When it was suggested over a year ago that we might allow the cameras in to see something of our life here at Southwark, to be honest, there wasn’t overwhelming enthusiasm. It is quite a high risk strategy and many had memories of other documentaries about cathedrals which have not always shown good institutions in a flattering light! So we took some persuading and no little courage and, I have to say trust in the producer that he would not be out to simply make good television but would also want to show what we are really like.
I thought that it could be a good opportunity to show to others something of the real life of Southwark Cathedral. It became apparent as the months went on and filming was completed at Wakefield and Wells that what would be appropriate at Southwark was to allow the cameras in for a complete week and that is what happened.
The week chosen was at the very end of the choir term and that was a sadness. But, to be honest, there have been a great many documentaries about cathedral choirs and though ours is very special – we still have the only girls’ choir in an Anglican Cathedral in London and we are the only London cathedral without a choir school – yet there is more to say about the life of Southwark Cathedral.
As it happened, the week that was chosen was full of meetings and conversations about Living God and All Hallows’ and so it looked as though it could produce a very good and, I have to say, useful, programme. I mean useful in the sense that it could help us in our own understanding of where we are going. An external eye often reveals truth that we easily miss.
So I hope that you did see the finished result, as the final episode of the ‘Cathedrals’ series was shown last Tuesday on BBC4. There are a few days remaining to catch it on iPlayer. I waited with a little apprehension for the titles to come up and the programme to begin. When I first saw it I thought it was good and that it was a true reflection of our life – but what would others make of it? That was the real question.
I should have had no fear – since the broadcast we have been inundated with messages of great support, enthusiasm and thankfulness for what we are trying to do and the way we present the Gospel and witness to Jesus Christ. I really enjoyed reading Jonathan Crace’s review in the Guardian on Wednesday 27 November in which, after many interesting comments (‘As far as I could tell, Bruce’s God was pretty much anything you wanted it to be, which is what my God would be if I had one.’) he concluded
‘I came away feeling that the world is a better place for having Southwark Cathedral in it.’
That was a tremendous thing for him to put in print (though not a fair reflection of what Bruce was saying) and I was grateful for that and for what Bishop Stephen Platten, the Bishop of Wakefield said in yesterday’s Times
‘belief and worship call out of this community a commitment to social regeneration and care for those who might otherwise be left lonely or homeless’.
There have been less positive comments of course, you have to accept that and I can fully understand that the stance that Southwark Cathedral takes on a number of issues and our priorities would not be everyones. We are part of a broad church and I am grateful to be part of it. One person was concerned that we allow a Muslim to be a volunteer. I have to say that, for me, Abdel was one of the stars of the programme. He gave a powerful witness to the way in which people of faith can work together for the common good. His commitment to his own faith was obvious but as was his commitment to helping visitors to the Cathedral to have a good time.
Others were concerned that there were too many shots of empty chairs during services. But that is real, that is the situation. Morning Prayer is at 8am and the Eucharist follows that. We have a small and loyal band of people who join us for those services and we are delighted to welcome them and more besides them. But as I said on the programme, the Opus Deigoes on and on and on and is not dependent on numbers. We would love a full cathedral for all the services but even without that, we continue offering a sacrifice of praise to God.
The week began though with the opportunity to appear on the Robert Elms lunchtime show on BBC Radio London. It was great to meet him and we had a good conversation about the Cathedral and its place in the London scene. It was good though that at that peak listening time we were able to talk about Southwark and its cathedral. It helps in getting our message out, that has to be what evangelisation is about.
Before the broadcast I was involved in a fantastic event – those things that come along every so often. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe has been completed and the opening ceremonies are underway. On Tuesday the staff and some of the volunteers from the Globe joined us for Choral Evensong and after that we went on a candlelit pilgrimage from the Cathedral via Apothecaries Hall to the new Playhouse. Accompanying us was a band of renaissance style singers who entertained us on the way.
When we arrived at Apothecaries Hall, which was close to the Blackfriars Theatre where Shakespeare had his plays performed in the winter months, we were met by the Master and went into the gorgeous hall where Dominic Dromgoole, Artistic Director at the Globe, spoke to us abut the theatrical significance of the place we were in and the choir sang. Then we went on the final stage to the Playhouse and there we were entertained by the Mediaeval Babes. What a treat the evening was!
It has been a week of highlights though – like going to All Hallows’ Church to see what work has been going on, including revealing a section of the preserved Victorain stained glass – sparkling and amazing. It was so exciting seeing the space cleared of some of the rubbish that had been filling the various spaces. It made us realise what a treasure the building is for the local community. We look forward to forming our plans for the phasing of the work and making the place live again, for the Living God and the people of the community. At the same time St Hugh’s was completed and Bruce and the congregation began moving in. It is a lovely, bright modern space in which worship and life can be brought together.
Whilst all this was going on, Cathedral Square was turned into a Georgian Christmas Fair – not one Jane Austen would recognise but a celebration of the nation of Georgia. One highlight, apart from a lovely drink of beetroot and apple, was to hear the Rustavi Ensemble,the foremost choir in Georgia, singing acapella in the Cathedral. The drone was so reminiscent of the work of Sir John Tavener. It was a very exciting preparation for the Cathedral pilgrimage to Georgia which takes place in 2014.
And before we could end the church year and enter Advent we had the annual Robes Sleepout around the Cathedral. Its not my favourite activity, sleeping outside, in the cold, but it is the least I can do for my brothers and sisters who have to, night after night. The Cathedral nave was full of people for the entertainment beforehand provided by the ‘Choir with No Name’ and the Band of the Life Guards.
After an auction and finishing with Compline we went out to sleep. That evening we raised around £54,000 for the Robes Project and more should come in subsequently. Fantastic.
This is what Bishop Stephen Platten was commenting on in his Times article in saying that there is care in this place for the lonely and the homeless. This is what living out encounter with the Living God is all about.
So it has been a very full week, busy, demanding, exciting, a real reflection of this amazing Cathedral, this house of the Living God. And now Advent begins with the wonderful Collect from the Book of Common Prayer which will accompany us to Christmas.
Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. Amen.