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Opinion column


Norwich Cathedral helter skelt

Seeing it differently in Norwich Cathedral

Mark Fairweather Tall went with his family to enjoy a new experience currently in place in Norwich Cathedral, and urges us to take on the challenge to see the world differently.

I opened the BBC News App on my phone last Friday, and was struck by the headline about three stories down: “Norwich Cathedral helter-skelter ‘is a mistake’”.[i]
 
Norwich Cathedral helter skeltThe headline came from the views of the Right Reverend Dr Gavin Ashenden, former chaplain to the Queen, on a full-size helter-skelter being put in the nave of Norwich Cathedral. The article reported Dr Ashenden saying, “For such a place, steeped in mystery and marvel to buy in to sensory pleasure and distraction, is to poison the very medicine it offers the human soul.”  Furthermore, “just to put on entertainment is naff” and Norwich Cathedral are “making a mistake about what a cathedral is good for.”
 
I was particularly interested, as earlier that afternoon we had visited the Cathedral as a family. We found a place that was buzzing with people. The girls wanted to go on the helter-skelter, but the queue was shut because it was so popular, and so we decided we would return another day.
 
However, the helter-skelter is not a one-off item of entertainment. It forms part of a project called ‘Seeing it differently’.
 
Whilst there, we were invited to lie back and look up at the Cathedral’s ceiling – not something you might normally notice. We walked through a labyrinth, meandering through the pathways to the centre, reflecting that whilst walking we can get a different perspective. We sat inside a cubicle that had the whole of the Bible, page by page, pasted on the sides and ceiling. As we walked around the building there were stories to read of people explaining how Jesus had made them see life differently.
 
In his blog[ii], The Revd Canon Andy Bryant, Canon for Mission and Pastoral Care writes: “Each of these installations is designed to provoke questions about both how we see the building and how we see life -  and, linked to that, to open up questions about God. Our specially trained volunteers will be on hand to help and guide at each of these points in the Cathedral and, where appropriate, to follow up the questions and conversations that may flow from these experiences.”
 
I welcome the initiative of the Cathedral to try something different and open up the possibility to people that life can be seen differently. Perhaps some will see things differently as a result. It may be a small step – someone who feels more able to go into the Cathedral at a different time because they have been there before, for example.
 
For many, life without Jesus is the norm and church seems irrelevant. By doing something different it encourages people who wouldn’t normally enter the building to do so and perhaps to see things differently.
 
I believe that as churches we need to find more creative ways to enable us to engage with those who have no faith, or whose faith needs a boost. We mustn’t compromise the message, but we do need to help people to ‘see things differently’ in order that more can discover the wonderful, life-changing reality that a relationship with the Living and Loving God brings.
 
And perhaps it isn’t only those outside the church who need help to see life differently; perhaps we inside the church do as well. Maybe this will enable us to seek fresh ways to communicate this truth for those who might otherwise be content with seeing the world as they have always seen it.  
 
The images above are courtesy of Bill Smith at Norwich Cathedral.
 
Read all about the Helter Skelter and “seeing it differently” project on Network Norfolk.



[i] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-norfolk-49292493
 
[ii] https://www.cathedral.org.uk/about/blog/detail/our-blog/2019/01/28/Seeing-it-Differently-blog

 



Rev Mark Fairweather Tall is a Minister at Norwich Central Baptist Church. 

 

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