FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD (Sabbatical Sundays 04)

‘Food, Glorious Food’, written by Lionel Bart, is the opening song from the 1960s West End and Broadway musical (and 1968 film) Oliver (based on the book Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, of course). The song is sung from the point of view of the children of a workhouse for orphans where they are forced to work to ‘earn their keep’, and deprived of proper nutrition while the administrators feast on delicacies. The children arrive for breakfast while fantasizing about delicious food such as sausage and mustard, and sweets including jelly and custard. When the workhouse boys arrive at the front of the serving line they receive only tasteless gruel from the staff. The song is intended as a metaphor for keeping hope alive, despite being mistreated. Last Sunday (29 January), for our 4th Sabbatical Sunday, we visited Salisbury Cathedral for their 10.30 a.m. Holy Eucharist, and afterwards went for lunch at the Cathedral Refectory Restaurant … and what a veritable feast both events proved to be. Food, glorious food, nourishment for both soul and the body!

Once a month Julia and I go down to Ebbesbourne Wake, a small village down the Chalke Valley near to Salisbury. Julia’s mother, Olivia, is 96 years of age and lives in a charming little cottage next-door-but-one to Julia’s younger sister, Livy and Livy’s husband Jack (and the dog, and the cat). Olivia maintains her independence supported by Livy (and a team of carers) and we go down for a few days each month to see Olivia, and give Livy the opportunity to get away herself for a short break. It all works very well. Because we are on sabbatical we had the opportunity to go over a weekend (we usually go down on a Sunday afternoon after the Morning Service at Abbey). This meant that we could visit Salisbury Cathedral on the Sunday.

We have visited the medieval city of Salisbury many times, and the Cathedral many times, but never for a Sunday Service. Sarum College, the Anglican centre of theological learning in Salisbury sits within the cathedral close on the north side of Salisbury Cathedral. We enjoy a good relationship with Sarum. The Revd Canon Professor James Woodward, the Principal, is one of our main Supervisors for our doctoral studies at the University of Winchester, so we often visit Sarum as well (which has links with the University of Winchester).

In reality ‘cathedral worship’ is a genre in itself, and people seem to either love it or hate it. Cathedrals have a life of their own which is very 24/7. As the Very Reverend Nicholas Papadopulos, the Dean, suggests, ‘For centuries, this holy place has captivated pilgrims, worshippers, and visitors alike. In its breath-taking beauty, we glimpse the faith and hope of those who conceived and built it and, as we gaze upon their work, we find our own faith and hope restored.’ Sunday Worship in a cathedral can be ‘a bit of a show’ in many respects with the congregation often reduced to ‘mere observers’ rather than ‘major participants’. Salisbury recognises this and unashamedly confesses that ‘music is central to our services and is led by our talented choirs and musicians’ but at the same time it prides itself on being ‘a living Church where God is praised and people grow in faith. We pray daily for our community and the world beyond it.’ It certainly has the buzz of being a ‘local church’.

We arrived in Salisbury in good time, parked in the main carpark, and walked through the quaint mediaeval streets to the cathedral set in its own beautiful grounds. The cathedral itself is aesthetically very pleasing with the most remarkable large central font where water is the predominant feature, its surface reflecting and extending the surrounding architecture. The surface looks like solid black marble rather than water and more than one tourist (I’m reliably informed) has laid their mobile phone on this ‘marble surface’ only to see it sink slowly to the bottom of the font!?

We were made very welcome – I would say ‘warmly welcomed’ but it was a freezing day and I wish I had worn my thermal ‘Long John’s’. The Eucharist (which means ‘thanksgiving’, is the posh way Anglicans talk about Communion) was indeed quite a show … and we loved it. Everything from the winsome notices from the Dean at the beginning to the excellent coffee and chat after the Service was over. We loved the ceremony, the parading in, the excellent choir, the way the Dean conducted the Service, the beautifully read Bible Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Epiphany, the thoughtful prayers of intercession for the Church and the World by one of the lay members of the congregation. The Eucharist itself was dignified and orderly, as one would expect in the context, but so, so meaningful. Star event for us both, however, was the sermon – fifteen minutes of winsome, well-crafted, exposition of the Story of the Wedding Feast at Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11) by the Cathedral Treasurer, Canon Kenneth Padley. Quite brilliant, faithful to the text, and Christ-centred – a message for those who wish to reflect on Jesus rather than for the ‘activists’. (You can find recordings of the sermons on YouTube). Interestingly enough was the total absence of incense – perhaps we will make up for it next week when we are going to a baptismal service in another High Anglican Church?!

There were around 300-400 people present (as far as I could tell) although I gather that there are a lot more people, from all round the world, who follow the livestreaming of the Services. The congregation was 99.9% white and (with the exception of the choirboys – yes they were all boys) middle-aged and respectable (as you might possibly expect in Salisbury). Lots of people engaged us in good conversation afterwards – including Canon Padley himself, and we felt very much at home. We will definitely pay a return visit sometime. As someone whose Christian roots are in evangelical faith, Pentecostal experience, and Baptist ecclesiology what do I find of worth and value in such a place as Salisbury Cathedral? I suppose what I found on this particular Sunday was an intelligent pattern to the whole worship event; well-crafted, biblical, winsome, Christ-centred preaching; a sense of dignity and encounter in Communion; well-read Scripture and thoughtful, passionate prayers for the Church and the World; a warmth of welcome (and good coffee) … There is no reason why we non-conformists can’t do all these things well ourselves … but increasingly I find myself getting more and more annoyed by the ‘sloppiness’, the ‘anything goes’ attitude of so much evangelical and charismatic Christianity. Has God become too much the ‘all-matey rather than the Almighty’ for some of us?!  

After the Service we wandered over to Sarum College, to return some books to the college library, and then decided to have lunch back at the Cathedral Refectory rather than wander round Salisbury looking for a restaurant. ‘We will just have a bowl of soup … and maybe I will allow you to have a sandwich … because we are having a big meal tonight!’ Julia said, authoritatively. The Cathedral Refectory Restaurant is excellent – we have eaten there before – and a very pleasant venue. Surprisingly it wasn’t as crowded as we expected (perhaps it was a bit early for Sunday lunch) and we found a nice table. Sunday lunch at the Refectory is (I would suggest) a bit special. We took one look at what was on offer, and how reasonably priced it all was, and … any idea of ‘just a bowl of soup’ went right out the window. The best Sunday lunch we have had so far this year by far! If you ever find yourself in Salisbury visit the Cathedral and have lunch at the Refectory Restaurant.

So it was back to Ebbesbourne Wake for an afternoon snooze … we needed that after such a large yumacious Sunday lunch … and a light supper! A nice piece of fish accompanied by a nice glass of chilled white wine … although I expect Jesus turned the water in the jars at the Cana wedding into a rather splendiferous full bodied red!

Jim Binney     

2 comments on “FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD (Sabbatical Sundays 04)

  1. Very interesting. Have been to the Cathedral a few times, will now revisit especially as will be going to the crematorium soon for a visit. Will definitely have lunch. Going back to the beginning of the message, you forgot to mention that Oliver came from Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist “I want some more” though I’m sure most people know that!!


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