Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Open door policy?

Once upon a time I was a daily blogger - and honestly, if anything could entice me back into that indulgent discipline, it would surely be the roller-coaster that has been life so far in this year of grace 2017. My personal life has been both more challenging and more joyful than I would have imagined possible, my Cathedral life has been its usual mix of wonderful, challenging and frustrating...and the world, well, that would provide enough fuel for several blogs a day.

With two terrorist attacks in the UK just a few days apart, I've had lots to reflect on - not least the place of cathedrals in general, and ours in particular, at such times of crisis. This was brought into sharp relief when I learned that, as pretty much part of a crime-scene, Southwark Cathedral was unable to open for worship just when they must have been most longing to, on the day after the attack on Lambeth Bridge and Borough Market. It takes an awful lot for a church to close its doors on a Sunday. There's something in the DNA that dictates that, no matter what pattern of worship you might offer at other times, it matters to be doing something together on a Sunday...and there's a particular instinct to gather in the wake of awful events, so my heart went out to my colleagues at Southwark - with an added frisson of relief that on this particular weekend my son, who sometimes sings there, was safely with me in the Lake District.

I hate, of course, that I mind more about disasters when they are close to home...I want to live out those words of John Donne's "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind" - but the truth is that I'm substantially more involved with those who live just a couple of hours away than with those in other countries. That's not something to celebrate, but it's a truth that I have to face as I acknowledge that I'm very much a work in progress.

That's not what I want to focus on today, though. Today,it’s all about the challenge and delight of cathedrals as places of welcome and of sanctuary.  Having only worked here for three years, entrance charges have been part of my Coventry experience from day one. I’ve felt sad about them, of course. I’ve recognised that for the majority of our visitors it makes no sense that this huge and impressive building should not have resources to match. I’ve lamented the fact that those who come to be quiet, whether or not they are consciously seeking God, can only venture as far as the very public “prayer circle” by the West Screens without buying a ticket, and I’ve wondered about the many who might have popped in for ten minutes en route to a train, who will now never come through the doors.

But it took a day without charges to help me to fully understand how much the charges disable our mission, prevent us from really being God’s space at the heart of the city.

The morning after the Manchester bomb, the Dean made the decision that we should be free entry all day, and this was broadcast on BBC Cov & Warwickshire, so when we opened to the public at 10.00 it was no surprise to find a small gaggle of people already waiting. I was busy setting up prayer stations for “Thy Kingdom Come”, so had ample opportunity to be round and about the nave as the morning went on, and found myself having several significant conversations with visitors who had slipped in to light a candle, write in the condolence book, or simply sit quietly reflecting on the mess and muddle of these current days. When it came to the Litany of Reconciliation at noon, instead of the usual three or four people scattered about the nave, there were forty or more gathered clearly and explicitly to pray, and all through the day there was a buzz about the place, a sense of purpose and engagement that is often absent. Walking through the building in my cassock after the Litany, I was repeatedly drawn into conversation – and those prayer stations bore witness to more responses that first day alone than in the entire Ascension to Pentecost period last year.
In the past I’ve occasionally been asked by random visitors “Do you actually hold services here?” - the implication being that our building is simply a gallery for twentieth century art. On that Tuesday in May it was obvious to all comers that this was a house of prayer, a place of peace and sanctuary in a broken world. We were our real selves that day, and you can’t put a price on that

1 comment:

Dorothy Moore Brooks said...

Thank you dear Kathryn. You have such an open heart towards God and a generous, welcoming heart for all of his children. Your words in this piece speak so powerfully of both. xx