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St. Paul's Cathedral


nachthorn

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On Thursday I visited St. Paul's Cathedral (London) for evensong. It wasn't the first time I'd been, nor was it the first time I'd been refused a seat in the quire. Why? "It's closed.... I mean it's full... er, just no" was the reply. In fact I've never been allowed to sit in the quire for evensong at St. Paul's, even though I've seen others being let in. This time was no different to the others - a strange experience of sitting under the dome, watching a group of people in the middle distance singing evensong, while I pretended to be part of the same congregation, and failed. It's not just a distance thing - it's partly sitting in a different part of the building, and partly that you can't really hear anything clearly unless put through the PA.

 

Anyway, afterwards - determined to at least see what the quire and organ cases looked like from close enough to see them in focus - I made my way around the nave altar and up the steps towards the quire rail. I hadn't even reached the top before someone shouted 'Move down from there now!'. I looked for riot police, but all I saw was a verger-type standing in the north aisle glaring at me, briefly distracted from the task of schmoozing with people leaving the quire by the aisle gate. I meekly walked off, and minutes later was herded at speed from the building by a beating party of guides and vergers.

 

Now, I've never been shouted at by a verger anywhere, let alone in a building as large and resonant as St. Paul's, and the fact remains that I don't know why, given that there were still people in front of me in the quire itself, standing around and chatting. Nor do I understand why I've never been allowed to sit in the quire - is there a secret password or handshake? But the biggest question I have is: why the attitude? In one of the most iconic places of worship in the country, why behave in such an unfriendly, dismissive, un-Christian way? Southwark is as intimate and friendly as a parish church, Westminster Cathedral is open to all without question, and even somewhere as posh as the Abbey greets evensong worshippers with courtesy and friendliness, and I've always been able to sit in the quire there. But at St. Paul's it seems to be too much to ask for a service sheet, let alone the chance to sit within half a mile of the choir, clergy and the more favoured congregation.

 

I like the building, the organ and choir are very good, and over the years they've turned out a good number of consistently excellent discs on Hyperion which I'm proud to own and listen to regularly. But set foot in that building again - no chance. I've not been that angry for a long time.

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Dear-oh-dear-oh-dear. You really must write a letter of complaint to the Dean and Chapter. They should be made aware of your experience and you deserve an explanation. I daresay any reply you get will be an anodine one designed to calm stormy waters, but you never know what silent repercussions it may have behind the scenes.

 

I am intrigued as to why you were refused admittance to the quire. I hope someone can explain. It brings to mind medieval masses where the liturgy was a remote observance enacted at a discreet distance, where the populace could only view it by jostling up against the screen, perhaps utilising squint holes bored in the woodwork - except that in your case you weren't even that close.

 

Vergers can be the very bane. Psychologists tell us that we all have a need to feel that we are of some significance and purpose in this world, but vergers sometimes seem to have this in spades. They can be, to coin a phrase, up themselves. When I was an organ scholar, we had just such a head verger. After every service this pompous old fool would clear everyone out as quickly as he possibly could so that he could lock up shop and get back to his wife and telly. For him this was a daily chore. I believe the castle Aerary has a letter of complaint from Watkins Shaw, who, on being shooshed out one day, stood his ground and insisted on hearing the organ voluntary to the end. I felt it said a lot for how the voluntary is perceived and valued (although I knew this well enough already). In fairness I should stress that not all vergers are like this by any means. Those at Rochester Cathedral I never found anything other than modest, polite and helpful.

 

But the biggest question I have is: why the attitude? In one of the most iconic places of worship in the country, why behave in such an unfriendly, dismissive, un-Christian way?

And a very big question it is too. The answer, I fear, is that these places are so "up themselves" that they have lost touch with the pastoral side of Christianity. The vergers inherit the attitude from their seniors. I have no knowledge of the clergy at St Paul's, but my youthful experience taught me that when clerics preferred to ensconse themselves writing books and theological papers, then the pastoral side of Christianity tended to go to pot (except for the occasional surprise visitation in the hope of catching me in flagrante delicto with one of the comely cooks from the conference centre next door). Is there an "ivory tower" culture at St Pauls?

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I saw something similar at Westminster Abbey sometime ago when a decidedly haughty cleric dispatched a verger to 'sort' someone who happened to be in what they considered the wrong place at the wrong time. I also had the experience (in a parish church) of being 'organised' by an extremely snotty churchwarden-ess - I 'm afraid I gave as good as I got then - I think she was rather surprised but when told that I needed to get used to the organ or she could tell the priest that there would be no organ for the service she reluctantly quietened down. Some in church have a rather higher sense of their own importance than they should I feel.

 

A

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Guest Patrick Coleman

A Verger who behaves in the way described should be sacked. The Church is bad enough at both internal and public relations without it being made worse.

 

And before you ask who else in the Church ought to be sacked for behaving in an inappropriate manner, I'll collect my coat...

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A long time ago I was sitting, prior to Evensong, in a Cathedral church in the North. A lady came up to me and said "Excuse me, but that's my seat". I looked at her, slightly astonished, and she added "I'm Mrs ...................." (the wife of the Master of the Choristers)

 

I knew the name and I moved - but, all these years later, I wouldn't again!!

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This made me chuckle and I fondly my experience there some years ago now. When John Scott invited me to Evensong to hear the first performance of a setting of my Canticles that the choir were doing, many friends also wanted to go. With a number of them I sat in the Nave whilst the choir rehearsed and was quite overcome by the experience of hearing a consummately brilliant choir sing something that was born from my mind in such surroundings - albeit just a rehearsal. When the time came to ascend to the Choir everyone with me rushed forward - even my mother - to gain a spot near the choir. I was still coming to terms with the experience! When I eventually reached the rope it was clicked in front of me by a verger and I was told that the Choir was now full and would I find a seat somewhere in the nave. However, somebody eventually came and rescued me from a most ridiculous predicament and took me up so that I could at least hear the Office and be humbled by an extraordinary musical machine under John's direction. A post here suddenly brings back quirky memories. Hope you don't mind me sharing them. These things do happen.

best wishes,

Nigel

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Dear-oh-dear-oh-dear. You really must write a letter of complaint to the Dean and Chapter. They should be made aware of your experience and you deserve an explanation. I daresay any reply you get will be an anodine one designed to calm stormy waters, but you never know what silent repercussions it may have behind the scenes.

 

I suggest the letter includes suitable reference to the 'ministry of welcome', woefully non-evident in this case.. Many of the larger cathedrals, including, presumably, St Paul's have a member of staff, lay or ordained, specifically charged with this overseeing this vital aspect of cathedral activity. Ultimate responsibility should lie with a member of Chapter itself. Our local cathedral has a mission statement of Welcome, Worship, Witness which all those who work there, whether paid or voluntary, do their best to live up to. Whilst patience may be sorely tried at the sheer insensitivity and crassness of a small minority of visitors who have no idea of how to behave in a sacred building, it is no excuse for rudeness. The 'friendliest cathedral in England' was how a Telegraph article a couple of years ago described us. Deserved or not, for those who work there, the accolade made the job doubly worthwhile.

 

JS

(P/T cathedral verger)

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Dear-oh-dear-oh-dear. You really must write a letter of complaint to the Dean and Chapter. They should be made aware of your experience and you deserve an explanation. I daresay any reply you get will be an anodine one designed to calm stormy waters, but you never know what silent repercussions it may have behind the scenes.

 

I do hope that you write to the Dean and Chapter. I, for one, would be very interested to hear their reply.

 

With the Church of England being concerned about falling numbers of participating members, I'm surprised at this attitude. Do they really want to discourage people from attending? Are they only interested in retaining 'certain' members?

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Dear-oh-dear-oh-dear. You really must write a letter of complaint to the Dean and Chapter. They should be made aware of your experience and you deserve an explanation. I daresay any reply you get will be an anodine one designed to calm stormy waters, but you never know what silent repercussions it may have behind the scenes.

 

================

 

 

If you have the gifts of the late Stanley Unwin, you can reply to the verger in a made-up language, but if not, a strong regional accent will suffice.

 

Cockney Rhyming slang would work well:-

 

're ya stoppin' me sittin' 'ere for a Robin Hood reason, or 're ya just a power Mum and Dad, Almond Rock wearin' twit wif an attitude problem? :lol:

 

Ali G would be priceless.

 

MM

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If you are in the area of St Paul's and you want to experience beautiful, traditional liturgy with excellent (professional) music, you just need to walk to the Monument, and a few yards down the hill you will come to St Magnus the Martyr church in Lower Thames Street. Since its present rector arrived it has taken on a totally new lease of life and even acquired a completley new peal of bells for its tower. Added to this, the people are amongst the most friendly, caring and welcoming I have ever come across and post service social care is superb. What I like about it is that they are genuinely welcoming and friendly without trying to get you involved in doing things and joining things immediately you walk in the door.

 

Malcolm

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On Thursday I visited St. Paul's Cathedral (London) for evensong. It wasn't the first time I'd been, nor was it the first time I'd been refused a seat in the quire. Why? "It's closed.... I mean it's full... er, just no" was the reply. In fact I've never been allowed to sit in the quire for evensong at St. Paul's, even though I've seen others being let in. This time was no different to the others - a strange experience of sitting under the dome, watching a group of people in the middle distance singing evensong, while I pretended to be part of the same congregation, and failed. It's not just a distance thing - it's partly sitting in a different part of the building, and partly that you can't really hear anything clearly unless put through the PA.

 

Anyway, afterwards - determined to at least see what the quire and organ cases looked like from close enough to see them in focus - I made my way around the nave altar and up the steps towards the quire rail. I hadn't even reached the top before someone shouted 'Move down from there now!'. I looked for riot police, but all I saw was a verger-type standing in the north aisle glaring at me, briefly distracted from the task of schmoozing with people leaving the quire by the aisle gate. I meekly walked off, and minutes later was herded at speed from the building by a beating party of guides and vergers.

 

Now, I've never been shouted at by a verger anywhere, let alone in a building as large and resonant as St. Paul's, and the fact remains that I don't know why, given that there were still people in front of me in the quire itself, standing around and chatting. Nor do I understand why I've never been allowed to sit in the quire - is there a secret password or handshake? But the biggest question I have is: why the attitude? In one of the most iconic places of worship in the country, why behave in such an unfriendly, dismissive, un-Christian way? Southwark is as intimate and friendly as a parish church, Westminster Cathedral is open to all without question, and even somewhere as posh as the Abbey greets evensong worshippers with courtesy and friendliness, and I've always been able to sit in the quire there. But at St. Paul's it seems to be too much to ask for a service sheet, let alone the chance to sit within half a mile of the choir, clergy and the more favoured congregation.

 

I like the building, the organ and choir are very good, and over the years they've turned out a good number of consistently excellent discs on Hyperion which I'm proud to own and listen to regularly. But set foot in that building again - no chance. I've not been that angry for a long time.

 

Shocking. I hope something can be done about this.

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I made one of my infrequest visits to London last Wednesday. I usually go to St Paul's for evensong but I have to admit this put me off. I recall the last time I went some months ago the verger was very reluctant to let me into the quire but relented at the last minute. All very strange.

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From this thread, I'm not quite clear why the Quire is/was off limits. Was it just full? Or does Nachthorn give the impression of being a bruiser? Or one of Al Qaeda's gang? ;)

 

Whatever the case it sounds as if the hospitality committee could certainly do with an overhaul there! Perhaps a case for the Mystery Visitor to explore further and reveal all on the Ship of Fools website? There is a question asked of the Mystery Visitor: "What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?" Now wouldn't that be interesting????

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From this thread, I'm not quite clear why the Quire is/was off limits. Was it just full? Or does Nachthorn give the impression of being a bruiser? Or one of Al Qaeda's gang? ;)

 

Whatever the case it sounds as if the hospitality committee could certainly do with an overhaul there! Perhaps a case for the Mystery Visitor to explore further and reveal all on the Ship of Fools website? There is a question asked of the Mystery Visitor: "What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?" Now wouldn't that be interesting????

 

I'm 6'5 tall but hope I don't look like a mugger. I recently had a fascinating conversation with someone who has good connections with St. Paul's, and I understand that one needs to 'look the part' to gain access the quire. Casual clothes, rucksack etc. will not get you in. Suit and tie probably will. The thing is, if I'm in London, it's usually on a day off, for the whole day, using public transport and a lot of walking, so I don't tend to don suit and waistcoat for the occasion. Rather than wear completely inappropriate clothes, St. Paul's are just going to have to do without me in the future :lol:

 

In this case I don't suppose either the bouncer/verger or I will lose any sleep over this, but at least my conscience is clear...

 

(In complete contrast, I spent a happy weekend at Salisbury with my choir, and the vergers and clergy there couldn't have been more friendly or helpful. Still, even then, another board member who came to Salisbury for evensong on Saturday was rather unwillingly 'moved on' after evensong before we had a chance to meet. Perhaps cathedrals just haven't come to terms with their dual status as place of worship and tourist attraction yet.)

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I'm 6'5 tall but hope I don't look like a mugger. I recently had a fascinating conversation with someone who has good connections with St. Paul's, and I understand that one needs to 'look the part' to gain access the quire. Casual clothes, rucksack etc. will not get you in. Suit and tie probably will.

That, I am afraid, is exactly what I was suspecting. Unbelievable! I can only suppose they regard sober dress as a requirement for showing due respect for God, but, really, in a tourist centre like London is that reasonable? Hasn't the Church ever heard of valuing diversity? Not in some places, evidently. I do not buy any argument that you were not excluded from the service, for, as you observed, away from the choir you cannot hear anything distinctly. Great PR.

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Just to add my contribution to this thread, earlier this year I was lucky enough to play in the Sunday afternoon series at St Paul's.

 

The music staff could not have been more kind and welcoming to me, from my first contact about 9 months before, until the actual weekend. I was welcomed to the console and told to stay there pretty much as long as I wanted into the evening. A model of how it should be done.

 

By contrast, I found the staff 'on the floor' to be abrupt and off - putting on several occasions, challenging me when I went downstairs to the toilet and almost turning my friends and family away on the day of the recital when they tried to enter the nave. My brother - a policeman - remarked on this obstructive and unhelpful attitude ; he had to push very hard to be admitted at all.

 

At first I was prepared to give the staff the benefit of the doubt. St Paul's is an enormous tourist attraction with many people passing through its doors who may be less than respectful of what it stands for. And, sadly, in these security conscious days it probably has to be extra careful about keeping track of all its visitors.

 

Having read this thread, though, I am not so sure. It is not the first time I have visited a cathedral where I have felt inclined to remind them that the ministry of hospitality is a very important part of the Christian message. For many people, dealing with the floor staff in this way may be their first and only encounter with what the gospel stands for in practice. A brusque attitude does our Lord no favours.

 

M

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A long time ago I was sitting, prior to Evensong, in a Cathedral church in the North. A lady came up to me and said "Excuse me, but that's my seat". I looked at her, slightly astonished, and she added "I'm Mrs ...................." (the wife of the Master of the Choristers)

 

That's what happened once at a Three Choirs Festival prior to a performance of Louis Spohr's Last Judgement. A lady was asked to move to another seat and replied: "This is my seat. I was sitting here for the Creation and I intend to remain in this seat for the Last Judgement."

;)

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That, I am afraid, is exactly what I was suspecting. Unbelievable! I can only suppose they regard sober dress as a requirement for showing due respect for God, but, really, in a tourist centre like London is that reasonable? Hasn't the Church ever heard of valuing diversity? Not in some places, evidently. I do not buy any argument that you were not excluded from the service, for, as you observed, away from the choir you canot hear anything distinctly. Great PR.

 

==================

 

Oh well, that's Jesus relegated to the nave then!

 

:blink:

 

MM

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I think it is a London thing. The sheer weight of vistor numbers-often comprising those whose first language is not English and who may not be wholly sensitive to the purpose of the building-leads to a hostile approach from the vergers.

 

Another factor to be considered in visting St Paul's and the Abbey on a Sunday are the Wandsmen and Honorary Stewards respectively. Having long experience of both, I have concluded that the Abbey Stewards are the more fearsome.

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At least they don't march up and down the nave during the (hour long) sermon and vigorously poke you in full view of everyone if they even think you look like you might be drifting off, like they do here in Congo. Though when the sermon is being amplified beyond the point of maximum distortion it's a bit hard to sleep in any case :blink:

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Have any of the contributors affected by the Cathedral staff emailed them regarding their experiences or showed them the discussion here? You never know it may be helpful if change is to be brought about.

Not directly, yet, but I don't know how seriously they might take 'online chatter', particularly as the attitude is hardly open and enquiring to begin with. Some elements, I believe, were informally passed on to someone at the cathedral, but possibly not the whole discussion.

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Last year year I had the fortune to play in Athens and before returning home squeezed in a magical time seeing the sights. I wandered into a tiny Greek Orthodox church next to the the Cathedral and sat admiring the interior. I just happened to rather nonchalantly sit looking upwards and crossed one foot over the other at the ankle. I was the only person there other than a young man in his early 20's who was the custodian. Before I could take another breath I was frog-matched from the building having been told off in no uncertain terms saying that this was a church and not a café and that it was an insult to sit in such a manner.

 

Best wishes,

N

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Hmmm, that sounds a bit physical.

 

Nothing like that at Salisbury the other day, but there was a distinct atmosphere conveyed somehow that we were bordering on being personae non grata for sitting and listening to the post-Evensong voluntary on a Saturday, and they'd all be happier if we were outside the cathedral.

 

At my own church I have had twice to remonstrate with the temporal authorities when they have turned the lights off whilst I was playing the voluntary. Possibly a hint, but normally it's fine.

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