Whilst on my travels I went to a few cathedral services. At all of them there was a small core of obvious regulars boosted numerically by us know-nothing tourists.
My favourite was Frank at Llandaff Cathedral 11am Eucharist. I don’t actually know he is called Frank – but I suspect they are all called Frank, or if they aren’t, they should be!
Frank was there before me. I arrived in my full waterproof rig-out – so was a little bit rustly as I sat down and shed a couple of layers. I sat just behind Frank, which might have been a mistake, as he turned to look at me disapprovingly. However, it seems it wasn’t my waterproofs rustling that irked him, merely my tourist presence, as another woman (clearly a non-regular) arrived shortly after me – quiet as a mouse – and he also looked at her disapprovingly!
The priest was visiting – he had done part of his training at the cathedral, and he had requested to return this day as it was the 10th anniversary of his ordination. He had the most fabulously sonorous voice with a soft welsh accent. I could have listened to him all day!
My attention was soon taken, however, by Frank. His way of letting everyone else know that he was a regular – not a soon-to-be-forgotten tourist – was a carefully crafted two-fold strategy.
1. To ostentatiously NOT read the responses from the booklet – thus exposing us noobs completely! Frank knows them all off by heart as he is a REGULAR!
2. (and here’s his masterstroke) To pronounce every single one of the responses so immediately and promptly that he is almost finished before anyone else (even the other regulars who also know them by heart) has begun! This is very distracting – as it does tempt you into some kind of competition!
We all have our Franks to bear, don’t we? Yet in the long winter months when the tourists fade away, it is the Franks of this world that keep Cathedral worship alive. I imagine that the priests and canons and choirs and vergers would carry on even if there was nobody else there – but it would feel a little lacking, wouldn’t it?
I think they must be a special breed – the cathedral Franks. Why would you choose the cathedral as your regular place of worship? Isn’t it better to get involved in the life of your local parish church? (maybe some of them do – but I’m sure that some don’t.) If cathedral worship is your only diet, is it not too rich a diet?
Yet the Franks of this world in all our churches DO make life uncomfortable for others – new people The Franks all seem to carry a sense of grievance that newcomers have not put in the hours as he has, this place doesn’t really belong to them as it does to him, this isn’t FOR them… it’s a small-scale re-enactment of the parable of the workers in the vineyard – “but Master, we’ve been working all day in the hot sun, and they have only worked an hour – yet you pay us the same?”
But then honesty comes along and points my finger back at me. More than once – on my travels – in cathedrals and “holy places” I have found myself becoming Frank. More than once I have had to stop myself from looking at others (taking photos during choral evensong on their mobile phones; lighting up a fag alongside St Winifrede’s Holy Well; having photos taken of themselves pulling faces whilst standing in the lectern at St Albans; using St David’s shrine as a handy place to leave bags, coats and coffee cups whilst taking photos of themselves next to a statue and making rabbit-ears behind the statue’s head…) and sighing deeply, thinking in such a Frank way that this place isn’t for them – that it’s for people like me who come honestly seeking…
but it IS for them, isn’t it God – it is totally for them just as much as it is for me.
I am Frank! Forgive me…