It is quite amazing what a week at the Cathedral can include. This week has been no exception. Perhaps it is a reflection of the place where we stand – alongside the Thames, by London Bridge – that we get so many opportunities to do such a variety of things. Some of them on the face of it seem to have nothing to do with what you would imagine is our core business – the worship of God – but then, you suddenly realise that something that appeared frivolous has much more to it.
It was like the evening we enjoyed this week with the ‘Antique Roadshow’ presenter, Geoffrey Munns. Geoffrey, an expert in jewellery had agreed to spend an evening with us telling us about Queen Victoria’s personal jewellery. The talk was called ‘From my beloved Albert’ and we were using it as a fundraiser for the All Hallows’ Project. But it also served to bring a large number of people into the Cathedral who had never been in before – even though they live in the area.
It never ceases to amaze me how many peope say that they have walked by but never come in. One wonders why? It isn’t that we charge an entrance fee; it’s not that the door is not hard to find (well, not normally). It must be something to do with the fact that for many people entering a place of worship is as strange for them as it would be for me to enter a football ground. It is territory I don’t understand; I don’t know the norms of behaviour; I don’t know where to sit or what to sing and would probably cheer at the wrong time. We can imagine our churches are open and warm and friendly but the doors need to be even wider than they are, and the threshold easier to cross. After all, when people get into the building they realise that it is a jewel of the South Bank.
I’m reminded of a prayer attributed to St Stephen’s Walbrook in the City of London.
God, make the door of this house wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship;
narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride and strife.
Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling block to children, nor to straying feet,
but rugged and strong enough to turn back the tempter’s power.
God make the doorway of this house the gateway to your eternal kingdom.
It’s a great prayer for every church.
But back to the jewels. Geoffrey showed us some pictures and some real examples of the jewellery that Prince Albert designed and gave to Queen Victoria. Much was not to modern taste or sentimentality and I was reminded of how the Queen became locked into mourning, a grief from which she could never escape. It was so poignant seeing the memento lockets she had made to give to courtiers and others. It made me thankful that for most people there is help in dealing with the horror of bereavment, in knowing how to bear the pain of loss.
The day after this talk we welcomed another ‘expert’ to talk to us. It was the occasion of the College of Canons annual Choral Evensong and Lecture. This year we took the opportunity to install two new Honorary Canons, Rosemarie Mallett, who is also on the Chapter of the Cathedral and Charles Pickstone, who chairs the Cathedral’s Fabric Advisory Committee. But both are great parish priests who have given great service to the church and their communities.
Following the supper after the service we listened to Ken Dwan speak about the relationship between the Cathedral and the river. Ken’s family have worked on the river as Watermen for the last 500 years. So he had some wonderful tales to tell us about his own life in the docks and now running a fleet of boats that mostly look after tourists. Listening to experts in their own field is always fascinating and Ken was a great raconteur. The river though is a jewel running through the city and on Saturday evening it looked amazing as the fireworks were let off over it to celebrate the term of office of the new Lord Mayor. It was great to stand on the Millennium Bridge and watch the show.
Wordsworth was equally captivated by the river when he saw it from one of the bridges and composed a sonnet entitled ‘Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802’ from which these lines come.
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
It really is a sparkling stream of jewels in its own right.
London has been depicted in so many ways, in prose and poem, in music and in so much art. It was good therefore to officially open an exhibition in the refectory called ‘A Stone’s Throw’ staged by the Society of Graphic Fine Art and featuring art by six members of the Society. The pictures depict so much of the surroundings of the Cathedral, places at a stones’s throw from the church, great views of the river and the bridges. It’s worth coming to see and is on until 14 December.
The week ended though with something which we were so looking forward to and that was ‘We believe in One God.’ This was a morning together for the congregation to look at what the groups that met in October had talked about. Canon Bruce Saunders had done a fantastic job at analysing the responses of the groups and you can find the complete results on the Cathedral website. But Bruce presented us with what he descibed as his description of th ‘average’ Southwark Cathedral congregation member from what we had all said and how we had ranked the propositions about God with which we had been presented.
Bruce said to us
‘So if I were to describe a typical Southwark Cathedral person on the basis of this data, I might say something like this: he or she (because it could be either, we are unusual in having equal numbers of men and women) has a confident sense of being surrounded by God’s freely-given love, knows himself/herself to be loved by God, and feels trusted by God to be not a puppet but a responsible partner in the fulfilment of the divine purpose for the world; and who is able to understand and use the story of Jesus of Nazareth in such a way that provides meaning and value for Christian living in the world today.’
People were nodding in recognition that it was an honest representation of a great many of us. The interesting question for us is to where this knowledge will take us.
Canon John O’Toole, the Dean of St George’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Southwark, then spoke to us about God from his own perpective. I was particularly taken with his description of mystery – ‘mystery is not the unexplainable but the inexhaustible’. That’s something I keep thinking back to – the inexhaustible mystery of God. That is the kind of notion that really excites me.
We broke into groups to then discuss some of the questions that arose from the groups, about the purpose of prayer if we believe that God does not intervene; the place of the Bible in our life; the importance for Christians of social action, and other things.
It was such a wonderful morning and there was so much positive energy about the place, energy which I’m sure we can bring to the Advent Course when it begins.
We continue to pray together the Living God prayer. Pray with us – please.
your life gives life to the world;
live in us,
live in me,
may our lives reflect your life.