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Hallo again to all.

Wakefield CathedralFor better or for worse, we've traveled to a great many places around the world. Whether for business, for family, for holiday, or as part of some uncategorizable endeavour, there have been entirely too many airplanes, trains, and ships beneath our feet in past decades. (There have been entirely too many past decades, but that's another tale.) As we've mentioned here from time to time, it is our Way to find an Anglican church in each distant place and to attend its main service on Sunday morning, if we can. Sometimes it's easy (West Midlands) and sometimes it's impossible (Northern Chile).

When we first began doing this (Harold Wilson was Prime Minister then) we sought out famous or notable places: old cathedrals, preserved Norman churches, cardinal parishes, and the like. Somehow we thought that if we were going to go to Canterbury, it would be better to worship in Canterbury Cathedral than in St Peter and St Mildred. So we did.

We shan't bore you with the details of how we came (ever slowly) to understand that we'd have been better off taking the docent tour of a cathedral on Thursday, treating it as a historical treasure and not as a worship space, and then finding a lively parish church for Sunday morning. The Cathedral Church of St Peter in Adelaide got a weekday visit with a Leica and a notebook; we went on Sunday morning to St John in Halifax Street. We're certain that the worship experience at St Peter would have been just as edifying as was the worship experience at St John, but somehow we felt more educated, more expanded of mind, and possibly even more joyful than we remember having felt when worshipping at most cathedrals.*

In recent years we've been looking for anti-cathedrals when we travel. Today we attended church in a summer tourist haven that's cold and desolate in the winter. We're in the Northern hemisphere and it's January. The church itself was closed (too expensive to heat). The parish hall had been decorated to look more church-like. Children's drawings of Bible stories graced the walls; big cut-paper images of stained-glass windows were hung behind the altar, clever compartmented cloth sacks were hung on the back of each folding chair to provide space to for a hymnal and a service leaflet. A paper sign neatly centred on the back of the piano said 'Schnitger'. Since more than half of the 30-person congregation was a member of the choir, they moved back and forth between their folding-chair pews and the (imaginary) choir stalls when an anthem needed to be sung. The priest-in-charge was on holiday, so there was a supply priest from a city three hours to the south; she had never been to that parish before. We didn't know any of the hymns. A woman in the second row knitted with brown yarn during the sermon. The supply priest did a great job, Jesus was there in the midst of us, and it was good.

In recent Anglican news we noticed the confluence of two stories and noted the contrast with today's worship experience. A Bavarian town built a church out of snow, and a judge in Virginia ruled for the Diocese in a five-year war over ownership of historic church buildings. We remember with a big smile the announcement some months ago that Christ Church Cathedral in New Zealand would be rebuilt out of cardboard. We wonder whether the remnants of the Virginia congregations, when they are eventually permitted to return to their big stone church buildings, will notice that God felt nearer in their temporary worship spaces. Perhaps they can convince the Diocese of Virginia to sell the disputed buildings to the breakaway groups (which usually have a lot of money) and build anew out of Lego blocks or beer bottles. Or they could buy or hire an inflatable church.

We will never stop loving the majesty of high-church liturgy in awe-inspiring buildings, with vast pipe organs and vested choirs and incense and long processions. But we shan't feel the slightest bit cheated when we worship in a lesser space. Less is more, is it not?

See you next week.

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All of us at Anglicans Online

15 January 2012

*One notable exception to our sense that worship in a great cathedral isn't always great has been the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban.

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