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3035: HM The Queen turns 90: Worcester Cathedral, England
Queen's Birthday at Worcester Cathedral (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Isabella of Angouleme.
The church: Cathedral Church of Christ and Blessed Mary the Virgin, Worcester, England.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Worcester.
The building: Worcester was one of England’s most important monastic cathedrals and, appropriately for the service reported here, has many Royal connections. The present cathedral building is the third on the site, built and regularly repaired from 1089 onwards, so all major periods of English architecture between 1066 and 1875 are represented in the cathedral today. Particularly significant development followed the donation of substantial funds by King Henry III after the burial of his father, King John, within the quire in 1216. Damaged in the English civil war in the 17th century, the cathedral required further rebuilding after Charles II finally achieved the throne in 1660. Subsequent restoration of the building included major work carried out by the Victorians between 1864 and 1875. A variety of royal visitors has been recorded over the years. Today's service took place in the nave where, sadly, tiered seating provided under the tower crossing for the choirs prevented the congregation from enjoying the usual glorious view through the quire arch past King John’s tomb to the high altar in the east.
The church: Although Her Majesty's birthday actually falls in April, leave it to the British to select June, when the weather is significantly better, for the official celebration of the Monarch's birthday. Today's service marked the culmination of a variety of celebratory events in Worcester, including a flotilla along the River Severn, bell ringing, beacons being lit, street celebrations, and a tea party.
The neighbourhood: Worcester Cathedral stands in the middle of Worcester’s commercial centre at one end of the main shopping street, which is currently under redevelopment. Immediately adjacent to the cathedral on both sides are public spaces surrounded by mature trees, and at the west end gardens slope down alongside monastic ruins towards the River Severn. When the cathedral west doors are open, as they were for this service, the view out through them is spectacular.
The cast: The clergy team: the Rt Revd Dr John Inge, Bishop of Worcester and Lord High Almoner to the Queen (preaching); the Revd Canon Dr Michael Brierley, canon precentor and acting dean; the canon in residence (unnamed on the programme but by process of elimination this must have been the Revd Canon Dr Alvyn Pettersen). The cathedral clergy were wearing gold and brown copes. Musicians: the cathedral choir and the Worcestershire Music Hub Choir and Orchestra, conducted by Dr Peter Nardone, the cathedral director of music; Christopher Allsop, assistant director of music (playing the organ); the Worcester Cathedral Guild of Bellringers (ringing the cathedral’s bells before the service). Lessons were read by Lt Col Patrick Holcroft LVO OBE, Her Majesty's Lord-Lieutenant of Worcestershire; and by the Mayor of Worcester, Councillor Paul Denham. Prayers of thanksgiving were led by Mrs Jean Davidson, a contemporary and personal acquaintance of HM Queen Elizabeth II. Prayers of intercession were led by the Revd Jim Brown, the mayor’s chaplain.
The date & time: Sunday 12 June 2016, 4.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
The Mayor’s Civic Service Marking the Ninetieth Birthday of Her Majesty the Queen.

How full was the building?
The central nave seating was pretty full. In the side aisles there were some unoccupied seats, but not many. I'd estimate about 700 to 800 people in total.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. There were several individuals with badges just inside the door, checking tickets, handing out service booklets, and directing people to seats. We were asked if we had a ticket, but there were plenty of unreserved places for those who didn’t, and one lady said we were very welcome. We were directed to a side aisle with a view across the cathedral, which was perfect for watching the processions though not so good for hearing the choir.

Was your pew comfortable?
No. The nave had some pews, but the side aisles had very uncomfortable chairs with backward-sloping seats from which it was hard to rise quickly when necessary for singing the hymns.

Queen's Birthday at Worcester Cathedral (King John's Tomb)

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Excited and fairly active, as the congregation had to rise several times to welcome important people as they arrived. These included the new mayor, in full robes and wearing a very bright chain of office, followed by a long train of elected councillors, the High Sheriff, and the Lord Lieutenant, who was dressed in more restrained uniform but wearing spurs! These folk did not arrive all at once, so there was quite a lot of bobbing up and down. Various organ pieces were played before the service, including "Aubade" from the Nursery Suite, one of Edward Elgar's last compositions, written in 1931 and dedicated to (among others) the Princess Elizabeth, then aged five and with no real expectations of becoming Queen.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The opening hymn, "Praise my soul the King of Heaven," sung by the entire congregation.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A service booklet prepared specially for this service, decorated on the front with the coats of arms of the cathedral and the City of Worcester, and on the back by the Church of England logo for Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday, designed by Lucas Salinger, a young schoolboy who had won a special competition.

What musical instruments were played?
Cathedral organ and full orchestra.

Did anything distract you?
The mayor was led into the building by a man wearing a tall hat decorated with curly waving feathers and carrying a long sword in a decorated scabbard. The sword was eventually parked (pointing upwards) at the back of the mayor’s seat. It is presumably a symbol of his office.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Joyful in a restrained way. One might even say typically British! After the opening hymn, the acting dean gave the greeting (rather lengthy, but there were a lot of important people to welcome). There followed prayers of thanksgiving, beginning "For the faithful witness of our Sovereign ..." The acting dean rounded all this off with further prayers culminating in the general thanksgiving. There were readings, an anthem ( "Zadok the Priest" – Handel, written for the coronation of George II and sung at every coronation since); hymns, sermon, intercessions, a final birthday prayer for the Queen, the Lord’s Prayer, final blessing, and the National Anthem. The Final voluntary was the well-known Toccata from Widor's Symphony for Organ No. 5 in F minor, Op. 42, No. 1.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The bishop came across as very sincere.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The bishop explained that as the Queen’s High Almoner, he is in charge of her almsgiving, including the Royal Maundy, the traditional gifts of money the Queen makes on Maundy Thursday as part of her preparation for Easter. From this he segued neatly into the second lesson (Mark 12:11-17 – "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's"). Both the coins of ancient Rome and today's British coins bear the likeness of the monarch. However, the Roman emperor claimed to be a god, and on the Queen’s coins it says she is Defender of the Faith. Her Majesty's life of service has provided the pattern of monarchy, which points towards the duty and service we all owe to God, and sets the example of all who serve their country under her (by implication, the mayor, councillors, etc.).

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The fact that everyone wanted to be there to celebrate. Some were happy about the new mayor (just elected); all were happy about the Queen’s birthday. Parents of the young performers (choir and orchestra) were happy and proud of their children. It was a very cheerful event.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
For some reason, the offertory hymn chosen for singing while the collection was taken was "Jerusalem," which, nice as it is, has only two verses. It is simply not long enough for collecting money from several hundred people. To be fair, there were plenty of stewards with baskets, but they were literally running up and down our aisle to try and get through before the music stopped. People in the aisles were trying to be helpful but ended up passing baskets randomly in all directions! The organist stepped in with an extended voluntary to cover the gap at the end, but that then over-ran, leaving everyone standing awkwardly waiting for it to finish before the bishop said the final blessing. One does not expect a cathedral service of such importance to require such chaotic extemporisation.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The various dignitaries processed out down the cloisters, presumably to some destination where they would be refreshed. Everyone else just went home.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No coffee, at least for us commoners.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – Very enjoyable for major events, but I’d need to attend more regular "normal" worship to form a view.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The man in the feathered hat carrying a sword. He did it with style!
 
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