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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 August 2005, 06:14 GMT 07:14 UK
Doing the work of God in the city
By Trevor Timpson
BBC News

Manchester Cathedral's Revelation window
The Revelation window and statue of Humphrey Chetham
Manchester Cathedral stands on the edge.

It is on the edge of the city centre, before you come to the break made by the River Irwell and the tracks through Victoria station.

And on the edge of the area laid waste by the IRA bomb of June 1996.

"After the bomb we stood in the nave and the dust was an inch thick," says the Sub-Dean, Canon Paul Denby.

All the great windows on the south side had been destroyed, and some of the others.

Now, both the area and the cathedral have risen again from the dust.

Paul Denby says he loves to leave the porch of the fifteenth-century building to be greeted by a typical English view - Harvey Nicks.

The BBC News website spent a day watching the business of faith and business of life meet.

1430 BST

The Tuesday afternoon rain is pounding down outside. The nave - the widest cathedral nave in Britain - is well filled.

The Townswomen's Guild are putting on a summer concert. They have raised thousands of pounds for tsunami victims, and during the concert the cheque is handed to the representative of Save the Children.

Computer class in the Booth Centre
Computer class in the Booth Centre

Downstairs in the cathedral's Booth centre, a computer class is in progress for the clients - homeless or recently homeless, for the most part. The atmosphere is cheerful and relaxed. It is out of the rain and there is no pressure.

It's all about "getting their self-esteem back up," says centre worker Kevin Newell. "People with problems look to their home and family - some of them have lost all that."

In other words, they too are on the edge.

1600 BST

Vergers Derrick May and Ioan Isaac-Meurug are rearranging the chairs in the nave - a two-hour job or more for a major reorganisation.

The vergers are like "a platoon of godly bodyguards" says ex-soldier Ioan.

On the pavements outside, skateboarders are sometimes a menace. The approach of a verger in a black cassock will sometimes disperse them.

But the life of the streets touches the cathedral on every side. "Cleaning out one drain," says Ioan, "I found 16 needles."

1630 BST

The choir return, soaked, from a rehearsal for a concert at Bridgewater Hall, and soon they are wearing their red cassocks and rehearsing with organist and choirmaster Chris Stokes

O God, make speed to save us. O Lord, make haste to help us.The words of the Prayer Book, sung by the choir, seem to take off and fly into the depths of the old building.
Manchester Cathedral choir
The choir rehearses with organist-choirmaster Chris Stokes

The children in the choir, aged from eight to 13, study at Chetham's school next door to the cathedral - some travel from as far as Glossop, 15 miles away.

"They're a great bunch," says Chris Stokes. They have to become expert in a huge range of music, but "they chomp through repertoire like mad."

During term time they rarely get a day off - and, says Chris Stokes, "we look terribly carefully" for signs that any chorister is getting over tired.


Ioan Isaac-Meurug, holding a staff of office, leads in the Dean, Ken Riley, and the choir, now in white surplices.

Choral Evensong, says the order of Service, "is one of the jewels that the Church of England has contributed to the crown of Christian Worship."

Just eight members of the public make up the congregation - there are 14 boys and girls and six men in the choir, directed by Chris Stokes.

Manchester Cathedral

If there were no congregation at all, the service would still go on - performing the required services each day is officially part of the Opus Dei (Work of God) which a Cathedral must carry out.

Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, o Lord, and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night - the Dean prays.

All wisdom cometh from the Lord sings the choir in the anthem which follows.

No day in the cathedral is quite like another, and after evensong the Dean has to formally receive a bundle of the building's archives, which have been sitting in Ely Cathedral for 340 years.

As he hands over the papers to cathedral archivist Chris Hunwick, he thanks the Ely authorities "for their diligence in finding these documents belonging to Manchester, which had obviously got lost in the post."

The adults present enjoy the joke. The boys and girls of the choir look on tolerantly.

After Evensong, the gates are locked; this is not bellringing night and there is no special service or concert. At night, in the shadows of the old walls, small groups sit and drink. But the Bridgewater Hall concert lies before the choir, and they will not be finished till after ten.

0745 BST

Rush-hour Manchester roars and bustles, but deep inside the cathedral the work of God goes on quietly.

The cathedral lies at the centre of a diocese of 2.8m people
It became a collegiate church in 1421 and a cathedral in 1847
It was devastated by a German bomb in 1940 and by an IRA bomb in 1996
Last December, 30,000 attended services
There are 15 full-time staff, as many part-timers and numerous volunteer workers
Escorted by head verger Geoffrey Robinson, Canon Paul Denby celebrates Matins. He reads the psalm for the day - Thanks be to the Lord, for he hath shewed me marvellous great kindness in a strong city.

Holy Communion follows straight on, as Paul Denby moves to the High Altar. He prays for the G8 leaders, for the Olympic candidate cities, for the chaplains of the Manchester Royal Infirmary, for the diocese of Rochester and the church in Nigeria, and for a long list of people who are sick.

He and Geoffrey Robinson take the sacrament of bread and wine themselves, and serve it to the one other worshipper present.

Solicitor David Brindle is not at all put off by being a congregation of one, though he says there are often more.

0930 BST

The Booth Centre opens again. Today there is an advice session (arranging identity papers is a common task) and sandwiches, hot drinks, fresh fruit and toiletries are available.

Later there will be craftwork, and in the afternoon, crown green bowling.

Kevin Newell in the Booth Centre garden
Booth Centre worker Kevin Newell in the centre's 'drinking garden'

And the drinking garden is open. Sixty per cent of those using the centre are street drinkers - which is tough in Manchester, because street drinking is illegal. The pub garden by the cathedral has sturdy little gates on it marked 'Point of No Return'.

But you can drink in the award-winning cathedral garden, built and maintained by the clients of the Booth Centre themselves.

Some of the visitors will not venture past the door of the centre itself but will go into the garden to drink - and the staff can get to know them and see if any look as if they need help.

1030 BST

A trickle of visitors enter the Cathedral. There is plenty to see: the Saxon sculpture of an angel, the carved "misericord" choir seats, and the pock-marked stones of the old tower, where a 19th-century redecoration scheme nearly brought the whole building down.

The lady whose task it is to welcome visitors points proudly to the selection of guides in different languages - French, Spanish, German, Italian, Chinese, Japanese - "It was either that or me going to night school," she says.


Ten immaculately blazered old soldiers file into the chapel of the Manchester Regiment for the fortnightly ceremony of the books of remembrance.
Turning of the Leaves at Manchester Cathedral
Turning of the Leaves in the Manchester Regiment chapel

Each steps up to a book, bows and turns a page - so that each list of names of the fallen gets its turn on public view.

Then they listen to a reading about the regiment's 1914-18 Pals' battalions - the groups of friends who joined up together.

Twenty-one battalions of them came from Manchester, Salford and Oldham and over half died.


Taking the service, Canon Albert Radcliffe notes that today is the feast of St John Fisher and St Thomas More. Two Catholic reformation martyrs. Why?

The Church of England is a broad and tolerant church, he says. In honouring these two who died for their beliefs, "We show we are stronger, bigger and broader than sectarian divisions."

The youngest worshipper, Richard Mackintosh, is temping at the Co-op nearby. "I think it's important to have a place where people come and receive the sacrament," he says. "It gives people a sense of continuity with Christians in the past."

"We welcome everybody," says Canon Paul Denby. That is a constant theme. Staff at the Booth Centre say the same; Chris Stokes says it about the choir.

Of nearly 3,000 pupils on school visits last year, half were Muslim, says Cathedral Education Officer Joanna Booth. "Some said they didn't know they were allowed in."

In fact everyone is allowed in - particularly if they are near the 'Point of No Return'.


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