Succentor and Sacrist at Durham

All Saints' Vicarage, June 2002

The announcement was made on 12 May that Gilly Myers, currently the Priest-in-charge of All Saints’ Church, has been appointed as Succentor and Sacrist and a Minor Canon at Durham Cathedral. Ever since then, so many people have asked her what the title actually means, that she thought an explanation of it might be helpful - so here it is…

Revd Gilly Myers, Priest-in-Charge at All Saints'The title of Succentor simply means that I shall be deputy to the Canon Precentor of the Cathedral - but that doesn’t necessarily get us very far. If I explain that the ‘precentorial’ department is responsible for the worship and music of the cathedral, then that might make a bit more sense. For there are many areas of activity in such a thriving place, ranging through worship and music, pastoral care, pilgrimage, education, maintenance of three theological libraries, civic, university and diocesan relationships, non-liturgical activities - such as concerts, tourism, trade, catering, land management and so on. The staff is vast, and the number of volunteers even more so. Therefore specific members of staff concentrate of particular areas of the cathedral’s work and ministry. I shall be focussing on worship and music.

As for being the Sacrist - well, technically, that means that I am the person responsible for the cathedral’s ‘sacred’ vessels, and all the items needed for the smooth running of worship, although the vergers will take on most of the day to day responsibility.

Among my specific areas of ministry, I shall have three main tasks:

  • Leading the regular rhythm of daily prayer, morning and evening, day by day. Morning prayer is said and evening prayer is usually sung with the choir. I shall have to get used to using a tuning fork.
  • Meeting with outside bodies wanting to come to the cathedral for a special service, then preparing, planning and executing the service. There are about 140 of these special services every year.
  • Being Chaplain to the Choristers’ School, taking assemblies, going on outings and generally being responsible for the spiritual formation of the choristers. Famous old-boys of the school include Tony Blair and Mr Bean (Rowan Atkinson)!

‘Minor Canon’ describes my place and belonging within the cathedral community. The community aspect is also reinforced by the fact that so many of the staff live together, just beyond the cloisters in ‘The College’, the cathedral close. We, too, shall be living there - in a beautiful old house, based on some of the medieval priory buildings.

I cannot imagine a more inspiring place to work. Durham and the North East are steeped in the history of the saints, going way back to Celtic and Saxon origins. The site itself has been a holy place for over a thousand years, and the cathedral is not much younger than that. The Venerable Bede is buried at one end of the cathedral and St Cuthbert at the other, and the whole building has a tremendous sense of holiness and of God’s presence. Great Norman pillars and soaring arches lift hearts to the glory of God, and the uninterrupted sweep of the centre aisle through the nave and quire contributes to the sense of pilgrimage and of God’s transcendence. I am very much looking forward to sharing in the ministry of such a special place.

So much for me - what about the rest of the family? Duncan will be looking for the new job in the area, the boys will be going to a new school in Newcastle, and Carrie will be taking a ‘gap year’ with Christian Aid before going to university.

We shall all miss Nottingham. We have lived here for twelve and a half years, which is long enough to put down plenty of deep reaching roots. We love our home and this city, and we have grown close to friends and colleagues. We have also been through much with people in churches to which we have belonged and in which we have worked while we have been here. We are leaving a great deal behind. I have always found the opening verses of Ecclesiastes 3 very stimulating, and now they are pertinent:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted…
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance…

It doesn’t actually say: ‘a time to stay put and a time to move on’, but it might as well do. That time to move on has come for us, as has the time to say goodbye and thank you. Nottingham will always be a part of us.

Gilly Myers
© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 2nd June 2002