeling well so he left me in the hostery alone (for the first time ever!!!) to be the sole representative for the Cathedral.  If a slow morning is one where maybe 5 or 6 families wander through, Monday morning can only be described as dead.  I was so excited to be the first (and only face) that people met when they walked into the Cathedral – I had two cups of coffee (they give it to the greeters for free) and a huge smile – and no takers.  When Allison came in at half past ten she was the first person I had interacted with since David left.  However, people started pouring in (there was another organ recital but for some reason a majority of the visitors came through the hostery instead of the church doors).  Monday also marked meeting my favorite EOPOTC (they really are a majority of our customers) to date.  This man came in with his middle aged daughter and from the moment I saw him I knew that he was going to be something special.  He was wearing bright yellow trousers, a pastel pink bowtie, and looked like Uncle Charlie from the children’s book Thrump-O-Moto by James Clavell (if you’ve never read it, go do so immediately).  He introduced himself  and assured me that he did not need the self-guided tour pamphlet for the Cathedral, as he was a trustee of it (and as it turns out everything else in Norwich including the Millennium Library and the Sainsbury Centre).   When he realized that I was an American studying medieval history at UEA he became much more interested and talked to me for a good hour about Norwich, the buildings, the community and the general area as his daughter smiled in the background looking as though she could not wait for him to stop talking.  Nonetheless, he was incredibly interesting and incredibly excited that I was getting involved with the Cathedral.  He gave me his business card and asked me to get in contact with him if I was at all interested in getting a backstage tour of most of Norwich’s cultural sites (as a trustee of everything – no joke, he listed every building and organization I had heard of in Norwich – he promised that he could show me anything I wanted).  I did not take him entirely seriously until I pulled out his business card this morning to write my blog and I noticed the initials “O.B.E.” after his name.  “Order of the British Empire, eh?  A surprise, actual, knight!?”  I googled him.  Turns out he was sheriff of Norwich and a local real estate mogul who sold his company a few years ago for a vast amount of money and has dedicated his life to making Norwich and its culture more accessible.  I fully intend to give him a call and see what I can learn.

I am going to continuing volunteering at the Cathedral until I leave in early June.  I absolutely love it.  It is undoubtedly the highlight of my week.  I have learned so much about the Cathedral itself, but more importantly about the people of Norwich.  It has been eye-opening to interact with so many people from all walks of life: the tourists who come to see the haunting architecture, the bird watchers who flock in to observe the peregrine falcons that live in the Cathedral tower (coincidentally enough they’re hugely popular right now as one laid an egg on Easter just as the Pastor was talking about rebirth…gives one goosbumps), the EOPOTCs who just want to talk to someone, the scared young couples looking at the Cathedral as a possible location for their wedding, the movie crew that comes in and out (the Cathedral is closed next week for filming of James and the Giant Killer starring Ewan McGregor – yeah, I get to meet him!!), my fellow volunteers (who are possibly the nicest people I’ve ever met and who function as a sort of large family) and everyone else.  In particular, spending so much time with David has given me a new perspective on what it means to truly love a building and the people it houses as well as a new definition of loyalty and dedication to a cause.  I’m sure that as the weeks go on and I continue to spend more time at the Norwich Cathedral I will not only learn more about the people I interact with, but about Englishness in general.  Not to belittle Kate Fox, but I have learned more from my 20 hours at the Cathedral about Englishness and the English community than I did from all of her long explanations about British culture.  I am beginning to realize that while some lessons can be taken from other people’s writings and observations, others can only be learned through human interaction and life experience.


1 April 2-3: Meeting with Canon Pastor Caper

6 April 3-4.30: Tour and initiation with David

18 April 9-12.30: Greeting

20 April 2-4.30: Greeting

25 April 9-12.30: Greeting

2 May 9-12.30: Greeting

Total Hours: 15.5; with time done on 13 April (see other blog) a total of 20.5 hours.

Supervisor: David Strawgner

Tags: 2010 Amy · Churches and Cathedrals

Easter with Strangers

May 3rd, 2011 · No Comments

My first day at the Cathedral (not in my official capacity of greeter), involved working with local children during an open day full of Easter activities.  I started by helping groups of kids make Easter baskets that they would later use to collect chocolate eggs in the herb garden.  I really enjoyed the experience for two reasons.  First, I love kids.  They crack me up and these were no exception.  Second, I love Easter.  This is the first year I have not celebrated Easter with either my family or friends.  At home we typically make a big to do about it – we go to church in the mornings, dye Easter eggs in the days leading up to Easter Sunday, and have what can only be described as epic Easter Baskets.   At Dickinson I get two Easters.  I celebrate one with my close friends (this typically involves eggs, baskets, and a home made brunch) and with the family I nanny for (Isabel, the little girl I watch, starts celebrating Easter weeks in advance with daily egg hunts).  I was a little disappointed to know that this year I would probably go to mass on my own and then come back to UEA.  Thus, being at the Cathedral and celebrating it with a multitude of very excited children absolutely made my day.

A few days before my morning at the Cathedral, Juliet Corbett had emailed me and asked if I minded doing something separate from my Dickinson colleagues.  She asked if I would work at the Garden of Gethsemane station where I would give a short speech to the children and then help them make clay models of what made them feel afraid.  The speech I gave discussed how Jesus must have felt alone and afraid in the Garden of Gethsemane when the disciples fell asleep the night he was arrested.  I was then supposed to ask the kids to tell me what made them feel afraid.  I had forgotten how original young children could be and I got answers ranging from spiders and school bullies to sausages.  What is scary about a sausage is beyond me, but it definitely made me smile.  By the time I closed up my station, even though it was not quite Easter and I was with total strangers, I felt like I had been party of a family celebration.

After everything was tidied up all of the volunteers for the day met with Juliet to talk about what we felt went well and what we thought could use improvement.  While I did not have any suggestions (I felt like the day had gone smoothly and that the kids seemed really happy), the open forum truly made me feel like part of the Cathedral community.  Even though there was a range of people we all had this common ground: we were there because we enjoyed the Cathedral community and spending time with children.

Date: 13 April 2011

Time: 10am-3pm

Hours: 5 / Total: 5

Supervisor:  Juliet Corbett

Tags: 2010 Amy · Churches and Cathedrals

Holy holy places, Batman!

September 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment

We’ve visited five places of worship in our time here: the Swaminarayan Mandir, Central Synagogue, East London Mosque, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Westminster Abbey. I include the Abbey with extreme hesitation, but ultimately do so because you have to pay if you visit like we did, but it’s free if you want to worship (look under “entrance fees”). Let’s break it down scientifically.

Mandir, Mosque, and Synagogue:

Confession (pun intended): before these three visits, I had never entered a non-Christian place of worship. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but generally found all three to be a pleasant experience. Part of me wishes we were able to go to a smaller place of worship and see a mandir, mosque, or synagogue that was strictly for research. But they probably would not be nearly as accommodating to a group of 27, and we also would have missed out on the community outreach we saw at the places that we went to. Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism are very different religions (although not as different as accounts of “religious” warfare would have one believe). One thing I saw that differentiated them as a group from the Christianity that I’m more acquainted with, though was the emphasis on serving the local community. In no way am I saying that these religions are more concerned with service than Christianity; all four religions are too massive to make generalizations like that. I am saying, however, that the Catholic churches that I’ve grown up with take collections for feeding and proselytizing faraway lands. BAPS, the Central Synagogue, and the East London Mosque were all very concerned with their very local community of believers.

St. Paul’s & Westminster:

Borderline places of worship. This did not devalue either place for me in the least; Westminster Abbey is just so mind-blowingly historic that I still haven’t figured out a way to synthesize what I saw there. And St. Paul’s remains a spectacular triumph of architectural design. Still, though, all I was able to pick up about Anglicanism in these two outings was through indirect encounters. After being in these two places, my gut tells me that the Church of England has been culturalized, that it isn’t about the faith. But I really, really wish I went to a run-of-the-mill Anglican church on a Sunday morning. Without having done that, I can’t add anything to the numbers that anyone can read.

Tags: 2010 Dennis · Churches and Cathedrals

On Churches & Cathedrals

September 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment

St. Paul’s Cathedral is beautiful. I prefer it to the Westminster Abbey, which is too firmly Gothic, and thus too intimidating – even disheartening – for me to enjoy. The Mandir was beautiful, but its opulence was too demanding. Rather, I found the short service we were able to see to be the most pleasant thing about the visit. The mosque was simple but I felt nothing. The exterior of the synagogue wasn’t impressive, but its main service hall was quite a spectacle. The church, or space in which worship is held, is where religion meets art and the two become intertwined, rendering contradictions obsolete. As much as the theological aspect of our religious sojourn in in London was important, I want to emphasize just as much the self-evident, formal beauty of the physical structures that provide a spiritual retreat from the material world. Pater tells us to use our eyes in a most bare and sensuous way, to indulge in the uniformity of lines and colors of such beauty, holding nothing back in the appreciation of the aesthetic object as if one was a child.

St. Paul's, exterior

While Westminster Abbey and the Mandir may have a more impressive exterior, I think the interior of St. Paul’s trumps all. I liked the presence of large, unstained windows bringing in natural light; a nice counter to the overall grandeur. (Of course, the Abbey doesn’t use clear glass so the interior is dark and gloomy, just as its exterior suggests). Furthermore, the light in St. Paul’s has the benefit of moving through an expansive space. When you step into St. Paul’s, a sense of liberation overwhelms you, a sentiment I think that has much to do with the way in which copious space and light are joined.

St. Paul's, Interior, Nave

There is the question, however, whether St. Paul’s, Westminster and even the Mandir is an ideal place for worship, when there is a strong emphasis on exterior beauty. I’m not a catholic nor a hindi, but having experienced small cross sections of these religions, the question persists. Can art and religion co-exist? As some people have noted, these religious institutions have become hot tourist spots, so much to the point that the spirituality has diminished. These “landmarks,” however, achieve a certain iconic status not just through its historical relevance, but through its aesthetic power. People go to see St. Paul’s because it looks so damn beautiful.

First Photo, courtesy of London Pass
Second Photo, courtesy of St. Paul’s Cathedral

Tags: 2010 Sean · Churches and Cathedrals

This Blog is like Religion to Me. I Recognize How Unfunny that Joke is.

September 21st, 2010 · No Comments

In this blog I’ll just give disjointed thoughts about the different places of worship which we have visited and then thoughts on our in class conversations regarding religion. First off, I really loved the Bath Abbey. It was tremendously impressive without the pomp of many of the other places we visited. It was not so heavily touted, there was no security. It was unimposing. It was geared toward humbled devotion to God rather than self-aggrandizing homage to England’s greats, and, therefore, to England itself. Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral are guilty of this fault in my opinion.

The Mandir was another great experience. Marble is one of my favorite materials both for its look and feel. The hand carvings were also astonishing and I liked that we were a part of the ceremony. It was, for me, the most moving of all the religious experiences we had. I think it was especially powerful for me as it provided calm in our hectic time in London. I would like to go out to the lawn by the bubbling fountains and sit and think. We were told that the building was constructed without the use of manmade materials and I don’t know if that was it but it was a relaxing, peaceful experience.

St. Paul’s was breathtaking, the most impressive of the buildings in my opinion. The way the dome construction opens up the whole building sets the cathedral apart from Westminster Abbey (not to hate on Westminster, which was lovely.) You can soak in much of the majesty of the building all at once. It is rather overwhelming, but extremely impressive.

The mosque and synagogue did not have the aesthetic appeal of the other religious buildings we visited. The mosque visit was unfortunately short although I believe it offered a valuable insight into the perspective of the faith toward Americans. It is a jaded perspective but not unjustly so. The short duration of the tour combined with the women who pulled down the shades when they saw us in the hallway speaks volumes about the wariness towards our presence. Not, in my opinion, a word about the Islamic faith in general. That is to say that I don’t believe the Islamic faith to be closed to the public any more so than other faiths.

This reminds me of a class discussion we had in which it was put out there that our guide in the mosque was defensive about his faith and toward the questions he was asked. The evidence which was cited to support this idea was his references to similarities between Islam and Judaism and Christianity. I believe it would be more correct to simply see Islam, Judaism and Christianity as three streams which come from the same river and flow into the same sea. Not to get too metaphorical.

Tags: 2010 Michael · Churches and Cathedrals

St. Bartholomew the Great: The Church We Should’ve Gone To

September 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment

Throughout the entire month in London, people have moaned that the churches/cathedrals we went to were lacking: there was no spiritual awareness, that it was too touristy, etc. While this is true to some extent, I felt that we went as tourists, not inquirers, like we did when we visited the synagogue, mandir, and the mosque. We weren’t going to a local parish where they were as keen to brag about what went on there or where they felt it was strictly necessary to outline more of Christian theology.

Yesterday I ventured over to St. Bartholomew the Great, just a few blocks away from the Museum of London. It’s the oldest active medieval parish church in London, so naturally I had to see it. (Bonus Fact: Parts of Shakespeare in Love were also filmed there.) I wasn’t sure what to expect as I was walking up to it; the church was set off from the main road. The gate you have to go through is where Richard II stood when he met with the leaders of the Peasant’s Revolt. Upon entering the church and paying my meager entrance fee (3 pounds), I was asked where I was from (Apparently the smiling gives it away if the accent doesn’t…) and handed a guide of the can’t miss bits.

As I walked through, I got a since that this was what Westminster Abbey would look like if it hadn’t been messed with and wasn’t always undergoing some form of renovation. I passed the medieval baptism font (where interestingly enough, Hogarth was baptized). There was modern art throughout that the church had commissioned to take the place of older pieces and to go over empty spots on the wall. I was somewhat annoyed by this, but I felt that it added a living dimension to the church: it’s still shaping its image, showing its continued importance.

Sounds a bit like Westminster Abbey with famous bits so far. Well, it was, but considerably less magnificent.

Then, I stumbled upon the video that told the church’s history. Think the history lecture we got at the synagogue but extended to include how the church is still active in the parish. (On my way out I noticed there were pamphlets on what to do if you wanted to get married there, join the church, or have a christening.) The video addressed almost every issue, especially how the church is still relevant today, that people had raised.

Even better, there was a chapel that reserved for people who wanted to pray. It was out of the prying eye of the tourists (all five) who were ambling through the church. (The entry fee was waved if you were there to pray.)

By the end of my visit, I had felt that I had an experience more akin to those at the other places we visited. If I had had a lay guide I am positive that I would’ve felt that I were there as a visitor rather than a tourist.

Tags: 2010 Stephenie · Churches and Cathedrals

We Will Rock You… with Church Songs?

September 21st, 2010 · 2 Comments

From the various services/presentations/synopses of religion we attended, it appeared that Christianity in London is dead. The two major Christian establishments we attended as a class, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey (and technically, the abbey out in Stratford-upon-Avon, but that was quite a quick visit), did not appear to have any sort of religious community. Well, that’s not exactly a surprise – these locations are such tourist destinations it would be almost impossible to have services, or a regular church membership. However, this does not mean that Christianity is dead in London.

Yes, its true that a large majority of those who consider themselves Christians, or more specifically Anglicans, subscribe to a small amount of Christian beliefs. In this way, the reported statistics of adamant Christians are quite inflated, as noted in the readings. Well, Andrew and I decided to attend a Christian service this past Sunday, and it was really something.

First off, the service was held by Hillsong, the church’s name, in the Dominion theatre (the We Will Rock You one) and it was PACKED. I do not know the exact number of attendees, but it must’ve been over 500. The worship songs were also played by an at least 10 person band. 5 singers/get-the-churchgoers-pumped-up-by-dancing-around-and-starting-claps, 3 guitarists, a bass, a drummer, 2 keyboards, it was crazy. There was a lightshow during the songs, and the whole place was full of an amazing energy. This was somewhat like other mega-churches I had attended back in the States, and because of this, I was a bit worried about the overall tone of the service – whether it would actually stay focused on Christian teachings/values, whether it would be extremist. But it was actually quite normal. The band didn’t get caught up in the light show and reiterated why they were playing the music they were

The normal preacher introduced an energetic Australian as the guest speaker, and his sermon was on the prosperity gospel. Andrew and I both agreed that he was very well spoken, very entertaining, and the message he was describing was great. However, he was much funnier than many preachers I’ve seen in the States, and overall much more animated. I was literally laughing quite hard for some of the service (a bit awkward to do in Church normally) and really enjoyed his sermon on the whole.

Overall, it was a great experience. It was a very involving and exciting, which made a lot of sense as we further discussed it. Churches in England are, like all Churches, trying to attract more people, especially young people. They emphasized this in their explanation of how important community is to them, and had a video on different groups you could get involved with. This Church’s communities are everywhere; it was really quite impressive and cool. Perhaps this extra flair is added to the service to try and rouse faith in a generally lacking Christian body in London.

I doubt this service is representative of all Christian services in London; however, I found it encouraging and informative to see that Christian services do exist here outside of St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey. All the people seemed really quite friendly, and they even shook our hands (take that Kate Fox!). Though I am not sure whether Hillsong has an information session like the Mandir or Mosque, it would certainly be interesting to investigate. It might be a bit hard for them to hold something similar, as they have no permanent building.

Last bit: I was fascinated by two other features of the service. One, the ethnic diversity of the people. We have learned that London is an incredible myriad of cultures, and this cultural mélange was really reflected in the audience. In my row alone, there was a Latino family, several Afro-Caribbeans, and an Asian woman, plus two white kids (me and Andrew). I thought it was really neat to see London’s diversity reflected in the church audience.  I found this to be a bit different than the Mosque and Mandir, and I can’t say for the synagogue (saw very few people in there). Lastly, the Englishness of the service in some ways. There were a ton of cultural references that neither Andrew nor I understood, but everyone else found quite funny. It was like being on the outside of an inside joke, but we still laughed to not be awkward. Anyway, I don’t think this would happen as much in America. I think Americans are much less aware of their culture than to do this, but the Brits certainly aren’t.

Tags: 2010 ChristopherB · Churches and Cathedrals

Historical Logic and the Survival of Churches

September 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment

Seeing churches is an incredible way to see into the past. Why, I asked myself, are there so many hundreds of year old churches still standing in England? Sure there are old buildings standing all over the place, but a vast majority of them are churches. After a little bit of thinking I’ve come up with a few reasons as to why I think very old churches had a better chance of surviving then they did in other places.

Since its founding, England has been one form of Christian or another.  Already, this makes the survival rate of churches much higher then a place like Spain or Turkey, two regions since early times has switched hands from Christian to Muslim and perhaps back again. This great decreases the amount of churches destroyed or converted to mosques. This also means that while Edward I exiled the Jews from England in 1290 and their places of worship were probably destroyed and converted, there would be no reason in the history of England to tear down a church.

As we saw in Westminster, most churches had fortified sections in which to store the vast amounts of wealth that were being collected from the surrounding areas. This initiative to make sure churches could withstand attack could contribute to the stability of these structures. This may not be the same way in other parts of the world where vicious Vikings were not raiding the coasts.

These churches also serve as monuments to who, at any given point in history, were worthy of being commemorated in elaborate monuments within these churches. While well known now, we can see by his burial placement that Sir Christopher Wren did not quite have the status or celebrity that victorious military commanders held. The placement of these tombs and varying degrees of fanciness are a window into what was important to the empire in the past.

Tags: 2010 MatthewG · Churches and Cathedrals