Ascension Day in Cambridge

May 19, 2007

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.



Top Heavy Church?

April 28, 2007

Parishes and parochial clergy in the Church of England are growing tired of the pressures and demands put upon them by increasingly bureaucratic and centralised diocesan authorities. The day to day life of worship and pastoral care in the parish no longer seems to be a priority.

One example comes from Durham diocese where it was stated that an additional Archdeacon (complete with secretary etc) was needed to assist with the ‘downsizing’ of parochial ministry! And a different example comes from the Diocese of Southwell where, until parishes objected, the diocesan Archdeacons’ Visitation, to which all churchwardens and clergy were called, was planned for Ascension Day!

Many more examples can be given, and readers are welcome to post examples as comments here.

A recent correspondent to The Times makes a very good point when he writes:

[The Church of England’s] organisation is in urgent need of fundamental reform.

Three trends have emerged in the past 50 years: a drastic decline in church membership; a significant reduction in the number of parish clergy; and an increase in the number of bishops and their associated administrative supporters.

The Church has been seriously top heavy for many years. It has limped from one financial crisis to another. Instead of cutting down at the top, it has pruned the network of parish clergy. This has had a direct adverse effect on church mebership and hence reduced the financial support coming from the parishes.”


Find the Chaplain!

April 19, 2007

At the weekend I was talking to an undergraduate of Cambridge University who told me he had never met his college chaplain, and wouldn’t know how to. I replied (tongue in cheek, knowing the undergraduate was not a worshipper) that I would guess that the chaplain was present at chapel worship on a Sunday!

Outside the centre of Cambridge I have often heard questions, including from the clergy, such as ‘What actually do college chaplains do?’ ‘Why can’t they help out more regularly in the parishes of the diocese?’ One seldom hears remarks such as ‘College Chaplains are overworked’.

However, my young friend’s remark raises a different, and I would suggest more important issue. This is about the availabilty and visibility of Chaplains, and consequently about the level of pastoral care. It is sad if an undergraduate has never even seen their chaplain, for it is rare that we seek pastoral care or advice from a member of the clergy we have never met.

If one looks at King’s College website one will find, understandably, much information about the chapel, its choir, and its history – but I can find no reference whatsoever to how to contact a college chaplain or even a name of a chaplain of King’s. (Perhaps the information is there – but I challenge you to find it!) I would suggest that this is very unfortunate. Checking the interesting website ‘Christian Cambridge’ I discovered several of the links to College Chapels simply do not work. That is unfortunate.

Where they give the information it is interesting to note what Chaplains say about their availability. For example one full time chaplain is only available one day a week in college – the rest of the time people are asked to contact the Chaplain at home!

In contrast to this several Chaplains do advertise their availabilty clearly, and in a friendly and approachable way. For example, the Chaplain of Sidney offers a clear and friendly guide as to how he may be contacted (this would (perhaps!) be enhanced by a photograph).

I ask two simple questions:

Who oversees the work of the chaplains?

Who in the Diocese of Ely helps chaplains to take a part in the life of their local diocese and the wider church?


Think again about the Ely Cathedral Music Appeal

April 12, 2007
“Ely cathedral’s on-going Music Appeal, aims to raise an endowment fund of £10m to ensure the long-term sustainability of both music and the choristers at Ely Cathedral.”

So the Hunts Post reports, and Ely Cathedral website gives details of this appeal.

Lay people and clergy in the diocese must seriously question this huge appeal. Is it the best use of the church’s diminishing resources? Should so much energy be spent on the privileged? The choir is all male and not large. The fund will no doubt be used to provide private education for the priviliged. The Church thereby supports the rich getting richer and meanwhile poor parishes get poorer.

Parishes in dioceses are being squeezed more and more for money. Understandably they are being encouraged to look for ‘Fresh Expressions’ of Church.

The Cathedral music appeal is disproportionally large and is for too small a constituency. The Cathedral needs to look more carefully at the stewardship of its resources and how it serves the diocese and wider church. Let us not forget the other choirs of the diocese.

Fresh expression of Cathedral, please! More imaginative and creative thought is called for. The answer is simply not to have large financial appeals.

I certainly shall not support this appeal and I encourage serious questions to be asked about it.


Sawtry’s Sunday Club online

April 11, 2007

Congratulations to All Saints’, Sawtry on their online Sunday Club!

Go and visit this innovative and good site, intended principally for children, but also, no doubt of interest to others. Indeed I notice that Peterborough Today has discovered it too, and given an encouragingly positive review.

This website could become a useful resource to so many and Malcom Griffith and his team at Sawtry are to be congratulated on putting up this website.

It would be wonderful if more parish churches had such an altruistic approach – and used the web creatively for mission.

We look forward to the pages for the adults now!


Passover in Church

April 5, 2007

A parish church in Ely diocese advertised that today, Maundy (Holy) Thursday they would be holding a Passover meal in Church. The parish magazine I was shown contains a detailed description of the Jewish passover and how this would be copied, and form the worship at the church.

I find this uncomfortable. I wouldn’t feel at ease with non Christians holding a mock Eucharist.

Jewish people have their own faith traditions in which the Passover plays a large part. Christian people have different traditions – and in particular we have the meal which Jesus Christ commanded us to do the evening before Good Friday.

In this generation when we are being more sensitive to world faiths among us the time has surely come to discourage ‘Passover’ meals being held in churches, – they are for Jewish homes.

Welcome to worship?

March 13, 2007

A friend from the United States recently visited Ely and decided to worship at the early morning Eucharist. It was a bright and calm morning and she looked forward to the service.

Unfortunately on entering the Cathedral there was no other person visible and no notice to indicate where worship was taking place. She felt awkward and unwelcome. Eventually another worshipper appeared and guided her to the right place.

A simple notice directing worshippers to the correct place would have sufficied. A gentle smile and a ‘good morning’ from a verger would have been even better. It is unfortunate when the mother church of a diocese does not pay attention to such details.

Imbalanced clergy

February 26, 2007

Canon Alan Hargrave’s question at General Synod today is a worthy one, and calls for answers not just from Ministry Division, as he requests, but also from those responsible for encouraging ministry in more difficult areas. It raises serious matters.

To summarise Alan Hargrave’s question: There is an imbalance in the number of clergy applicants for clerical posts in places of urban deprivation and isolated rural areas compared to city centre, middle class suburbia and other popular areas of ministry…What is this saying and what is being done about it?’

Well, the answer of course, is very little is being done about it.

There are some significant issues to face – for example, where are curacies offered? Where do colleges or training courses encourage placements? When will senior clergy set an example and live in deprived areas? How will NSMs or readers be encouraged to work in deprived areas? What incentives will the church offer to those willing to sacrifice some aspects of comfortable family life in order to work in deprived or isolated areas? How do we encourage those involved in ministry to move beyond their ‘comfort zone’?

Reorganising questions in Ely Diocese

February 23, 2007

Proposals for reorganisation and deployment of clergy in Ely diocese are often discussed. Indeed, the Church of England as a whole has to look at where its clergy are, and at how society is changing.

However, sometimes one wonders whether those in authority in the church are targeting parishes too much. One wonders whether the questions asked are searching enough.

For example – What proposals are there for a reduction in senior staff and administration in the diocese? How is it proposed that they will contribute more to worship and ministry in parishes? Do those in authority wish to lead by example?

What proposals are there to involve much more closely university, hospital, prison and college chaplains into the life of the diocese? We know the reply will be that they are paid by others, however the Bishop (or a bishop) licenses them and strong encouragement can be put to them to have links with ministries in parishes or appropriate localities.

What steps are being taken to spread out clergy more around the diocese, away from centres such as Cambridge?


What criteria for success / growth are to be applied?




February 22, 2007

Welcome to Etheldreda of Ely’s web blog.

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