2nd day of Lent 23rd February


Too Busy To Be Still? On being in a service, but not making space for God
As I continue to have to use my phone to complete this blog, there are at least some advantages. You can of course, use it to blog anywhere…..even in church…..hmmm….point of ecclesiastical etiquette; should one blog in church? Well not during a service, obviously. But what of other times, and what’s so special about the service?
This may seem like a very stupid and/or strange question. However, take today. It’s my very great privilege to play an infinitesimally small part in the life of Liverpool Cathedral. I potter around, poking my nose in, usually where it’s not wanted, “helping” with technical stuff like the sound, and stewarding. This latter task comes with a nice shiny badge on a red ribbon, which is very nice; no honest it is! However, it does mean that people see the badge and expect you to not only know the answers to their questions about the Cathedral, which is fair enough, but frequently the time of the next bus, the whereabouts of Ringo Starr’s auntie’s house, and where did they leave their brolly?
So back to the question, and why ask? Tonight as usual I put on the badge and stewarded at Choral Evensong. Now at a midweek Evensong, in the middle of winter, you’re not exactly knocked over in the rush. There were 36 people in the service to be precise (not counting clergy and choir)….but then there were also the tourists…..
Now as I sing, and every year do so in other Cathedrals, I know that each Cathedral has it’s own method of dealing with “tourists”. At Canterbury last summer, they closed the whole Cathedral at 4:30. Anyone wishing to attend Evensong then had to queue up outside (in all weathers), before being herded into the Choir by the Vergers, who had placed chains across both choir aisles to prevent any random stray tourist seeing any part of the Cathedral other than the Choir…..well you can do that when you have an impenetrable stone choir screen, and charge £9:50 for entry. Here at Liverpool we favour a more Benedictine, and I hope more gracious, method of welcome. We don’t charge; even the tours are free. We try hard to make it clear to all the tourists that they are welcome to join the service they’ve stumbled upon, or just sit and listen. The important thing is to make them feel welcome. As a result a few years ago, we gave up ropes for Lent, relying on people’s innate sense of respect… ie we assumed that a few polite signs asking people not to walk around/take photos/behave decently would do the trick…..which is why I spent tonight in the service, but not in it.
Instead I dealt with requests for a full guided tour, lost property, why was the shop/tower/café closed… And the one we get at almost every service, yes even on Sundays…”What do you mean there’s a service of worship, I didn’t think you still did that sort of thing”? Often the people who ask this are indignant that we are interrupting their day out with our worship. Sometimes they are extremely abusive, sometimes genuinely baffled and perplexed. So I was a long way from God in tonight’s service. My attempts to say the Creed thwarted by a persistent photographer (with flash), listen to the prayers by a wonderfully enthusiastic young American, totally in awe of the building, but uncomprehending of the significance of the service. All in all I felt a very long way from God, which is not good on the second day of Lent, in a Cathedral… I felt I might as well have been doing this blog, or tweeting, or anything else you wouldn’t normally think of doing in a service.
But now, as I wait for the first of our Lent group meetings, I have had time to think and pray. I’m aided in this by the fact that the choir are on day (or evening) three of a week long recording session, in which they are recording Psalms 37 -50 for a CD. I wrote last year of the importance of praying the psalms, and I know I will come back to it this year, but I as I sit and listen in an empty and huge Cathedral, dark but for the distant lights in the Choir, it feels very full of God. I feel like a swimmer, who having spent an exhausting couple of hours swimming against the tide, suddenly sees the shoreline.
This of course, follows on from yesterday’s blog about the importance of making time; but also I think, the importance of finding God in the small crevices of our hearts. I love being part of the community at the Cathedral. It’s huge even by Cathedral standards, but often I’m in a service and when it ends, I find myself thinking “was that it”? Lost in the vast spaces of the place, busy being busy, I am just that…lost.
And yet….and yet, reflecting on both last night’s Holy Communion with “ashing” (the marking of a cross on your forehead with a mixture of oil and the ashes from the Palm Sunday Cross), and tonight’s Evensong; ok I may not have felt a part of the corporate worship, but in talking to people, hopefully making them feel welcome, answering their questions no matter what they were, maybe that too was offering worship and prayer. The woman who irritated me last night by wandering up the aisle during the ashing (I was on “traffic” duty, directing the worshippers), and engaging in conversation to the effect that she wasn’t sure if she was at the “right” Cathedral (she wasn’t), and so was upset that she couldn’t take the Sacraments. She was very chatty!! I did speak to her, I explained that anyone who was in good standing in their own church, was welcome to take the Sacraments; even though I acknowledged that Roman Catholic teaching prohibits it. In the end she took up my suggestion that she receive a blessing. She left before the end of the service, stopping for another “chat”. When I thought about it later, it occurred to me that she, on her first visit to the city for many years, was alone and staying at an hotel. What was her story? Maybe she’d come to visit a sick friend, or attend a funeral? She had taken a taxi to “the Cathedral”, and the driver who was Muslim, and brought her to us….maybe that was meant to be. Her final words to me were “I’m glad I came, I feel so much better”.
So maybe if I can simply accept that when the badge goes on, my spiritual need is to serve others by simply being there if they need help. Maybe the willingness to do that is my worship, my offering of a bit of myself to God? The eager young American is coming back tomorrow so I can show him around. Who knows…maybe he will find a small crevice through which the light of God can shine?
I’m now the other side of my Lent Group. I was able to focus, and I was able to focus my prayer. As the others left I went back up into the Cathedral to wait for my still singing husband. Just me; a congregation of one. The boy choristers had left, so in that vast and darkening space, there were just the twelve Lay Clerks, the Director of Music, the Organist, the Sound Engineer….and me. The glories of Anglican chant rose and fell, as waves on the beach, and as I listened my exhausted, frayed, and noisy soul finally made it to shore; safe in the space, with time to be still and listen to the still small voice of God.

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One Response to 2nd day of Lent 23rd February

  1. deafchurches says:

    A wonderful view of life as a steward – I hadn’t heard the ‘I didn’t know you still did this sort of thing’ comment! Might suggest a ‘day in the life’ of a steward for Cathedral Life!
    But I am glad you finally found space and peace – I’m looking forward to that CD

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