Saturday, April 16, 2011
Episcopal hoolie on Cumbrae
The prayer over choir and clergy having been made with due solemnity, the thurifer, who was also MC for the day, led us out of the Lady Chapel door, round the outside loo, along the path past the annexe, down the stairs, across the lawn and up the stairs to the main door, on which Bishop Kevin would shortly thunder with his staff. But there is no way this assorted crew was going to make an orderly procession of it, as choristers who only sing together for special occasions hitched up their Whoopie Goldberg choir robes and ambled after the smoke, and it was of this I thought as Bishop Idris, the former Primus, used an idea given to him by the PB of the Episcopal Church in the USA.
This came in his sermon, in which he asked why the Bishop always came at the rear of the procession - like a Western shepherd rather than an Eastern one. The picture painted was of a circus procession, in which there was always someone bringing up the rear, armed with a bucket and shovel. We were not, exhorted +Idris, to leave our Bishop to clean up our mess.
The choir, as I said, had met that morning for what turned out to be rather less than two hours of rehearsal together, only half of which was actually in the church: the clergy choreography took up the first hour and even so didn't cater for the drama of the snapped thurible chain and the singed altar-cloth. But despite the potential for chaos (the words herding and hens come to mind) the service was actually lovely, and in places extremely moving. For me, the high point came during the Litany, when the bishop knelt in front of the altar and a stillness grew where before there had been movement and drama.
And I can't believe I've come so far without mentioning The Purvey. The lunch in the cloisters before the service, and the fantastic tea after it, were both miracles of catering and far too moreish for people who had work to do. The socialising was noisy to the point of riotous - who says the church is dying?
Of course I know that it's not like this every day. There are days when there is a handful of people at a service, and the organist has to preach as well as play. But what I will say is that I have been attending such services here for the past forty years, and renewal and excitement have been there throughout. I'd like to think, however, that it'll be a good few years before another bishop knocks on the door of the cathedral - maybe long enough for this alto to have hung up her red robe?