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2651: Exeter Cathedral, England
Exeter Cathedral Photo: Antony McCallum and used under license
Mystery Worshipper: Rorate.
The church: Cathedral Church of St Peter at Exeter, Devon, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Exeter.
The building: A church dedicated to St Peter has been on the site since 1050. A cathedral in the Norman style was begun in 1133 but was already outmoded by 1258, when the present Decorated Gothic church, following the example of Salisbury Cathedral, was begun. The new cathedral incorporated much of the Norman building. The interior features the longest uninterrupted vaulted ceiling in England. The misericords are the earliest complete set in the United Kingdom. A minstrels' gallery is replete with angels playing a variety of medieval instruments. An astronomical clock, dating from 1376, tells the hours and minutes as well as the phases of the moon. A hole was cut beneath the clock so that the bishop's cat could have at the mice that were attracted to the animal fat used to lubricate the workings. The cathedral has been subject to neglect and refurbishment at various times throughout the years, including a direct hit by Luftwaffe bombers on 4 May 1942 that blew out the windows and caused other damage.
The church: The cathedral chapter oversee the running of the building. There is a cathedral fellowship whose aim is (quoting from their website) "to get to know each other better, ensure newcomers feel welcome and not least of all enjoy." There are groups set up for children, a community committee, outreach, Friends of Exeter and many others all described on their website. Once each month they hold Holy Ground, for people who are "interested in the Christian faith but would not necessarily call themselves Christian" and those who find "more traditional models of church a little inaccessible" to "engage with Christian spirituality in a contemplative and creative way."
The neighbourhood: The cathedral sits in a grand square with posh shops and restaurants around it. The city itself is undergoing a huge make-over, with new shopping malls opening up. The university is one of the largest employers.
The cast: The only information on the news sheet was that the preacher was the Revd Olivier Ruffray, rector of the Sanctuary of St Therese of Lisieux. The celebrant and deacon were not identified.
The date & time: Sunday, 19 January 2014, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Sung Eucharist, Common Worship, Order One.

How full was the building?
Two-thirds of the nave was filled, probably heading toward 300 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
"Here you go" as someone handed me a news sheet and copy of Common Worship, Order One. Others had also received a booklet entitled Good News from the Diocese of Exeter, but I had not, and so I went back and asked for a copy. It was rather begrudgingly handed over!

Was your pew comfortable?
A nice chair with a padded seat, attached to the ones on either side, with a pocket on the back for books.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was reverential, hardly a whisper anywhere. The organ kicked in at exactly 9.50am. The building was filling up quickly and I was surprised to find the chairs on either side of me occupied. I am not used to having fellow worshippers so close!

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to Exeter Cathedral." This was followed by a series of announcements.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Common Worship, Order One; Common Praise hymn book. The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version, was in the book slot if needed, but the readings had been printed in the news sheet.

What musical instruments were played?
The organ. The main organ seems to be undergoing restoration and I think this could have been an electronic one. But it was played fantastically, as you would expect in a cathedral.

Did anything distract you?
The deacon, who was also holding the book for the celebrant, led the penitential rite but then couldn't find the correct page for the absolution, so there ensued a long pause and lots of page turning. The Sunday school all arrived during the Benedictus, taking their place in the front row, then having books handed out and hoods pulled down. This ruined the moment of the holiness of the eucharistic prayer. The communion hymn started before many of the congregation had been ushered forward for communion, which I get annoyed about. One of the lay people who helped with the distribution of communion was in an overcoat with a big red scarf tied around his neck.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Cathedral worship with the odd glitch, but nicely done and dignified, and the choir sang beautifully.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
7 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Not the most dynamic style, but Father Olivier was preaching in English (his mother tongue being French) and reading it from his notes. He is a Roman Catholic priest, and his preaching in an Anglican cathedral lent an ecumenical touch to things.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The ecumenical exchange of spiritual gifts – one being preaching, the second being the Word of God. We are loved by God and called to love God. As St Therese said, "My vocation is love."

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music – the choir were excellent. The mass setting was the Missa Euge Bone by the English composer and organist Christopher Tye (1505?-1573). We also had Eastern Monarchs by Andrew Millington, the cathedral's director of music, and Omnes de Saba Venient by the Slovenian composer Jacob Handl (1550–1591). I love Buxtehude and we had his Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, BuxWV 223, as the recessional – it was a shame that only a dozen or so people remained to listen to it.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
If I have to say something, the welcomers – or, rather, the people standing at the door handing out service books with a "Here you go" and a "What do you want with the Good News, then?" (or so they might as well have said).

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There weren't many people around by the time the recessional had finished, so I made my way to the chapter house for coffee.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
A proper decent size mug and a good cup of coffee. As to whether it was fairly traded, there was no clue. Tea and juice were also on offer. The only biscuits left were boring looking hobnobs (traditional British oak biscuits) – maybe this is why people race off at the end of the service, to get the best biscuits, rather than wait for the voluntary to end. No one seemed to want to chat, but the contemporary sculptures surrounding the chapter house were enough to occupy one for the duration of the coffee.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I love cathedral worship and would definitely return when next there. But if I lived in Exeter I would want to try out the numerous other churches in the city.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, absolutely.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Trying to find the words of the absolution! And the music, of course.
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