ApS I SCANNED the city skyline the cathedral church of lymouth was unmistakeable. Standing almost at the exact epicentre of the harbour and high upon a hill its narrow, tapering steeple stood out above the urban scene beneath it. The cathedral and the Anglican church of St Peters appeared like a pair of ecclesial bookends separated by a short, cobbled pedestrian walkway of some two hundred yards. Together they provide an impressive Christian presence to the neighbouring districts and the watching city below.
Making my way along the terraced streets I was struck by the amount of building work going on. On one corner a shop was being renovated, on another a house was being repaired and as I approached Wyndham Street the cathedral itself was draped on one side by scaffolding. The immediate impression was one of hard work and the energy of a city beginning to look to itself and its renewal. Turning the corner towards the presbytery the street fell away steeply and there was a powerful sense that the city supported the church and the church crowned the city.
Joan, the secretary to the Administrator of the cathedral ,Canon Nannery, greeted me at the door and showed me in to his office. Seated in front of his desk I began to wonder if our meeting was to be very formal in nature but no sooner had this thought entered my head than I was being swept along by the energy of this Co Longford priest who has made his home in Plymouth diocese for the last thirty years. My coffee and bun were abandoned as we left the office to see the "plant" as the Canon calls it. This was the complex of residential, office and pastoral rooms which put together housed the work of the parish.
We strode through the main office area and there I met Joyce, Michael and Brigadier Crawford. Joyce is a parish assistant with special responsibility for the Neighbourhood Voluntary Visiting Service which in conjunction with the local Anglican parish and the support of the Health and Social work departments seeks to visit all of the needy of the area, irrespective of their religion. Michael is the cathedral liturgist and the Brigadier is the man responsible for organising the repairs to the church and the scaffolding which greeted me.
We moved on and I was struck by the energy of this small parish community and their Canon as he took the steps two at a time up to the curial offices and the apartments and kitchens beyond. He explained to me that most of the complex of buildings had only recently finished being renovated and that the Bishopis rooms would be restored last. Outside on the stairs I was introduced to Terry who is the overall parish co-ordinator as we made our way down to the cathedral church.
The interior of St mary and St Boniface is striking. Originally built in 1855 from the money raised by Bishop Vaughan , the second Bishop after the restoration of the heirarchy, and consecrated in 1858 it was re-ordered in 1994. The result is a challenging,interior design which sits easily with the high airy cathedral. The Bishopis throne and the choir chairs reflect the surrounding spired shape of the building and the brightly coloured wooden pews contrast with the hanging, black steel chandeliers.
The challenge comes with the positioning of the major symbols of faith. The ambo, the raised dais with lectionary, is placed right in the centre of the congregation as are the Bishopis oils, the font and the altar. The message is clear, the community shares the Eucharist and its worship together and the minister of the sacraments stands among them.
At one of the side altars there was exposition of the Blessed Sacrament which takes place every day with the help of the Filles de la Croix who organise a rota of lay volunteers. Together with the Sisters of St Anne they help maintain the engineroom of prayer which gives the parish impetus. At another of the altars there was a reminder of Prisoners of Conscience and the problems of the developing world.
Canon Nannery emphasised that the role of the liturgy is vital along with the music of the church to help provide the oasis in the middle of the city that the parish should be. Surrounded by massive social problems then the church has to be an oasis of the Divine. This liturgy and music is now in the hands of the laity and the Canon talks of their achievements with great pride.
This was the parish I encountered. Although technically the Administrator, the Canon is the first to acknowledge that it is the laity who allow him to "tell people about God". The laity raise finances, run the various catechetical classes, organise the clerical duties of the parish and generally allow himself and his colleague Fr Legg to minister free from most of the burdens. In the fullest sense of the word he was the Administrator of the sacramental life of the church.
The role of the laity is like the scaffolding outside the church he explained. It is a role which sits at the heart of the parish and allows the ministers to stand in the midst of their community and talk of God. Without this active participation then the ministry would be impossible. Even more importantly the community of laity and minister should be an example for the world which teaches it more than words can ever say. He told me a story of the parish group where a woman stood up and said that even though she was 500 miles from home she and her husband both felt that they were with their own family in the cathedral parish. As the Canon said there is no faith without "community".
As I was preparing to leave the cathedral the small community of laity, clergy and sisters were getting ready to sit together over a meal and my mind drifted back into the church and the symbols of faith that stood there. Just as surely as the ambo sat in the middle of the congregation they were sitting together in the midst of the wider community. In their own way this small community was surely living what the physical things of the church symbolised. A symbol of faith indeed.