Wednesday, December 07, 2005

In the interests of time, I’m combining posts.

Day 14: Not a good start in Canterbury

Written 12-5-05, late afternoon

Canterbury and I are not off to a good start.

As soon as settled in my room, I went to the Cathedral West Gate. And I was disappointed to see that the Evening Prayer this evening is not sung, but said. I soon noticed the reason why – The BBC was doing a special Christmas Concert in the Cathedral. And soon after that I found out it was sold out.

Now I have checked in on the Cathedral website for months. And I also had an exchange of e-mails. From that, I was confident I would get to go to two Evensongs sung by the choir in the two nights I am here. I very carefully planned my itinerary that way. At no time, including yesterday, did the website mention this concert or the said evening prayer. No, they didn’t even have up the service sheets for this week.

I visited the offices and politely but firmly let them know what I thought of this, as is right for me to do. This is no way to treat visitors who have literally crossed oceans to visit this place, and they should be confronted on it. They apologized, and now I get to practice forgiveness. But there is no excuse for this.

What if I was here for only one night? Wow. And to make things worse, the BBC’s sound check preparations inside the Cathedral got obnoxiously earsplitting.

If you think I’m a whiner, think again. If the choir all got the flu or there was some other unfortunate unforeseen event that changed the schedule on little notice, I would understand.

But for there to be a planned event, and for visitors to have little way to find out from the website in time to change their plans . . . . Like I said, that’s no way to treat visitors.

(To belabor the point and to give an example of the right way to handle things: I would like to go back to King’s College on Friday to look at and research their stained glass. But I see from their site that their opening times that day are not the usual ones and don’t make that very easy for me to do. That’s fine. And I appreciate them giving good prior notice.)

Now the hot water is out as I try to take a bath (no shower). I’m not liking Canterbury right now.

Later: Said Evening Prayer in the crypt where St. Thomas Becket’s tomb used to be, followed by a generous helping of fish and chips calmed me down a bit.

But as I later walked around the Cathedral precincts, in a slightly mischievous mood, debating whether to try to sneak into the Holy BBC service, something occurred to me: they are celebrating the One for whom there was no room in the inn by having a “service” which has no room in all of Canterbury Cathedral for pilgrims without connections.

And I decided I didn’t want to be in there anyway.

Just before 9pm, the Cathedral bell rang. And as it rang, it began raining. It was haunting.

Day 15: Cacophony in the Cathedral and a Memorable Time of Prayer

It’s a week until I leave England. Though I’m still looking forward to doings here, I’m looking forward to home, especially my church friends.

O. K. Let’s get this over with. I’m beginning to wonder if Canterbury Cathedral is capable of doing a service right. 8am Holy Communion was a Common Worship mish-mash. You’d think they’d know that people who would show up for an 8am service are probably pretty traditional. Maybe they just want to cram modern liturgy down our throats. Oh, and the priest left out the two Advent collects. Will he forget Christmas Day, too?

But surely Choral Evensong would be excellent, right? Wrong. The choir just did not sound very good. The boys’ voices in particular sounded weak or off in a number of places. (That’s not their fault, of course. Maybe the conductor had them too busy working for the BBC.) And the organ. . . . It’s hard to displease me with a cathedral organ. But both the organ and the organist sounded like crap. Up to now, I’ve taken in just about every organ postlude in the services here in England. And usually it sent me out with a spring in my step. Tonight, it just sent me out. I was out the door before it was finished. It was that awful.

I certainly hope my experience in the Cathedral these two days is not typical. If it is, the Dean should be sacked.

I’m going to venture to 7:30 Matins next to the Martyrdom in the morning. It would be hard to mess that up in such a special location. But if I walk over there and find out it’s going to be Common Worship or the like, I’m walking right back.

In any case, I’m out of here tomorrow morning, and not a moment too soon.

Other than the services, it was a good day. I spent most of the morning studying the wealth of circa 1200 stained glass in the Cathedral. It’s wonderful, and sometimes funny, too. The Becket Miracle Windows have some fun stories. The healing of Mad Matilda is my favorite. And I must have spent a good half hour gazing at the Bible Windows. The stained glass, like many of my experiences in England, reminded me of my links with saints of the past.

Yes, I’ve had to remind myself not to let the present problems at the Cathedral keep me from enjoying its past. And its past is glorious.

I had lunch with an online Scottish acquaintance. It was a fun time.

Then I walked over to St. Martin’s Church, the oldest church in continuous use in Britain. It even predates St. Augustine. It’s in a beautiful setting that was haunting on this grey day, surrounded by trees and gravestones.

Inside, the attendant was very helpful. And I had two times of prayer there that meant a lot to me. I thanked God for His grace in sending the Gospel to Britain and on to America. And I prayed for some friends to come to faith.

Like I said, to pray in such a place meant a lot to me. I didn’t expect this to be the highlight of my two days in Canterbury, but it certainly was.

As I left, I noticed the little church is only open three days a week. I was thankful I happened to come on one of those days.

You late night coffeehouse cool cats . . . you are out of luck in England. All the coffeehouses close at dinner time, even in the college cities. I was craving for a decaf mocha after dinner tonight, but no such luck. Even the Starbucks below me was closed. (Yes, there is a Starbucks next to the Cathedral.)

Did I mention I wanna go home? Nah, I do want to make the most of my last stop in London. But I’m glad I’m home in a week.

Day 16: To London, thanks be to God.

Sure enough, they used Common Worship for Matins. They didn’t even say the proper collects. No, I didn’t walk out or say anything. I’m considering a letter to the Dean later about their disregard for pilgrims and traditional Anglican worship.

Time to eat breakfast, pack, and get out of Canterbury.

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