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A BEACON OF LIGHT
Inspiring Worship – Canon Clare MacLaren
This speech was given by Newcastle Cathedral’s Canon for Music and Liturgy, the Revd Canon Clare MacLaren, at the National Cathedrals Conference on 16 May 2022.
We live in an era, when it is, as they say, “all about the optics”. What people see when they gather for worship in a Cathedral is just as important as what they hear – and the advent of livestreaming worship has brought this into ever-sharper focus.
You can see from this image that our Sunday congregation usually sits in collegiate style, facing one another across the wide aisle of the Nave. This encourages a sense of community for those who choose to sit near the front, while those who prefer, can still linger at the back. It also facilitates the journey of our Eucharistic liturgy.
Our focus begins at the Font where, recalling our baptism, we confess our sins. The minsters, and the focus, then move to the lectern in the middle of the Nave for the opening of the Word, and then to the Altar at the Crossing for the breaking of the bread.
As we all do, of course, we strive for dignity, beauty and excellence in our worship – but we also consciously aim to offer a broad and inclusive banquet of prayer, music and symbolic action – which honours the diversity of our congregations, and encourages them to contribute and not simply to consume.
As you will experience during the course of this week, we aim to celebrate the best of North East culture in our worship. You will hear prayers set to the beautiful, yearning melody, The Water of Tyne. The choir will sing a translation from the Old Northumbrian of Caedmon’s Song – the oldest surviving piece of English poetry, written for our choirs by local composer, John Casken. We shall share in liturgies from the Northumbria Community in our midday offices.
During the re-ordering, we’ve also had the opportunity to commission a suite of liturgical furniture which echoes not just the colours, textures and timbre of the Cathedral – but celebrates the industrial, seafaring, technological, urban and rural traditions of this land.
The image below gives you an impression of our new Altar and Ambo – designed by a firm of designer-fabricators based in the city. Using cutting edge computer-aided design technology, and 3D printing, the altar and ambo will be cast from aluminium, and were inspired by the shapes of seafaring vessels, and also the mining heritage of the region. Like a geode which splits in two – the dull outer stone revealing a glittering and beautiful inner world – we hope that these bold pieces will invite people to see what treasures a closer look at our Christian faith reveals.
By contrast, you’ll see new flower stands – hand crafted by a blacksmith in rural Northumberland. Her design is reminiscent of the railway lines that converge on Newcastle, the metal work of the Tyne Bridge and the helix shape is a reminder of this city’s place at the heart of medical and scientific advances over the years. The rich blue glass set into the stands – and the enamel crosses set into our new choir stalls honour the ancient glass-making traditions of the North East.
As we all know, almost every element of our wonderful Cathedrals has a story to tell. Here at Newcastle as we celebrate God’s story in the story of this city, and in our own stories, as they unfold, we are creating new stories, for future generations to share.