Yesterday I was at Exeter Cathedral, being the deacon (or assistant) to the bishop for the ordination service for deacons. It’s all rather posh … I’m not a great fan of these ceremonial occasions: I don’t enjoy dressing up and prancing around, as I think of it … but it’s part of my job and I have to!
So I got to the cathedral, and asked where I should go, and as usual nobody knew. Eventually I was directed through the Staff Only door and went upstairs to the sacristy. Nobody there. I grabbed a passer-by who looked vaguely as if they knew what they were doing, and was told the Bishop was back down in the nave (body) of the church, rehearsing. Ahem. That’s what I had come for.
By this time a couple of bigwigs had turned up and one of them suggested I get into my cassock (still an hour to go) to ‘save time later’. I was putting off putting on my robes as they are so hot!
I chucked on my alb (full-length white thingy) and scampered downstairs, to discover my fellow-deacon already in his cassock, waiting while the Bishop discussed chairs and seating. Then the Precentor (guy who organises all the worship in a cathedral) hoved on to the horizon, said he was new and hadn’t done this before, and started talking us through it. The Bishop wanted it done in more detail, so he took over: fortunately I had bethought me to grab a service sheet and a pen so that I could scribble notes. If it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist, as far as I’m concerned.
Back to the sacristy, where (young) fellow-deacon Alex and I discussed shoes: mine were ‘best’ shoes which I’ve hardly ever worn, and were already pinching my feet. He had a lace which kept coming undone. We pondered whether we could stop the procession and have a Prayer for the Undoing of the Shoelace …
Singing was tremendous: a full cathedral with hundreds of people and an organ at full blast. I could feel the stone floor vibrating. A bishop who took his time ordaining people – I liked that. And a new deacon in tears of joy.
I got a bit choked up myself. As I took one of the many chalices (cups of wine) and followed the bishop down to the steps to give Communion to people, I suddenly thought ‘Dad, you’d be so proud to see me now.’ I’m only a deacon because Dad received a vision about it in the 1980s. Long story: then I realised that he was sharing it all with me anyway, in spirit.
Afterwards I caught up with a couple of people outside the cathedral, then when I judged the cathedral was largely empty, I went back inside to take off my robes. By this time my feet were killing me, so I took my shoes off and walked up the aisle and alongside the organ in stockinged feet. I met the Precentor, and had a long chat about a special service he’s putting on for us deacons next month: then the Dean (overall cathedral boss) came along and joined in: then a retired bishop arrived: and Deacon Gill is still standing there in stockinged feet with her shoes in her hand.
Ah well. In a place where people wear no end of funny clothes, it was just another variation.
I’m the one at the front on the left with the pinchy shoes in the red tunicky thing (dalmatic), talking to the other deacon
We had two Ugandan bishops with us too – that was so nice! A visible reminder of a worldwide church.
PS Deacons wear their stole (sash) across the body. Priests wear it differently, with the ends hanging down the front.