|397: Glastonbury Abbey, Somerset, England|
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Mystery Worshipper: Miss Maniple.
The church: Glastonbury Abbey, Somerset, England.
Denomination: It is the ruin of a pre-Reformation abbey. I had come for an Anglican pilgrimage.
The building: Glastonbury Abbey is a roofless ruin set in acres of parkland and duckponds, under Glastonbury Tor. The eucharist was conducted from three blue-and-gold canopied podia, one housing the lectern, another the presiding bishop's throne, and the biggest, the altar, which was at the head of the nave. Chairs were provided behind the altar for the dozens of concelebrants and servers, and in the nave for various bewigged and gowned civic dignitaries and keen punctual people.
The neighbourhood: Glastonbury is a mecca for adherents to New Age lifestyles, and all the cafes sell semi-palatable twiggy infusions as well as more stimulating brews. At the other extreme, it is home to several ultra-protestant organizations. For this one day of the year it is buzzing with Anglicans who like dressing up.
The cast: Principal celebrant and preacher: the Rt Rev. David Thomas, Provincial Assistant Bishop, Church in Wales. There were six other robed bishops, including the Bishop of Bath and Wells, in whose patch we were. He and David Thomas wore their own gold brocade costumes, and the five others wore uniform white mitres with green and gold tassels dangling between their shoulder blades. There were dozens of concelebrants in uniform white chasubles with red orphreys, some looking a bit sheepish.
What was the name of the service?
The Glastonbury pilgrimage: the holy eucharist in honour of Christ the King.
How full was the building?
There were several hundred people in the nave and scattered throughout the ruins. I have seen many more people here in the past.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
There were six fierce women in a tent, charging £3 for entry. They were deep in conversation with each other. Welcoming and smiling were clearly not part of their brief. One was wearing cassock and cotta at 10.00am, though the day was warm and ceremonies were not due to begin before noon.
Was your pew comfortable?
There were none. I had my own groundsheet to sit on, the grass being damp. The more stylish pilgrims had folding garden chairs. I spotted one shooting stick, though he who was perched on it was not particularly tweedy in appearance.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Everybody was talking, or watching the extras parading about in their most ostentatious frills.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Mr Mayor, Right Reverend Fathers, Fathers..."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The £3 admission fee included a closely-typed 28-page instruction and service booklet, covering eucharist, procession, evensong and benediction.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ. The rest of the music was done via karaoke. There was a small, good adult choir sitting in front of the north transept, who had pre-recorded themselves, and who then sang along with the recording. It was quite effective, although some of the hymns were unfamiliar to most of the congregation.
Did anything distract you?
The relentless fussing of becassocked, becottaed laymen, some of whom were making repeated and urgent mutterings into electronic communications devices. Some wore medallions on ribbons, others colour-coded badges, and a very select few, dark glasses and cross-wise braid bands. Speculation was rife around me as what all this was for, and so it became doubly intrusive. Rather less disturbing was the repeated cutting out of the PA system during the prayer of consecration. The row of portaloos rather spoilt the view of the Abbot's Kitchen. Our Lady of Glastonbury was shouldered in on a litter, and from my position, looked as though she had a sack of coal over her shoulder. A closer inspection revealed that she was leaning on a small tree, probably the Glastonbury Thorn.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Stratospherical Anglo-Catholicism. Plenty of ritual, at least 15 in the serving team. However, the servers were so well drilled that they were remarkably inconspicuous. There were a few grave and graceful girls in the team. Two thuribles puffed away, but struggled to gas even those close to as the breeze was so strong.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Christ is King, though not yet victorious. To ensure his victory, we must look for the King where we might not expect to find him, in the hungry, the poor, and the oppressed, all of whom we are by our baptism bound to serve.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
A man's beautiful voice from the choir intoning Psalm 93 brought complete stillness to this huge congregation, and so generated the most numinous couple of minutes of the day.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The moment when the laymen realized that the Bishop of Bath & Wells had neglected to remove his mitre for the Gospel. They whispered, nudged, pointed and flapped, and then one made sure it came off. At least the Bishop was concentrating on the veneration and then reading of the Gospel.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
This was not appropriate. It was 2.00pm, tummies were rumbling and the picnics were being spread on the grass.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No coffee was provided and we had made our own arrangements. My hamper was well filled, the wine was chilled, the grass comfy and the company splendid.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
This isn't a church in the usual sense. I hope to be a pilgrim at Glastonbury again in the future.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Oh yes! It was wonderful to see so many people, of all sorts and conditions, coming together to honour Christ the King, and to share in the eucharist. The atmosphere of celebration and enjoyment was tangible.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Everyone roaring the hymns out, whether they could sing or not. It didn't matter today.