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Scenes from Clerical Life (7) – T.G.I.F. Mass

May 6, 2009

churchinteriorWhile I was Vicar-General of the Diocese in Europe, the Bishop of London asked me if I would  be Priest-in-Charge of the City Church of St Michael’s, Cornhill. I was often in London at the weekends, and so I agreed. The post was vacant because the Diocese of London was hoping to reorganize the parishes of the City of London and had not yet decided on St Michael’s. As it was, St Michael’s was already three parishes, two having had their churches bombed in the war. So I found  myself inducted as the incumbent of “St Michael’s, Cornhill, with St Peter-le-Poer and St Benet Fink”!

The problem with City parishes is that they have no population at the weekends: the City empties on a Friday afternoon. For American readers, I should explain that “the City of London” is not the same thing as London – it is the financial square mile which used to be all there was to London before it began to expand. Now it is mostly banks and financial centres, with very few residents. But in spite of Hitler’s bombs, which destroyed many City churches, there are still twenty or thirty left, most of them architectural gems, but with almost no resident parishioners, though the weekday population of the City must be over a million. 

So when I arrived at St Michael’s, I found about twenty Sunday worshippers. But we did have a very fine organist and choir, who sang fine classical settings of the Mass. I enjoyed the peace and quiet for a few weeks and then went to the Master of the Drapers’ Company, who were the Patrons of the living (another peculiar English institution; the Bishop is not the patron of all the parishes in his diocese: other bodies and individuals often have the right to choose the Rector. In St Michael’s case, this was the Drapers’ company, one of the City Livery companies, dating back to the fifteenth century.)

The Master gave me the money to put on a Mass at noon on Fridays. I had to pay for the Choir and sometimes an orchestra, a special preacher (a well-known bishop or actor or politician), and  wine and cheese after the Mass, since it was the lunch hour. I called it the “Thank God It’s Friday Mass” and put up posters all over the place. I promised that, even with Mozart and an Archbishop, it would be over in forty-five minutes. Instead of the twenty faithful Sunday worshippers, the TGIF Mass packed the church to the doors on the First Friday of every month. And though the Mass lasted only forty-five minutes, the cheese and wine often stretched to double that time. Many City workers subscribe to the POETS philosophy (which, I regret to tell you, means “Piss off early; tomorrow’s Saturday”!) so they had no intention of returning to the office that afternoon. 

It was all great fun, and it also had some splendid spin-off effects, such as a few people asking for Baptism or Confirmation as well as a wedding or two. I’m sure many of those who came did not go to church much on Sundays, and for them this was their weekly Mass. Others of course went to their own parish churches on the Sunday. But for us all it was a good lesson in adapting the Church’s times and ways to suit a particular group of people. And another nice side effect – we started to get more people on Sundays, who had grown fond of St Michael’s from coming on Fridays.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. May 6, 2009 2:53 am

    Did you ever identify Saint Benet Fink? Sounds like pure P.G.Wodehouse to me!

    Thanks so much for this blog, Father. It’s become a “must read”. Everyday I turn on the computer and make my way to the SaintClementsBlog in hopes that you have taken up your electronic quill. Rather selfishly, I’m glad your back from Blighty. I’ve missed your (almost) daily observations and reminiscences. They’re addictive and compelling.

    With kindest regards,

    JOHN (& MELINDA)

  2. saintclementsblog permalink*
    May 6, 2009 5:06 pm

    Why Fink, I do not know, but Benet was St Benedict.
    I’m so glad you enjoy the blog: I’m sometimes hard pressed to think what to write, but once I get going it comes together.
    Gordon.

  3. Juliet Geldi permalink
    May 11, 2009 5:04 pm

    Dear Father Reid,

    Please keep the “Scenes from Clerical Life” coming! Gavin and I enjoy reading them.

    -Juliet

  4. Todd permalink
    May 14, 2009 1:17 pm

    Fr. ,

    What a splendid idea! The rousing success of your T.G.I.G. Mass goes to show, that even in our sparsely populated urban centers “if you offer it, they will come.” Many urban American priests can learn a lot from what you described in this post — especially the Anglo-Catholics or those who identify as such.

    Having a full noon mass on Fridays is a much better way to bear witness and welcome the faithful than a 5:00 mass on Saturdays and a 10:00pm offering of Compline on Sundays.

  5. Rob Stoltz permalink
    May 14, 2009 6:23 pm

    An historical article on St. Benet Fink can be found here,

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Benet_Fink

    wherein the mysterious dedication is explained. A quick search of google images produced several pictures of the building.

    Rob
    Portland, Oregon

  6. Michael Pahl permalink
    March 5, 2010 1:18 pm

    Generally, I am convinced that “Noon Masses” are great. In Germany, however, it is not that easy to copy the inventiveness of the Americans or even the British ;-): For instance, in the beautiful city of Münster, where I attended seminary, a well-known and attractive university town, the Cathedral offers Holy Mass on 7, 8 and 9 a.m. every weekday, attended mostly by elderly Sisters (which are still to be found quite copiously in Münster, thank God). Instead, a Noon Mass would attract many students or shoppers and workpeople as well, I am sure, especially on Wednesdays and Saturdays, when the Cathedral square is alive with a huge market. But being “prudent as the serpents” (or whatever it is in English) is not a virtue of all Churchmen, alas…

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