Ascension Day in Cambridge

Being in central Cambridge on Ascension Day I decided to attend the Eucharist. Ascension Day is not the religious festival it was in the Church of England, and it was not as easy as I expected to find evening worship. St Clements and St Edwards advertised an evening Eucharist at 7.30pm. Great St Mary’s had no poster or notice for an Ascension Day service but when I got home I notice details of one on the notice sheet from that church, but not in the worship this week section! GSM clearly need to pay a bit of attention to their communications.

St Benet’s had a 6.30am service – not much use for the casual visitor on the day! However St Bene’ts mentioned a ‘Mass’ at Little St Mary’s at 7pm. I decided to attend that.

My first impression was how lovely Little St Mary’s was decorated. There were exquisite floral decorations. It was bright and welcoming, and all looked well kept and loved. There must have been about 50-60 attending – the majority, I suspect over 60yrs old. The worship was very traditional Anglo Catholic. The music was very good, especially the organist and cantor. (There was even applause after the final voluntary – reminiscent of the Episcopal Church of the USA).

There were some slight idiosyncracies, for example, during the opening procession the procession stopped and the clergy faced the pulpit for a while and then censed the pulpit after a reading then walked on, and the hymn was resumed. During the worship (and not before) the music of the worship was handed out. The sound system (not the clearest I’ve heard) was clearly causing the clergy problems – they kept fumbling with the switches in their pockets – presumably turning them on and off – but the gestures were awkward and at one point verged on the comic. Also strange was the awkward taking in and out of the processional cross through an archway – it looked decidely odd to the visitor. While one does not expect the clergy to have beaming smiles they were especially solemn looking – if not anxious, and sometimes they seemed a little unsure of what they were doing – for example, at times the subdeacon had to whisper instructions and guide the deacon.

The sermon given by the vicar, was light weight and  disappointing. It was extempore – and it showed. The readings were read with dignity from a lectern, the sermon was preached in the centre in front of the altar without lectern and the vicar kept swaying a little and looking a little anxious as he sought words to say. I’d hope for something more weighty – instead it meandered around the topic of regular prayer and eucharist, especially in the period between Ascension and Pentecost. It was difficult to see how the sermon related directly to the event being celebrated. There were uncomfortable pauses as the vicar thought of the next thing to say. One expected more from a central Cambridge parish on a feast day. I felt it was an opportunity missed – a good clear proclamation of the doctrine of the Ascension was missed.

I left the worship a little disappointed, and feeling it was likely observance of this ‘principal holy day’ of the Church of England was likely to continue to decline.



2 Responses to “Ascension Day in Cambridge”

  1. Dr Paul Hammans Says:

    Dear Audry Ely,

    You rightly point out our oversight regarding the poster for Ascension Day at Great St Mary’s. Though not an entirely satisfactory reason, this was mainly due to the fact that our printer / photocopier was out of action for that and the preceding week. When a church like ours produces an average 3,500 paper copies per week it simply did not occur to us that we ought to have hand-written one in the meantime while it was awaiting repair!

    The issue of advertising in the ‘notice sheet’ or pew slip, as we term it here, is a bit awkward. In fact if one reads this publication from week to week, one quickly finds it changes a great deal due to varying space demands caused by notices and the like. Sometimes we don’t even print the services this week section and it is interesting feedback to note that you value this section.

    Overall, we all agree at GSM that effective adverstising is key to reminding people to attend services. We noticed marked increases in our attendances over Advent and Christmas due to a small extra outlay in producing professional posters.

    Keep up the good blog, by the way,


    Paul Hammans
    Church Manager – 21/05/07.

  2. Tiffer Says:

    Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend this particular service, although I would have been there if I had the choice (I had an ascension day service at Ridley where I am training), therefore I can’t comment on a lot of it. I have crucifered fairly often and would like to ask you how else one can get a tall crucifix through a doorway which is shorter than itself without it looking clumsy?

    I think the vicar is a very strong preacher and I recommend you try and attend a main service on a Sunday morning to give him a fair trial – one of the constraints I imagine for an evening holy day service is time, although I wasn’t involved in the service in any way so I can’t comment. You haven’t mentioned many positives which surprises me – what did you think of the Liturgy and in particular the liturgy of the Mass?

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