Some went down to the sea in ships

lindisfarnesea

This morning, one of the psalms for Morning Prayer was Psalm 107, and this morning, like every month, verse 23 stopped me in my tracks:

‘Some went down to the sea in ships                                                                              and plied their trade in deep waters;’

And I don’t know why it always makes me stop and think, but it does. Just that one half verse, ‘Some went down to the sea in ships,’ sets my mind wondering. Where were they from? Why did they leave? What happened to the ones who didn’t go? How far was the sea? Did they know it was there, or did they set out into the unknown? What did they do when they reached the sea? Where did they go?

But then, reading the psalm again, not during Morning Prayer but later, and with a different eye, I saw there were other groups of people. ‘Some wandered in desert wastes,’ and they had a horrible time being hungry and thirsty and having nowhere to live, but they cried to God and he led them to a city where they could make their home. ‘Some sat in darkness and deep gloom,’ because they had rejected God, but when they cried out in their misery they were led out of their despair. ‘Some were fools and took to rebellious ways,’ and that almost killed them, but again when they cried out God delivered them. Finally, ‘some went down to the sea in ships,’ and although they saw the wonders of the oceans God caused a storm to toss them about. In their fear they cried out to God and he stilled the storm, and ‘brought them to the harbour they were bound for’.

So that answered some of my questions: What happened to the others? Where did the ones in the ships go? They all sounded like quite foolhardy types who thought they could do all kinds of ill-advised things on their own. Then they were humbled and in peril, and finally threw themselves on God’s mercy. Of all of them, we read,

‘Let them give thanks to the LORD for his mercy                                                                    and the wonders he does for his children.’

But I still have a question. ‘Some went down to the sea in ships,’ and were ‘brought . . . to the harbour they were bound for.’ But did they ever go home?

Holy Eucharist, Norwich Cathedral

Norwich Cathedral

Since there was no 10am service at St. Julian’s or the guesthouse this morning, I decided to go to the 11am Holy Eucharist at the cathedral. When I arrived I checked which of the side chapels was being used and found out it was the Jesus Chapel. It’s small (of course) with curved stalls along the wall.

When I arrived there were already about ten people there, and it seemed as though about half of them were regulars, the other half visitors. Most of them were elderly. I found a place to sit and found in front of me my old friend, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. There was just time for me to find the right page before the priest, verger and one other man in a cassock entered the chapel and began the service.

It was not the most uplifting of experiences. The celebrant launched into the service without announcing the page number, and proceeded through the service without any reference to where we were at in the book. The third man of the trio read the lesson, in such a halting way that it seemed he hadn’t read it ahead of time.

As was pointed out to me later in the day, the Eucharist is still a sacred and moving act of worship, no matter what surrounds it, and I am glad I went. Norwich Cathedral is beautiful and I enjoyed having the opportunity to worship there and have another look round.

What disappointed me was the perfunctory nature of the service, the disconnect between the priest and the people assembled to worship. To not announce the page numbers, to go through the motions when you are in a place of pilgrimage and sight-seeing, when the possibility of visitors or people new to the service must be high, seems a particularly unwelcoming way of going about things. In York Minister, I have found that the priest who has celebrated the Eucharist generally stands outside the chapel and greets people as they leave, but today the three men left the chapel and that was the end of the service.

A breathtakingly lovely building, but a missed opportunity to really welcome people into the heart of the worship it has been home to for over nine hundred years.

Evening Prayer, St. Michael’s

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I usually go to church every Sunday morning and attend a service of Holy Eucharist, so it was a strange and somewhat unsettling feeling to not have my Sunday morning follow its usual pattern. Instead, I got up, had breakfast, then said Morning Prayer. After that I went sightseeing, specifically to places along Hadrian’s Wall.

While I felt a bit undone not to have received communion, I was reassured to find that the local church had a service of Evening Prayer at 6pm. I decided I would go there, not really knowing what I would find. I attend Evening Prayer in Tokyo, but I hadn’t attended a Church of England Evening Prayer in a very long time.

The church was quite large, and a 10-minute walk from the hotel, actually on the edge of the village of Wark. As I arrived, the organist was just arriving too, and gave me a lovely welcome. Once inside the church, she made sure I had the books I needed and also introduced me briefly to the church warden.

I sat down and realised I had a words-only version of Hymns Ancient and Modern, and the tiny black book of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Eek. Not my favourite thing. I found the section for Evening Prayer and when the priest walked past and stopped to say hello I checked I was on the right page.

Now, the interesting thing to me was, I was given a lovely welcome, but no help at all navigating the books and the service. That was all right, because I have attended other services enough that I know what I’m doing most of the time, but they didn’t know that.

The service was lovely, I found it more moving than I had expected, since I am not a fan of the 1662 prayer book, and wonder why people want to use the vernacular from half a millennium ago, but this evening it worked for me. Everything was done in a very simple and low-key way, and it was a beautiful way to end the day.

The bans were read for the 3rd time for a local couple, who were in the church to hear them read. Prayers were said for a recently-departed soul, and there were members of the congregation moved and upset, clearly close to the person mentioned in the prayers. During the intercessions at the end of the service, the priest walked to the centre of the church and knelt in the aisle to pray from among the people.

As I left I was thanked for coming, and I returned the gratitude. I was grateful to have been able to share in their worship. It felt like a very prayerful, intimate community of worshipers, and it was lovely to be welcomed into their midst for an hour. I was moved by their unfussy, gentle use of the 1662 prayer book, for showing me that it could be a wonderful way to worship. I left feeling at peace and glad to know that they are there, worshiping and praying, every week.