A view backstage at Beverley Minster

Invasion of the purple papal people

Neil Pickford extends a welcome

Two weeks ago I boasted that the modern Beverley Minster gets on just fine with its neighbours – even those of other religions (which wasn’t always the case). Shortly afterwards we got the chance to prove this when representatives of the former owners of the Minster, the Roman Catholics, held a service under our roof – and this was big news.

In fact this was such exciting stuff that Look North gave us prime coverage in their 6.30 programme and Radio Humberside did a live feed before 9am that was repeated throughout the day. The Church Times sent a photographer and various other news media also covered it.

“So what?” the uninvolved outsider may well say. “What’s the big deal about this particular service?”

Well, let’s just say that there are some clergy who would have had hysterics at the very thought of an Anglican church hosting such a thing. Our vicar, however, is not of their number – hence the event.

It’s not the first time we’ve helped Catholics out: a few years back they were responsible for a big funeral that, for family and other reasons, was best suited to the Minster and we were happy to oblige. A few years before, we’d permitted a visiting Catholic school to celebrate their connections to St John of Beverley with a service.

However, this particular Friday was (we think) the first time since Henry VIIIth that a Catholic bishop celebrated a full mass, with bells and smells, inside our wonderful walls – hence the coverage.

It all started as a simple good-neighbourly deed, acting as host venue to a local primary school celebrating 150 years of existence, then it evolved into something rather bigger. Before we knew it the Bishop of Middlesbrough was due to officiate at a Mass. Suddenly 460 years of enforced exile was over.

Exciting times! What areas of conflict might emerge as two proud religions vied for the same space? Could it all end in renewed hostility?

There are deep-seated theological issues behind this hostility, for which millions have died over the years, but these days I suspect most of you aren’t concerned in some silly theological fluff about why our vicar couldn’t take wine with the Catholics in his own church – are you?

Certainly we virgers were more interested in practical differences between ‘papists’ and ‘proddies’ – the things that directly impact on our job – and here are my findings:

1)      Catholics drink a lot less coffee than Anglicans. Granted a large proportion of the 500+ congregation were children but, even so, they consumed only four flasks of the brown stuff. Our normal congregation of around 200 gets through at least six. The tea pot got a thumping though.

2)      Catholic children seem very, very well-behaved, even the smallest. Now others may prefer to see unconstrained multiple younglings in flying-around unfettered freedom but, to a stressed virger dealing with three different things at once, that’s sometimes not a good thing. “Suffer the little children…. just a bit, thank you.”

There are some areas where behaviour is common to both. No matter how large or small the congregation there is still a hard core of six to 12 people who cannot, or will not, replace their kneelers on the back of chairs when the service is over. And a virgers’ blessing on each of them.

But it’s in the area of incense where the biggest area of practical problems arose: Catholics (and some Anglicans) love to wave about metal balls containing smoky, smelly stuff – but the Minster’s fire alarm system is thoroughly Low Church and hates it. If detected it screams loudly and blows open some vents in the roof – which is very unwelcoming indeed.

And this wasn’t what we wanted on this special day so one poor individual had to crouch over a red button for half an hour, resetting the system every 15 seconds!

And if that’s not a solid symbol of modern Anglicans bending over backwards to be welcoming then I don’t know what is.

It was a good day.


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