Comments: opinion

So Richard Moy thinks all cathedrals should be like HTB or All Souls' Langham Place where nothing is left to the imagination, but spelled out in unequivocal terms. From this, good Lord deliver us! Deliver us, too, from the 'God Squad' getting their hands on our cathedrals. Who says they are not engaging people? Liturgy in cathedrals draws people in different ways and for different reasons; and who is he to question - or define - the faith and (sorry to use this word) discipleship of a tourist? Some of them may be curious pilgrims, at a different place on the journey of faith. This is a classic case of an Evangelical stumbling across worship in Durham and St Paul's and not liking it because it is challenging in its fundamentally different assumptions from the 'teaching' focus of so much Evangelical worship.

Here's hoping an intelligent and reflective like Michael Sadgrove will rise to the challenge of responding to Richard Moy's blog. It's just like going in to an Indian take-away and complaining that you can't get chow mein!

Posted by Will Richards at Saturday, 6 June 2015 at 5:55pm BST

Caroline Spelman obviously thinks supporting Foodbanks is a good thing, whereas her government (with previously wooden leg support of Liberal Democrats) is their reason for existence. Typical Tory blinkered vision.

Posted by Pluralist at Saturday, 6 June 2015 at 6:07pm BST

Brilliant, Giles Fraser. If Giles' friend returns (as I'm hopeful he will) I'd recommend Giles read David Malouf's poem "The Brothers: Morphine & Death" with him. Space precludes me from typing it here.

Posted by Pam at Saturday, 6 June 2015 at 11:05pm BST

Kevin's response was wonderfully balanced and well-reasoned.

God meets people in their hearts and souls through all kinds of mysterious means.

At the same time, it is probably fair to wonder whether the tone and culture of some cathedrals is over-'ecclesiastical' and in some ways privileged.

I guess my experience at Occupy outside St Paul's epitomised it for me.

That situation just begged for some imaginative thinking. Inclusion was desperately needed, to align the Church with all people, not just City sponsors.

It would have cost little to invite five or ten tents to be pitched *inside* the Cathedral, and it would have sent such a positive message.

I totally agree that cathedrals offer the chance to 'worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness'. However, I still think some cathedrals can feel detached and elitist, and part of a privileged establishment.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Sunday, 7 June 2015 at 8:07am BST

If I remember correctly, Charles Simeon, the precursor of evangelicals in the Church of England, was converted while an undergraduate at the Eucharist in Kings College Chapel, Cambridge on Easter Day in the late eighteenth century. I somehow doubt, in that context and at that time, that it was the sermon that did the trick.

Posted by Jeremy Pemberton at Sunday, 7 June 2015 at 9:48am BST

"I still think some cathedrals can feel detached and elitist, and part of a privileged establishment" @ Susannah Clark. I have to say that is not my experience - equally at Sheffield as at Salisbury. We have to recognise that many people want a degree of anonymity, want more of God than they do so-called notions of 'community' and want to be able to come and go without being press-ganged to join the flower rota the moment they walk through the door. They actually cherish not being 'welcomed' and undergo self-disclosure; but being given space to grow into the church's worship at their own pace.

The irony in Richard Moy's rather ill-informed blog (he has one model of the church and doesn't get that there are many others) is that the standard of preaching in our cathedrals far exceeds what can be heard in most parish churches (just look at the Durham, St Paul's, Salisbury and York websites for starters). Where preaching naturally belongs in cathedral liturgy it is invariably excellent. But a sermon at every choral evensong? I think not. Just let the liturgy tell its own story and work its own mysterious and glorious grace. Otherwise, what next: a sermon at Nine lessons and Carols; a sermon at the Advent or Epiphanytide procession? Good Lord, deliver us, indeed!

Posted by James A at Sunday, 7 June 2015 at 8:03pm BST

Richard Moy's blog reminds me of something my nephew (in his mid 20s) said a couple of years ago. He was moving to the North to begin a job and would be living just outside Leeds. He looked at the website of one nearby cathedral and watched a youtube clip, obviously designed to appeal to new worshippers, where a woman in her 60s or 70s told everyone "We're not like other cathedrals... we're a friendly cathedral!" My nephew rang me up after seeing it and asked if there was no-where left in the Church of England where he could go to worship without well-meaning people compelling all-comers to become 'one of them'?

It's all very well for clergy with notions of church which are built on 'family' and 'fellowship' and 'discipleship' to dis the way cathedrals worship. But they forget that this is what has led to 35% growth over the past decade (pause while the usual suspects rush to their keyboards to tell us this is all rubbish...). The fact is that there are more people out there than we realise who want to encounter the 'Mysterium Tremendens et Fascinans' of which Rudlph Otto wrote so compellingly. This is as much part of mission as any number of Alpha courses.

Posted by Tom Marshall at Sunday, 7 June 2015 at 8:19pm BST

Jeremy, you do not remember correctly about Charles Simeon. His gradual conversion began when he was informed that as a Cambridge undergrad he would be required to take communion at certain set times of the year. 'Conscience told me that Satan was as fit to receive as I'. Thus began a process of searching, reading, studying and praying that culminated in his coming to believe that through the substitutionary atonement all his sins had been laid on Christ, and he needed only to put his faith in him to receive forgiveness. You can find the full story at

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Monday, 8 June 2015 at 2:25am BST

"I guess my experience at Occupy outside St Paul's epitomised it for me."

The response of the various cathedrals to the Occupy movement was illustrative for me as well, as a Tractarian cautionary tale. At the original Occupy Wall Street, bishops and clergy of the Episcopal Church, with its American voluntarist polity, were on the front lines. At St Paul's, with its established church tradition, the Church duly did its job defending the establishment, and the occupiers were shut out.

In Canada, which mingles the two, the responses were similarly mingled. (In Toronto, relations with the cathedral were initially friendly, if a source of some mutual bemusement, but ultimately the diocese chose not to get in the way when the city moved to evict the camp. In Montréal, synod passed a supportive motion and some members went out on a goodwill visit to the site during a recess).

"coming to believe ... the substitutionary atonement"

Oh dear, and we commemorate this man as a saint in the Anglican Church of Canada!

Posted by Geoff McLarney at Monday, 8 June 2015 at 7:49am BST

you may also be interested in the response from the Dean of Liverpool Pete Wilcox

Posted by Paul Rattigan at Monday, 8 June 2015 at 8:56am BST

In agreement with Jeremy and 'nevertheless' for Tim...

modern (?) evangelicals often forget - or never knew about - our evangelical history. If one may count Simeon and Wesley as forerunners of modern evangelicalism, it needs to be remembered that in those days Anglican evangelicals were sacramentalists. Wesley regarded Holy Communion as a converting ordinance (no doubt because he thought the BCP service set out the doctrine of justification by grace clearly rather than because of any numinous issues!) In this appreciation of the importance of the eucharist, he was not alone. Simeon preached sermon series on the BCP liturgy (recently reprinted in part in a Joint Liturgical Study by Andrew Atherstone). Chris Cocksworth wrote his PhD on this - published as Evangelical Eucharistic Thought in the Church of England (1993).

Many of the good Fresh Expressions are rediscovering the numinous as a channel for people to meet God - not unconnected with the growth in cathedral worship. Many evangelical churches are too in fact - but clearly not all!

Posted by Charles Read at Monday, 8 June 2015 at 10:12am BST

It's clear that Richard Moy has touched a nerve, and it's good that we should reflect and discuss the place of preaching, in cathedrals and elsewhere.

A choral evensong is certainly not a 'revival service' at the local Pentecostal church, and isn't the place for a long sermon. But are there not times when the readings or other aspect of the worship cries out for a short reflection, which may help people to make connections with our world and wider experience?

At the moment in our church we have a Quaker who comes regularly along to our morning prayer in our village church. I am of evangelical churchmanship but am very comfortable letting the service 'do the work', and she appreciates I think that I do allow times of quiet and reflection. But sharing worship with a convinced pacifist makes me very aware of times when a blood-curdling reading needs a little bit of 'translation', or wider context - or other times when the readings speaks powerfully in situations - global or otherwise. It feels right at times to make a few comments or stop for a short discussion to help people 'join the dots'. Is this really so outrageous?

(Can I also take issue with James A's comment about the standard of preaching being better at cathedrals than elsewhere? That's not just because of the degree of cherry-picking that cathedrals can do, but also because of the vital importance of context - a grand sermon at the cathedral may be wildly inappropriate for the good folk on the estate down the road. In cathedral preaching one necessarily has to use generalisations - and it can be all rather Radio 4.

But when a preacher lives in a local community, preaching to people they know and love deeply, who know him and love him or her deeply as well, in spite of their flaws - is that not the platform for far greater preaching?

And one final thought - many cathedrals demand a script and time limit - not much good if one's tradition allows for the Holy Spirit to move in preaching in a more spontaneous fashion).

Posted by Peter K+ at Monday, 8 June 2015 at 12:44pm BST

At the time, I too was dismayed by the St Paul's response to Occupy London, but with hindsight, I've changed my mind.

Occupy pitched tents on St Paul's land without the church's permission, and then refused to leave when asked to do so by the cathedral chapter. That refusal cost the church thousands in revenue. It's a clear-cut case of trespass, and even if it wasn't, it ignored St Paul's wishes. That's no way to treat your hosts, especially unwilling hosts.

Posted by James Byron at Monday, 8 June 2015 at 6:53pm BST

Dear Tim and Charles,

I am glad to read Evan Hopkins account again after many years - so thank you for pointing me to it. I think it does confirm that 4th April 1779 in Kings College Chapel was a critical moment for Simeon.

Nevertheless, I agree that his start there was not the end. And in a way he is not that dissimilar from Dr Johnson, a man of very different stripe in his spiritual uncertainties and hopes and fears. People these days don't think in the way that they did - you might wish they did, but that kind of language for the uncertainties of spiritual existence and the way peole manage it are gone.

My point was really simply to say that, however Simeon came to faith and sustained that faith, it was not because of a five minute homily in a church or cathedral. Reading what you pointed me to, Tim, I was particularly struck by Simeon's emphasis on the sacrament and its importance - and, I think, its converting power.

In an age of short attention spans, and where we receive and process information visually and auditorily through a multitude of sources a short homily may be part of the process of discovery for some, but my experience of most preaching is that it is not good enough to be helpful. Panti Bliss's astonishingly compelling speech at the Abbey theatre gives you a sense of what kind of talking will move people these days. If you have never seen it look at The best ten minute sermon I have probably ever heard. Personal, passionate, funny, with a great clear message at its heart. I think it deserves to be studied in sermon classes across the country.

Posted by Jeremy Pemberton at Tuesday, 9 June 2015 at 6:15am BST

What could possibly take us nearer to God than Choral Evensong from the Book of Common Prayer sung in one of our great cathedrals?

Posted by Father David at Tuesday, 9 June 2015 at 6:17am BST

@Father David: I can think of a few things:
Midweek Holy Communion celebrated reverently with a handful of folk in the side chapel of any ordinary parish church.
The retelling of Christ's Passion, death and resurrection over the course of Holy Week and Easter, anywhere a group of believers gather to do it.
Silent prayer in an otherwise empty church while the priest is chanting the Benedictus.

Evensong can be a beautiful service that draws us close to God, but it is not the only or necessarily the best way of doing that.

Posted by Jo at Tuesday, 9 June 2015 at 7:46am BST

"What could possibly take us nearer to God than Choral Evensong from the Book of Common Prayer sung in one of our great cathedrals?"

Why a 45 minute sermon on either Penal Substitution or on the importance of preaching! Obvious innit?

Meanwhile in the real church... I notice that Richard Moy's church is reopening a closed church nearby. It is to have a 24/7 prayer space - so he is clearly not innocent of the numinous.

My problem with the HTB approach (I think Richard is coming from that angle) is that it misses such a lot of possibilities. I am a great supporter of preaching (done well) but more existential, experiential and numinous ways into and through faith are there too. The irony is that many evangelicals who have been affected by charismatic renewal have then discovered ritual, silence, other numinous stuff. That would describe my faith journey. Clearly not all evangelicals - even charismatic ones -have gone on this journey. But many have - it hinges I think on being open to meeting God in an experiential way. If you can meet God in e.g. exuberant praise or singing in tongues why not via incense, ritual, choral music etc?

The people who struggle with this tend to be the conservative evangelicals who distrust feelings - so they do not like charismatic, catholic or feminist spirituality as all these are too positive about feelings! Hence preaching is the thing as it is cerebral and certain (they think).

To complicate matters, these folk don't like HTB and Alpha as it is too positive about feelings / experience!

Posted by Charles Read at Tuesday, 9 June 2015 at 9:11am BST

Charles Read's response (read immediately after Pete Wilcox's excellent response to Richard Moy) hits the nail on the head for me. Not only are cathedrals growing at the rate Tom Marshall cites; but so are charismatic evangelical congregations. Why? because they offer an experience. The rational, one-dimensional nature of 'Protestant' (to use a general term) worship, with its emphasis on the written and spoken word, is going to be of limited use in a visually, aurally and experientially centred world. Instead of a brief encounter with an act of worship in a cathedral which didn't tick his boxes. Richard Moy should have returned repeatedly, to experience, the space, the sights, the sounds, at different times. He would then have sensed that cathedral worship is 'caught' rather than 'taught.' Why must we have to understand everything on first encounter? Our forebears in the 4th and 5th centuries might have told us to experience worship first; and only then reflect on its significance.

Posted by Simon R at Tuesday, 9 June 2015 at 10:00am BST

"What could possibly take us nearer to God than Choral Evensong from the Book of Common Prayer sung in one of our great cathedrals?"

For my money Prayer Book Evensong in a village church - finished with a good 8 minute sermon ;-)

Posted by Peter K+ at Tuesday, 9 June 2015 at 10:58am BST

I agree in part with Simon R, but the one part I'd pick up on is that charismatic congregations and others are growing because the faith is both caught AND taught. Alpha and other courses during the week - and on-going home groups - are a vital part of faith-building, friendship and fellowship for many in the life of churches of evangelical & charismatic persuasion.

It's not unusual for people to spend years coming along to nurture groups before they come to church regularly on a Sunday - indeed some never do, but stay loyal members of their group.

It's these different dimensions and contact points that I think are so important in growing people in their faith journey.

Better crack on, but I've enjoyed this discussion ;-)

Posted by Peter K+ at Tuesday, 9 June 2015 at 11:51am BST

Some good suggestions to bring us "Nearer my God to thee".
At the moment I am on Retreat on Iona and I can tell you, I feel pretty close to the Almighty on this holy Isle.

Posted by Father David at Tuesday, 9 June 2015 at 3:05pm BST

Some good suggestions to bring us "Nearer my God to thee".
At the moment I am on Retreat on Iona and I can tell you, I feel pretty close to the Almighty on this holy Isle.

Posted by Father David at Tuesday, 9 June 2015 at 6:45pm BST

"What could possibly take us nearer to God than Choral Evensong from the Book of Common Prayer sung in one of our great cathedrals?"

The answer to that question will vary from individual to individual, so to absolutize one person's experience seems dangerous to me.

Personally I feel a lot nearer to God on a mountain trail in Jasper National Park than I ever have at Evensong in a cathedral (where I'm mostly frustrated because they don't sing chants I'm familiar with so I can't join in). I'd also add Thursday mornings at 7 a.m., when a group of men from our church have gathered for years at a local coffee shop for an hour of Bible study. Many times over the years I've experienced what C.S. Lewis called 'the heart singing unbidden' while we've been discussing the scriptures together. And then last Sunday I had the privilege of participating in a very informal service attended by about ten addicts, ex-cons, people with mental illnesses etc. at a street ministry in Saint John, New Brunswick. When those people prayed, very simply, from the heart, I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in a way I've rarely felt it anywhere else.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Tuesday, 9 June 2015 at 9:27pm BST

Jeremy, you said of Simeon, 'Nevertheless, I agree that his start there was not the end'.

I think my point rather was the opposite: that his end there was not the start. The process began many months before, and involved a good deal of wrestling with sin, unworthiness, the meaning of the atonement etc.

I note also that he started from a framework which taught him that he needed to prepare himself to receive the sacrament. In other words, he experienced Christian liturgy in the context of a theological understanding that was a part of the culture of his day.

My own experience with unchurched people today is very different. I have invited a number of my unchurched friends to services at our church, which are normally communion services. I've been surprised by the number of people who are repelled by the 'Body and Blood' imagery. "You want me to do what?" "You want me to bring my children here regularly?"

I'm sure there are some people who are converted intuitively, through the power of God reaching out to them in the sacrament. I'm equally sure that there are others who need the ministry of the Word to give them the framework for understanding.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Tuesday, 9 June 2015 at 9:35pm BST

Thank you Tim for introducing me to the word "absolutize" which I shall now file in my memory bank alongside "prioritize" and "missional".
Where are we nearer to God to? Indeed Tim, that depends upon the person. As John Junor once so memorably said
"I don't know, but I think we should be told"
When leaving a previous parish a kindly couple presented me with a stone birdbath surmounted by a dove which bore the verse from Dorothy Frances Gurney's poem - "God's Garden"
"The kiss of the sun for pardon
The song of the birds for mirth
One is nearer God's heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth"
Again, as John Junor once so memorably said -
"Pass the sick bag, Alice"
However, having said that "the song of the birds" here on Iona has several times undoubtedly been "the cause of the heart singing unbidden". To see the puffins on Staffa and to hear the sky lark, the oyster catcher and above all, the rare raucous call of the corncrake is certainly a most God given experience,

Posted by Father David at Wednesday, 10 June 2015 at 6:12am BST

The Lion of the North has roared and the Dean of Durham has responded to Richard Moy's OTT criticism.
What a great loss Michael Sadgrove will be when he retires from his Dunelm Decanal stall in September.

Posted by Father David at Thursday, 11 June 2015 at 5:49am BST

Surely one of the points of a Retreat should be to get away from all the fire and fury of TA (which often drives me mad(der))?

The Dean of Durham will indeed be a great loss.

Glad you're having a wonderful time.

Posted by John at Thursday, 11 June 2015 at 2:35pm BST

But John, how would I know what and who to pray for while on Retreat if I didn't keep up with all the strum und drang on the TA Blog?

Posted by Father David at Thursday, 11 June 2015 at 5:38pm BST

But John, how would I know what and who to pray for while on Retreat if I didn't keep up with all the strum und drang on the TA Blog?

Posted by Father David at Thursday, 11 June 2015 at 5:38pm BST
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