Today was the installation service for the new Dean of Manchester. I had been recruited to be the crucifer (cross bearer), mostly because I was the only one willing to give up my Saturday morning to attend church. I had toyed with the idea of attending the service anyway, since the Cathedral is my parish church. Also, I have learned to appreciate a good ceremony during my time in this country. The English are unparalleled in their ability to do pomp. The Church of England, in particular, takes full advantage of its resources so one can be assured a splendid choir, apocalyptic organ and regal brass accoutrements. When other countries try to be ceremonial, the result is always a bit naff, like they are re-enacting the real thing with costumes they got from their childhood dress-up box.
This occasion involved civic as well as religious dignitaries so there were all manner of horsehair wigs, tri-cornered hats, ruffs, surplices, shiny military medals, swords, ecclesiastical vestments, sceptres, orbs and even an outrageous hat or two worn by a borough mayor's wife. An unwitting passerby could be forgiven for thinking the Cathedral was holding a fancy dress party.
So I was standing in the corridor behind the nave waiting for the service to get underway. There were loads of people milling about in different outfits. The choir were bored and mischievous, the Vergers fussing over every detail and the civic dignitaries were hopelessly confused about where they were supposed to stand and where various pieces of their ceremonial dress were supposed to go. As usual, the clergy were hiding out in the back room until the very last second.
A woman was keeping note of which dignitaries had arrived and as the start time came closer, she become more and more agitated that Tameside and Wigan still had not arrived. Honestly. Did they get the email? Were they were included on the revised list? Wigan hurriedly made their way to the holding room, tri-cornered hat and gown slightly askew, and the lady was now able focus all of her annoyance on the as-yet-to-appear Mayor and Mayoress of Tameside.
Wigan got a text message: "Tameside is stuck in traffic" As the start time grew nearer, the woman in charge had to work harder and harder to keep her freak-out at bay. Then, at the eleventh hour, Tameside and his wife came rushing in. With a crisis averted, everyone took their place in line.
Suddenly, I heard, "Geoffery, come in. The bishop needs his staff." I turned to my left and saw the slightly panicked Head Verger looking hopefully at walkie-talkie. It wasn't talkie-ing back. I laughed out loud at the absurdity of the situation. The Verger, perhaps too involved in the Bishop crisis, didn't appear to appreciate the moment's comedic value.
Grasping his walkie-talkie a little more desperately, the Verger repeated his message, "Geoffery. Do you have Bishop's staff?"
The Verger moved a few steps to his left. "Geoffery! Can you hear me now??"
Visions of Operation Vestment began to roll around in my mind. [melodramatic voiceover] "Deep in the bowels of an ancient Cathedral, a lone Verger is searching frantically for the Bishop's staff. He is trying to desperately to communicate with Geoffery, the second in command, but his efforts are in vain. Clearly the Cathedral's builders were not anticipating this moment when they built walls too thick for radio waves to penetrate.
The Bishop cannot join the procession without his staff!
What is the Verger to do?!
Will this slight miscalculation by 17th century builders jeopardise the entire service?
Stay tuned..." [fade out]
The five-minutes-till-showtime bell rang and everyone got into position. I retrieved the cross, a spiffy gold one today, and led the choir into the side aisle. When organist belted out the introduction of the opening hymn, I set off. Another Cathedral service had begun.
It is not one that is often performed, as Deans tend to stay around for a while but nonetheless I was glad that I had got out of bed and participated. The event was not of global or even national importance but quite meaningful for the Diocese of Manchester, parishioners of the Cathedral Church and, of course, the new Dean, Rogers Govender.
So, congratulations Rogers.
See you 'round.
Marcia Adair is a freelance writer and fine art photographer based in the North West of England.
Her photographs are available for commerial and artistic purposes and may be viewed at http://www.marciaadair.com
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