Latin Mass at the Church of the Holy Name, Manchester

First off, apologies. It has been almost 2 weeks since I’ve made an update. The reason for this is I have recently had my FINAL EVER EXAM! But although I have  been pretty slack with updating due to revision, panic, the exam itself and post-exam (alcohol related) stress, I have still managed to visit a number of different Churches in the mean time. This means that I have a few visits that I need to write about, but, unlike Jesus, I will keep first things first and last things last.

Any students at the University of Manchester will be familiar with the Catholic Church of the Holy Name. It is situated just across the road from the Student’s Union and (unsurprisingly) just next to the Catholic Chaplaincy. It’s the one that looks like some kind of gothic cathedral which attracts hunchbacks and Disney film makers, and is the largest church in Manchester, quite a lot larger than the Anglican Cathedral in the center of town.

Great Disney's Frozen Brain!

One of the reasons I was keen to go here is, as noted in my review of St Peter’s, I suffer from a number of preconceptions about Roman Catholics. I felt I should test out whether any of these were true, and I thought that the only way I could really learn what Roman Catholicism was like was to experience its worship. Never one for just dipping my toe in, I decided to attend the Latin Extraordinary Mass, diving into the metaphorical deep end while trying not to bang my head on the bottom. Latin Mass was common practice for thousands of years, but has been somewhat abandoned since the 1960s after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

I arrived about an hour before the service and looked around the magnificent church, reading the stories of the saints and attempting to gain an insight into Catholic spirituality. This was one of the things that helped me get over my slightly iconoclastic doubts  about having statues and the like in church. The other thing was my Catholic friend describing them as “Holy Power Rangers.” She’s definitely going to purgatory for that one.

The Church itself is ridiculously beautiful, easily the most magnificent one I’ve been to in Manchester, the scale of it alone is jaw-dropping. Walking around I saw a collection of bones, which I think were relics of a saint, and they also had a shrine to John Henry Newman, the English convert to Catholicism who was the reason that the pope visited Britain last year. I also read a number of booklets and leaflets on issues such as death & dying, evolution, Buddhism and was surprised to find myself in agreement with a lot of what they said. 

I studied Latin at school and so I was quite used to hearing it being used and speaking it myself. Dominus, Nostrum, Ecce Romani, it just adds authority to what you say. A schoolmate even got “Ubi in Roma?” (when in Rome) tattooed onto his buttocks in an attempt to  quote Will Ferrell, but apparently he got the tense wrong. All of these expectations built the service up in my head, and I felt disappointed by how it actually went.

The service instructions were spread between a book and a sheet, and the sheet had some photocopied instructions on it, as well as a lot of jargon which I didn’t really understand. Which bit was the mass? How did everyone know when to stand, when to sit and when to kneel? I’m guessing telepathy, because the scruffily photocopied sheet really wasn’t very helpful and the priest was speaking Latin so quickly that it sounded like he was in a very old-fashioned rap battle.

The main thing I didn’t like was the lack of participation I felt. Most of the service was just the priests kneeling in front of the altar, looking away from the congregation and speaking Latin- I think it should be obvious why I didn’t feel involved. There was no call-and-response liturgy, no hymns, in fact the only time the congregation got to say anything was to recite the Hail Mary, which wasn’t even on the service sheet so I just stood there like a lemon. It definitely felt like the priests were more important than me, and I felt more like a spectator than someone engaging in worship. Just because I’m not a cloistered celibate doesn’t mean I don’t want to speak in Church! The priest afterward addressed the congregation in English. I was kind of expecting a bit of teaching or a reflection on the Gospel that had been read out (in Latin), but it was an exhortation for people to stop stealing the service booklets.

Although I think the church is astoundingly beautiful, and I hope I gained some small understanding of Catholic worship, Mass really wasn’t for me. I like taking Communion, but it isn’t necessarily the most important part of worship for me, I dislike singing cheesy worship music but doing something with my lips apart from chowing down on Jesus would have been nice, and having the people leading the worship facing away from me did feel a little unimportant. I think I will have to check out one of the student masses, which apparently are a bit more intimate. Until then, I wouldn’t really recommend this church for any Protestant-but-curious people in Manchester.

 

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Metropolitan Community Church, Chorlton

The Metropolitan Community Church is certainly one that superficially seems to be different from most other churches, yet at the same time I realized that these differences were only skin deep. MCC is a UK wide group of churches that are specifically intended for LGBT people. If you’re not down with your politically correct lingo, that means Lesbian, Bi, Gay and Trans people. This rather unique selling point intrigued me; a lot of Churches are accepting of gay people, but this is the only one which is “LGBT focussed.” That of course doesn’t mean that straight people aren’t welcome there. As soon as I walked in I was welcomed with a “nice to see you again,” which rather bemused me as I had never been there before. Maybe I have an evangelical doppelgänger,  going round all the churches in Manchester and giving them bad reviews. A quick google for “evil churchshopper” reveals nothing. But I digress.

Such a warm, welcoming building.

Despite the building looking more like a fortress than a house of worship, inclusion was definitely something I noticed when I sat down. Draped over the lectern was a white cloth with the message: “Faith Without Fear – Passion Without Prejudice – Holiness Without Hatred – You are welcome here.” I don’t think I’m saying anything radical here when I say that Christianity hasn’t always treated LGBT people particularly well. Churches in Africa are supporting anti-gay legislation, and closer to home the celibate theologian Jeffrey John was blocked from becoming Bishop of Southwark by his friend the Archbishop of Canterbury because of his sexual orientation. It is for these reasons it is warming to see there being a safe space for LGBT Christians. It would have been easy for a persecution complex to have developed at the MCC and for gay rights to have been all they are interested in, but this also was not the case. I found a rather traditional church in rather non-traditional garb.

The sermon, ably delivered, was about the importance of faith, and there was reference to the faith of the community members in still wanting to worship God, even though many of them had been rejected by traditional churches and stigmatised by anti-Christian members of the LGBT community. There were a number of readings, all read by different people, but the thing that grabbed my attention was  the singing. The congregation was about 40 strong, but it was louder than if there were 100! It felt like everyone really was belting out the hymns, although it might also have been related to the higher proportion of men than in most churches. The communion wine was non-alcoholic and the bread was gluten-free “so that everyone can be included” which was considerate, although the wine tasted rather nasty in my opinion. For after service coffee they provided really creamy cappuccinos as well as the more common tea-and-biscuits combo. I spoke a number of the elders, one of whom showed me around the school hall like predecessor of St Ninian’s.

I would recommend MCC if you are one of my LGBT readers (I know there are a few of you) or if you simply are looking for somewhere inclusive, vibrant yet deeply liturgical to worship on Sunday afternoons in Chorlton.

Easter Special pt1 Platt Holy Trinity

The title I’ve chosen for this post is a bit boring, but you should know that I resisted the temptation to call this post the “Ecclesiastical Easter Eggstravaganza”. While I’m fairly sure that would have come across as ironic, given the amount of awful puns I’ve heard to do with Easter I wouldn’t blame you for thinking you were reading The Sun. [edit: I realize this post is now a week late and the Easter festivities have passed, but I have now submitted my final 12000 word dissertation. 750 words were footnotes.]

Easter weekend has been a busy one for me. Not only did I go to church 3 times, but I also got a lot of work done on my dissertation, and went to the cinema with my family.  3 times in 2 days is a whole lotta church, but that is the burden the blogger has to bear. I was actually only intending to go twice, but nefarious circumstances prevailed and took me to what has to be the WORST CHURCH EVER (and thats a pretty bold claim.) More on that later.

Like the passion narrative, I’m gonna do this chronologically.

Easter Friday at Platt Holy Trinity:

I’ve been simultaneously meaning-to-go and trying-to-avoid Platt church for quite a while. It has a reputation for attracting a certain puritanical type of Christian. Thats not a bad thing, I just don’t consider myself to be that type. A friend of mine who is an excellent scholar used to go there, and after attending bible studies for a while, was asked to lead one as her academic knowledge could have something to offer the group. She went for a meeting with the head pastor, so they could check she was “on-message”. They said that she couldn’t lead the group, not because she was a heretic, or a fundamentalist liberal, but because she had a non-Christian boyfriend.  She stopped going shortly after.

My experience at Platt was a bit less personal, and a bit more positive. I arrived there on friday afternoon, walking through Platt Fields park, which was ridiculously beautiful. I went inside and took a seat at the back. Its a beautiful church, much nicer than any of the evangelical churches i’ve been to in the past. To be honest, I think Platt can actually be summed up by the word “nice”. Everyone was very smiley, the hymns were uplifting, the sermon was inoffensive. All of this would be an advert for the place if it weren’t for the fact that we were celebrating the torture, torment, and murder of the cruxified son of God! Everything just had a sheen over it, I swear I saw people’s teeth glinting in the sunlight like in a commercial for toothpaste. While in Christianity the crucifixion of Jesus is a positive thing, there was just something a little bit superficial about the whole experience for me. Faith isn’t about some kind of false sense of security that makes everything in the world “tickety-boo”, it means engaging with the problems of the world with your own set of guidelines. While joy should be central to worship, no one is in a positive emotional state all the time, and happines should not be seen as the only emotion that you are allowed to express.

The service was supposedly a “meditation on the cross”. As someone who has done a bit of meditation here and there, there was none at Platt, but the service was focussed around the cross in that there was one at the front of the church. There was a reading of Matthew’s passion narrative, which tells the story of the death of Jesus, and a few hymns played on piano. Matthew’s passion narrative features the famous arahmaic saying of Jesus ” Eloi Eloi Lama Sabacthani”, or “Father, Father, why have you forsaken me?” One of the most challenging passages of the bible, and the system of a down song, but I’m not sure I feel Platt did it justice. They mentioned the suffering of Jesus, but I couldn’t help but feel a little passion wouldn’t have been misplaced. The hymns were better than I expected too, although I suffered from an instinctive cringe when the girl in front of me put her hands in the air during the crescendo of one of them. I don’t know why, but I’m happy to raise my hands in the air at a concert, but in church it just seems a little wierd to me. Maybe its the style of worship I’m accustomed to, or maybe its the repressed Englishman trying to get break his way out.

Platt is somewhere you should go if you want to be happy. It is very “middle England” and there is nothing wrong with that. If you like your Jesus with a side of acoustic guitar and dock-shoes, then I would recommend Platt. The congretation is friendly, there was a lot of reading of the bible and they put Jesus into easily understood terms. I feel I may go back to Platt on another sunny morning when I need cheering up. It does, however, have a little-too-perfect sheen that any recovering cynic will find a little distasteful.

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St Chad’s, Fallowfield

While I was browsing the Church of England website in my quest for a church, it gave me the (perhaps unsurprising) advice to visit my local parish church, as well as a link for finding it: http://www.achurchnearyou.com/

So I decided to visit St Chad’s Ladybarn, a building I have walked past many times on the way to the shops. I knew nothing about it, except that they once hosted a concert by the Greater Manchester Police Male Voice Choir.  So at 10 o’clock Sunday morning I entered this big red-brick Victorian church.

I think I must have brought the average age down significantly! Most people looked about 50+ with the possible exception of the reader. The majority of the congregation were women too, so I can now see why people stereotype the church of England as being full of old ladies! (although I probably wouldn’t use that term myself).

The worship was quite traditional, described to me later as ‘liberal catholic’, which I think means they like taking Communion but don’t like the Pope. There were a lot of read/response  type of liturgies, which allows people to worship by reaction in my opinion.  If you are used to hearing a phrase and then responding to it the same way every weekend, then it doesn’t really make you think about the things you are saying. For example, at school we had to say grace before and after every  meal, three times a day. I was at my school for 7 years, which, assuming I was at school half of the year, means I would have said this particular grace at least 3832 times, but I cannot for the life of me remember what it was!

That aside, the hymns were some of the best I’ve ever heard, and there was a lady in the choir who voice that was both beautiful and booming. One in particular, called “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy” stuck in my head. The lyrics go:

1. There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.

2. There is no place where earth’s sorrows
Are more felt than up in Heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings
Have such kindly judgment given.

3. There is welcome for the sinner,
And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior;
There is healing in His blood.

4. There is grace enough for thousands
Of new worlds as great as this;
There is room for fresh creations
In that upper home of bliss.

5. For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.

6. There is plentiful redemption
In the blood that has been shed;
There is joy for all the members
In the sorrows of the Head.

While the language is quite antiquated, the sentiment blew me away. Too many churches are  exclusive about who they think will get be saved, many think only Christians, some only protestants, a few only evangelicals, but here we were gathered in worship singing that “the love of God is broader than the measure of the mind”.  I wonder if Emo Phillips, the wierd and wonderful 70s comedian, would have written his “heretic” joke, voted the best religion joke of all time, if he had heard it.

I was moved enough by the singing that I decided to take part in the Eucharist. Normally I would just stand around looking awkward while everyone lined up to ritualistically consume flesh (I’m vegetarian), but I figured that since it supposedly transforms into meat without any animal suffering I could suspend my principles just this once. The priest spent what seemed like an age blessing the Eucharist, before people started queuing up. While I felt the symbolic importance of the act, and it was certainly moving, I was quite surprised and disappointed by how un-bread-like the bread was. Somehow “eat this dull tasting wafer in remembrance of me” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

When I got a bit confused about how to follow the sermon (there were at least 4 different books/sheets to read from) the man standing behind me gave a bit of friendly advice. The friendliness of the congregation was really remarkable. I came along on my own, the Church Shopper’s burden, but left having had at least 5 different people introduce themselves to me, even though I’m sure I stuck out like a sore thumb, as I am niether old nor a lady. I even bumped into one of my lecturers. He is quite a wacky character and it was nice having a cup of tea with him after the service and hearing him describe parish life. As an example of his eccentricity, I asked him if he had ever considered ordination, and he said “Yes, but I have a feeling I might enjoy it too much”. I said “particularly representing Christ at the Eucharist?” and he laughed so hard that he coughed a little bit, and replied “that sounds like something I should get printed on a t-shirt, ‘I am theomorphic!'”. (Ed. Theomorphic means in the form of God. Catholics believe that when consecrating the Eucharist the priest represents Christ. This is a common argument against having women priests, even used by Ann Widdecombe, as they apparently cannot fully represent Christ, because Jesus was a man. This of course begs the question of why priests don’t have to be Jewish, Galilean, or 30.)

I had a really great time at St Chad’s. The music was great, the congregation was friendly, even if the liturgy was a bit too ritualistic for me. I will definately remember it as the place I had my first communion, and may pop back if I’m ever in a rush to go to church, as it is literally 5 minutes walk from my house. They don’t really have much in the way of engagement with students, as their midweek services tend to consist of morning prayers and eucharists, although one man mentioned a study group to me, but this isn’t listed on their website. Check it out if you live in Fallowfield and want to see your local C of E church and want what I would call your typical parish worship experience.

The Church Shopper

http://www.stchadladybarn.org.uk/