Saturday, 17 January 2015

‘For one day in thy courts :
is better than a thousand’



Patrick Comerford

Yesterday was a busy day in, as the Psalmist says, “the courts of the Lord.”

After catching the first early flight from Dublin to Birmingham, and two connecting trains to Lichfield, I had time for a short walk in the grounds of the Hedgehog on the northern edges of this cathedral city, with views across the grassy banks to the three spires of Lichfield Cathedral.

But the rest of the morning was spent in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, where the historian and film maker Dave Moore wanted to interview me about a wide range of topics, from my family links with Lichfield, the sense of call and vocation that I first experienced in this chapel and cathedral, my work as a journalist, lecturer, writer and priest, to my views on war and peace and my continuing engagement with local history projects in Lichfield.

Thanks to Canon Andrew Gorham, the Master of Saint John’s Hospital, this was an appropriate setting for these interviews, and in many ways it seems self-indulgent to spend so long talking about my own life and priorities.

Kate Gomez, of the local history group Lichfield Discovered, dropped in to say hello as we were working, and there was a reminder that this is a living place of worship that people felt comfortable to drop in and pray undisturbed as we continued working on the interviews.

Later, three of had lunch in No 15, a café on Bore Street, before picking up the papers, including this week’s Lichfield Mercury and returning to the Hedgehog.

Candles lit in the choir stalls and chapter stalls in Lichfield Cathedral, waiting for Choral Evensong yesterday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

It is a short, pleasant stroll along Beacon Street from the Hedgehog back into Lichfield Cathedral. It was a dry, crisp, winter day, with none of the threatened snow or rain, and by the time I got the cathedral, the Cathedral Close was covered in the gentle evening darkness and the clear sky above bedecked with stars.

It was difficult to resist buying some books in the Cathedral Shop and ordering some more before going on into the Cathedral for Choral Evensong.

The crib is still up in the chapel in the north transept, with the Magi but without the shepherds – a reminder that the Christmas Season continues through Epiphany and does not end until the Feast of Candlemas or the Presentation on 2 February …more than two weeks to go before the end of Christmas.

The chapter and choir stalls were full for Choral Evensong, with over 50 people present, including clergy, choir and people. On a Friday evening in mid-winter, in a small provincial cathedral, this is an interesting indicator of the state of health of cathedral liturgy and worship in the Church of England.

It was moving in the stillness of the cathedral when three of the youngest choristers sang individually:

Yea, the sparrow hath found her an house,
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young :
even thy altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God
(Psalm 84: 3)

In the Book of Common Prayer, the appointed psalms for the evening on Day 16 are Psalms 82-85. It was a fitting close to a busy day to sit and listen to the words of Psalm 84 (Quam dilecta!):

1 O how amiable are thy dwellings : thou Lord of hosts!
2 My soul hath a desire and longing to enter into the courts of the Lord : my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.

10 For one day in thy courts : is better than a thousand.
11 I had rather be a door-keeper in the house of my God : than to dwell in the tents of ungodliness.

We returned to the Hedgehog for dinner. I woke this morning to see a dusting of snow covering the ground beneath my window.