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123: St Paul's Cathedral, London
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St Paul's Cathedral, London
Mystery Worshipper: Calvin and Hobbes.
The church: St Paul's Cathedral, London.
Denomination: Church of England.
The building: Built by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London (work started in 1675), its dome is a famous and prominent feature of the London skyline.
The neighbourhood: Surrounded by the City of London and situated just next to a shop selling the sort of gifts that relatives don't want but always get after someone's great UK tour.
The cast: "The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury – The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Dr George Carey" – to quote from the order of worship.
What was the name of the service?
Millenium Service for England to welcome the year 2000.

How full was the building?
Full. Perhaps 10 or so seats were left empty.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, the person who answered the door at the wheelchair entrance and let us into the lift. Because we were bringing a wheelchair, we were given special reserved seats with our names on them – the other people to get that treatment included the Queen, Prince Philip and Tony Blair. Even the police only got "P.O." on their chairs, to quote one of the stewards.

Was your pew comfortable?
The chairs weren't too bad. Calvin's wheelchair was tolerable, as usual.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet, considering the number of people in the building. We were in a side aisle playing spot the dignitaries as the innumerable processions (OK, four) went past. The Orthodox leaders had impressive beards and hats to rival the Queen.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We come as the people of God, rejoicing in the story of his love, his coming among us in Christ Jesus, and the faith alive in our hearts."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A specially prepared order of worship, which had the lion and unicorn crest picked out in gold, to match our souvenir gilt-edged invitations, presumably.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, synth, drums, clarinet, brass, woodwind and lots of choirs.

Did anything distract you?
The long list of processions, 20-minutes worth, which we imagined would be incredibly dull but then weren't. Later, we were distracted by the television camera which bobbed around less than a metre away from us as the children's choir was singing.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Modern Anglican, which means fairly old-fashioned with a few concessions to modern culture, such as the children's choir and some contemporary classical pieces. The theme of the service was "A New Start", which was not reflected in the choice of hymns, which were almost all ancient and obvious.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
9 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – given his reputation for being worthy but dull, Dr Carey was surprisingly good.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The Beatitudes, which may seem topsy-turvy but are right after all, and that the virtues we should all have are love and faith. He suggested that faith should not "float in a nebulous ether"... although we thought that this was a nebulous way to put it.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The fanfares by Harrison Birtwhistle, which seemed to be trying to be Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra, and were named "2000 I" and "2000 II ". Majestic, dissonant and played from a gallery in the dome of the cathedral, the sound was fantastic.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Calvin was seriously unimpressed with Ben Okri's reading of an extract from one of his novels. He massacred the sentences, put stresses in really odd places and proved the motto that "writers are the worst people to read their own work".

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
On our way out, as we whizzed down the south transept, we passed a huddle of clergymen, and the Purple One himself, George Carey, looked up and said, "happy new year!" Meanwhile, at the wheelchair exit, the lift had broken down through overuse and they were threatening to carry us downstairs. We bolted for the main door instead and terrified a steward by heading right to the edge of the steps with the wheelchair. Calvin climbed out of it, linked arms with a friend and walked regally to the bottom of the steps while the crowds of tourists parted and seemed to form an honour guard lining the route.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Nothing. Not a coffee bean in sight. One can only assume they wanted to kick everyone out quickly so they could start fleecing tourists a.s.a.p.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2. Not really an option, unless you intend to be a "once a millennium" Christian. St Paul's generally would be a little too pompous to be taken seriously as a regular worship venue.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Hobbes found some bits exhilarating: singing "To Be a Pilgrim", the extraordinary modern fanfares, and the well-crafted responsorial prayers. The service didn't make Calvin feel glad to be an Anglican.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The line in the sermon about us being called to be the image of the creating God.
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