Should cathedrals be used as playgrounds?

Another unusual use of a cathedral—another slew of ‘Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells’ letters to the press. That, at least, is how it often feels. The latest episode of this is the conversion of the nave of Rochester Cathedral to be used as a crazy golf course, with each hole featuring a bridge to be crossed, for the duration of the summer. This follows other similar adaptations, including artist Luke Jerram’s Moon installation doing the rounds of a series of cathedrals and larger church buildings, and controversy surrounding Derby Cathedral showing films about paganism featuring full-frontal nudity. Norwich Cathedral planned to install a helter skelter (though I don’t know whether that ever actually happened), and Gloucester Cathedral turned itself into an indoor skate park in 2016, and appeared to avoid the negative comments. And in a similar venture, Blackburn Cathedral produced and sold its own brand of gin to raise funds. It does seem that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in our cathedrals!

Such controversies inevitable give rise to awful headline puns, and this one is no exception. ‘Let us putt’ is the weak offering from the Times; the Daily Mail beats that with ‘Holy in One’; whilst the Sun offers a ‘Fairway to Heaven’. My personal favourite is the suggestion that the cathedral is now moving in the ‘par of the Holy Spirit’. But the objections were expressed more directly:

The idea has been met with horror from parishioners and clergy – including some who were ordained there – who say the Church of England is dumbing down and the course is an ’embarrassing shambles’ and ‘sad and painful.’

‘Rochester Cathedral was founded in AD 604. It survived the Norman Conquest, 2 fires in the 12th century, and several rounds of pillaging. St. William of Perth is buried there. And now*’

‘What an embarrassing shambles.’

‘Wonder what the shades of the holy Benedictines who built these places think.’

‘Rochester cathedral’s idea of mission. So devoid of theology they have forgotten ‘This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven’. Shame on you.’

Is there any merit in these criticisms, or are they just the usual moaners and nay-sayers? (In our new political climate, we cannot tolerate negative attitudes…!)

The theologically most substantial criticism comes from those who see the cathedral as a holy building which somehow distinctively encloses the presence of God. There is some irony that the quotation ‘This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven’ is taken from the story of Jacob’s vision of a ladder to heaven in Genesis 28:10-19—which took place away from any sacred building! But it has long been associated with a theology of church buildings, so much so that, for example, the front of Bath Abbey is decorated with two carved ladders on which angels ascend and descend on the outside of the West end.

Dr Michael Lakey, formerly tutor at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, outside Oxford, expresses this understanding of sacred space:

A sanctuary, and the liturgy enacted in it, is an idealised representation of universal and archetypical relationships between God and the cosmos as it ought to be (think of the way that the biblical temple represented the Hebrew cosmos with its metal sea and its creation-themed decor). In the Sibylline Oracles, there is a text about the eschatological temple which describes it as vast enough to serve the entire creation (there are similar ideas at play in 1 Enoch and in the final chapter of Revelation). In that sense, I think the Church as Temple is always ideally more or less representative of God and the World in idealised relationship.

This understanding was clearly an important part of Jewish understandings of the temple building, which is why the destruction of the first temple at the end of 2 Kings, and the destruction of the second temple by the Romans in 70 AD were both such traumatic events for both the Jews sense of identity and their theological understanding of God and worship.

The problem with applying this temple language to contemporary (including historical) church buildings is that the New Testament consistently transfers the language of sacred space to Jesus and his followers—as Michael Lakey goes on to point out. In John 2, Jesus refers to his own body as a temple. In keeping with his theology of disciples as the body of Christ, Paul extends the temple language to the Christians in Corinth both as individuals and collectively in 1 Cor 3–5. And the climactic section of Romans 12, in which we are exhorted to ‘offer your bodies as living sacrifices’ is cultic and sanctuary language. For this reason, Protestant churches have been very reluctant to re-appropriate this kind of temple language for buildings.

(It could be argued that Paul was leading a long and mobile movement, and so doesn’t answer the question of what Christianity, once settled, might think about its buildings. In fact Judaism, both in Judea and in the Diaspora, offered an answered, as synagogues became increasingly like replicas of the temple in the first century, with the far end holding the Torah scrolls functioning as a sanctuary. So the local-meeting-place-as-temple option was available to Paul.)

This might then mean, at least in principle, that we can be fairly flexible in our use of our buildings. This is the reason why churches local to me have used their buildings to host film nights (though with the titles carefully chosen) or to screen showings of, for example, significant football matches. (We even watched World Cup matches at Synod last year!) It is reasonably well documented that the distinctive feel of historic church buildings can be off-putting for people not used to church culture, so many of the new Anglican Church plants are using non-traditional buildings, as are many of the ‘new churches’; Trent Vineyard, local to me, meets on an industrial estate in a re-purposed factory warehouse, and in a neat reversal of use, a church is being planted using central Strategic Development Funding in a former nightclub in Bradford.

This kind of connection and bridge building (pun intended!) is clearly in some of the thinking behind the Rochester project.

The Revd. Rachel Phillips, Canon for Mission and Growth at Rochester Cathedral, said: ‘For over 1,400 years, Rochester Cathedral has been a centre of learning for the community. By temporarily installing an educational adventure golf course we aim to continue that mission, giving people the opportunity to learn while they take part in a fun activity, in what for many might be a previously unvisited building.’

The Revd. Canon Matthew Rushton, Canon Precentor, at Rochester Cathedral said: ‘The nave of a cathedral has always been a public space, where the sacred and the secular meet. The adventure golf at Rochester Cathedral is primarily a joint education project with the Rochester Bridge Trust to get young people, with their families, engaged with engineering and bridge building – and it’s fun!

‘Worship in the Cathedral is unaffected. We continue to have at least 3 services a day and people can come in to light a candle, to pray or be quiet in areas of the Cathedral other than the Nave.’

But this approach raises another series of questions. Matthew Rushton’s comments assume an answer to the question ‘To whom does this space belong?’ or perhaps ‘Who is it for?’ A well-worn Protestant answer is that church buildings are not the house of God, but the house of the people of God, a place set aside for the purpose of the people of God meeting for worship, for the building of relationships, and a sacred space where the good news of Jesus may be encountered by those who visit. I asked someone involved in hosting the Moon art installation whether there would be any accompanying reflection helping those who visit to connect what they were seeing with Christian faith. The answer came back: ‘No: the terms of the installation were that it had to be free-standing from any other comment.’ I think I found that problematic. Rochester are not succumbing to that; Rachel Phillips comments:

We hope that when people come in, they will know that they’re welcome and they will have an enjoyable experience. So while people are here, having fun and playing crazy golf, they will take the opportunity to reflect on that wider theme of building bridges that they might find that they would like to pray, light a candle. Maybe talk to somebody. We hope that we’ll reach more people with the message the good news that Christians have to bring that Jesus came to bring peace.

So it will be interesting to see whether there is any evidence from the cathedrals that these public events do in fact lead to an increase in attendance at services of worship, and people coming to faith in Jesus.

The question of to whom these spaces belong is largely answered by the question of consecration. Unlike other denominations, because the Church of England is established by law, consecration of Anglican buildings effects a change in their legal status, and that in turn puts limits on what uses they can be put to.

When property has been consecrated it is set apart solely for sacred purposes for all time (but see below).  This is effected by the Bishop signing the sentence of consecration.  In the case of ancient parish churches, consecration is presumed.  It is only when consecrated that a building becomes in the eyes of the law a church.

Certain uses are therefore ruled out, including (as recently demonstrated) the possibility of an Anglican buildings being used, even temporarily, for the worship of another faith. In the past, the question of consecration has been key in legal disputes; in 1863, a vicar pulled out the pew which was the habitual seat of the owner of the local Manor House, and he responded by arguing that the vicar had no right to do so, since the building had mostly been demolished and rebuilt and therefore no longer counted as consecrated! Nowadays, this idea of consecrated points us more helpful to the theological and pastoral sense, that these buildings are, in some sense, set apart not for one group of people or another, but for God.

But, it might be answered, if church buildings are for God, and God is lord of all, surely all of life should find its place there? There is some evidence that medieval church buildings did function as community centres, and the lack of pews in many of them (either because of the use of chairs, or more likely because people stood all through the service of worship) enabled that to happen easily; for many older buildings, the addition of pews was a Victorian innovation.

That then leads us to a sense of perception of whether the use of a church building space is appropriate and is honouring to God. Watching films might not be offensive or inappropriate in itself; but certain films might be. Selling goods, in the form of a traditional jumble sale, might be felt acceptable, but holding a high-end fashion show offering expensive designer labels attached to exotic animals skins could be beyond the pale.

My friend Toby Artis commented on Facebook:

I would say that, yes this is sacred space. Not because the stones are extra-ordinary, but because what takes place, and has taken place over the last 1400 years has been extra-ordinary. That is to say, the people of God have worshipped here. They have heard and responded to the word and celebrated the sacraments, through which Jesus has been fully present. Thus, it has and I would hope continue to be a sacred space, consecrated for people to worship and encounter the risen Lord. When you stick a golf course in there.. personally, I don’t think that’s the impression you would get.

We want to build bridges—but we want to build bridges between the mundane life and the sacred, which might suggest that church buildings should, in some sense, remain distinct. Cathedrals, which have a trans-local significance, might need to carry this especially carefully.

Some people, especially those who look from a distance, might well see this as something of a stunt, or that is smacks of desperation of the church to make itself relevant to ordinary life. And there is a risk that such negative perceptions might affect the partnership with the collaborator, in this case Rochester Bridge Trust and HM Adventure Golf.

So for me, the proof of the pudding is in the eating—or in this case the proof of the putting is in the holing out. Do these ‘social’ adventures have an impact on relationships and, ultimately, attendance? And are they worth the (sometimes slight, sometimes greater) offence that might be caused, both inside and outside the church? Only time will tell.

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56 thoughts on “Should cathedrals be used as playgrounds?”

  1. Ian

    Thank you. Although I was a little shocked at first, I saw a tweet which changed my mind. Rochester Cathedral is offering free play space to families who might not be able to afford expensive theme parks. It’s not entrepreneurial because it’s not intended to raise money.
    Quite a few of the responses to the Cathedral on Twitter exhibited what I would cal a ‘National Trust’ kind of faith (as well as the Catholics, who wanted their building back!).
    Are these social actions intended to increase attendance?

  2. My problem with it isn’t theological, it’s that it makes Christianity look ridiculous (but not in the right ‘we preach God crucified’ way) and, worse, desperate.

    ‘Please like us! We have mini-golf!’

  3. I suppose the Cathedral services will now include hymns such as “There is a green far away…” (with apologies to C F Alexander).

  4. Some of your commentators had a long discussion last year (cit needed) about the function of Cathedrals (as distinct from a ‘regular’ church) as something analogous to a flag; a banner that proclaims the allegiance and/or loyalty of the building outwardly to the world. I think Don Benson called them ‘monuments to the glory of God in stone’, or something like that.

    The question was asked, “What things is at acceptable to define yourself as doing/supporting?”, and one of the things resisted was anything that might be seen as trivialising. In any other church building I don’t think the golf would sit oddly (indeed, I think it’s a good idea with an interesting premise), but it somehow feels odd for a flagship building. In the same way a raffle sale makes sense in the local village hall and parish council offices, you probably wouldn’t do the same thing in the houses of parliament. The buildings have functionally similar purposes (governance) but degrees of scale.

    I appreciate that makes me sound very elitist.

  5. I guess that I would say that all churches invite people to view them as a tourist destination by being open for people to visit and admire wall paintings, stained glass etc. In so many cases there is no attempt to share any form of faith, simply to be there as a tourist destination. On such occasions you rarely meet anyone to talk to so I see it as a separate existence from a place to worship. Is it acceptable to have gift shops selling all sorts of tat which have no connection with worship? Churches are there to serve the people around them and if Rochester Cathedral is doing that in a creative way then good on them. Crazy golf is challenging but perhaps it is good for us to be challenged?

  6. For me, it is precisely because a cathedral is not a “sacred space” that I am uncomfortable with it.

    If it were, then there might be value in bringing people in by any means necessary, since we would be bringing them into “the presence of God”. Anything which encourages people to come through the doors would be valuable.

    Because it is not a sacred space, but a resource to be used in the worship of God, then the question needs to be asked whether this is the *best* use of that resource. An art exhibition, with Christian commentary, would be fine. It’s hard to see though, how this golf course points unbelievers to God’s glory, or provokes anyone to consider the Scriptures, or stirs the heart to marvel at His goodness.

    • If you are so scared how did you come to Christ ?? So is it the building that is the church or the people in it ?? What are there motivation for do this ?? Dont be to quick to judge what you see. Ask your self are you reaching out ?? These guys and girls are doing a form of outreach. Jesus said to go out and love the world not to build nice building.
      What if God was to take away your building today, what would you do then ??

      Let us the Body of christ be going out to reach the world. Sharing in the goodness that Hod has given us. Here is a free game of golf in same way Jesus offers us eternal life when he freely gave himself to die for all the wrong things we all have done. We simply have to ask Jesus into our lifes and ask God to forgive us to receive this eternal life. All things we have done will be forgiven.

      • Brian – we live in hope

        I regularly visit cathedrals – am I the only one who finds them spiritually vacuous?
        With the exception of Worcester & Truro and a side chapel in Winchester which I have often prayed in, I generally find them ’empty’ spaces and sometimes even oppressive.

        anyone else?

        • Simon

          I don’t find that at all. Some seem more ‘holy’ than others (Coventry, for instance, perhaps because of its history) and some more National Trust. But I don’t find them empty or oppressive. I love Salisbury , Wells and Winchester, and Exeter (of course).

          • Hi Penelope
            I like how you put it – some feel more ‘holy’ than others and some more ‘national trust’.

            Yes, Coventry is special I agree – and I love its integration to the old bombed out parts – it has some wonderful post war modern art too
            I adore the font at Salisbury but the rest doesn’t do it for me
            I was a Bath n Wells ordinand but I prefer its outside to its inside
            I am not fully sure why but I often find Abbeys (now as parish churches) much more appealing spiritual spaces

            Suum cuique

  7. BTW they have never been dwelling places of God, no NT temples, no holy ground. They would always be sold with “vacant possession”.
    But they are symbols, good and bad, of the Christian roots of secular, multi-cultural Britain of today.
    What uniquely Christian message comes across through the present modes of use? Media jokes portraying clownish, cartoon Christianity, set apart for amusing ourselves to death? Cathedrals to consumerism, Christian capitalism, competing with alternatives.
    Why is Islam treated with respect and dignity, in comparison.
    Perhaps we need to return to Primitive Methodist outdoor meetings. In Northumberland Abbey and Market Town a plaque is fixed to a wall commemorating meetings of Methodist ranters.
    And yes, we can and do meet in former nightclubs, social clubs, warehouses, church halls.
    Let the State take over the Cathedral Buildings as part of a strategy to preserve British architectural heritage, with some engaged in the pomp of some significant ceremonies of State, if so minded (though with time that may “wither away”, as per Marxism, through the spread of secular illiberalism) and we can revert to the Anglican cultural heirarchy,
    when landed gentry, estate had their own private chapels, and their own clergy appointments.
    Mini rant over through “outdoor” mobile phone.

  8. A vicar’s wife insisted to me that the missional value of the opportunities provided by Anglican Church buildings being used for civic “religious” functions is enormous. She meant weddings, christenings, funerals and functions for the town. I don’t see why mini golf shouldn’t be added to the list

    The difficulty arose when I asked her for any evidence of said missional effectiveness. It was a genuine question but she became highly defensive, accusing me of “playing a numbers game”. I took it that she had no such evidence (I’m not saying it might not exist)

    With this, as with the other things, if you are going to claim it is missional (even if merely light-touch bridge building), I’d like to see the rationale and evaluative criteria (and, with something like this, the cost vs benefit analysis) beforehand. Plus any evaluation according to missional criteria after the event

    • You sound like an economist or statistician? lol

      But I agree with your point. I get the impression that whilst many non-Christians get christened, married and buried in church, few if any ever return (well, before the burying bit). I suspect many clergy find it very frustrating.

      • This has been my experience after going on 3 decades of ministry – I am aware of people coming to faith as a result of attending an ‘adult’ baptism service, but not a standard infant baptism, wedding or funeral.

      • You could not be further from the truth! I am numerically challenged

        But I am extremely interested in mission to new cultural contexts. I’m all up for trying new things. But also up for clarity and evaluation

        If someone said to me “you know, we are not sure there is a sound financial case for this, but after much prayer and thought we’d really like to try it anyway. Here is how we think it could function for mission” I’d be all ears

        But I’ve seen too many things that have no such careful thought and prayer behind them that are, in fact, just gimmicks

        I am regularly disappointed on visits to UK cathedrals at the lack of clear, explanatory gospel signage, literature, explanation or other ways to engage in a cognitive way with the message of Christianity. Were that present and easily accessible to the golfers that might be interesting. If not, I’d spend the money on that instead

  9. Thank you for that.
    It brings to mind A Through Faith Mission, “Walk Kent” in the year Man U won the European Cup. Bishop Nazir Ali led the commissioning service at Rochester Cathedral. I was with different teams at Tunbridge Wells and then at Gravesend. For the Gravesend week the teams were taught that if invited into an home of an Islam believing family, to never put your Bible on the floor as it would be viewed as disrespect, dishonour, to the Bible, thereby estimation of you and anything you may say would be greatly lowered.

  10. Last week I attended a graduation ceremony in a Cathedral. Before the Dean introduced the event, reminding us that we were in a sacred space, a choir (not the Cathedral choir, I’m told) treated us to a brilliant, but wholly inappropriate, acapella version of Bohemian Rhapsody, which as we all know is about a man waiting to be arrested/executed for murder, and which builds to a crescendo with the line “Beelzebub has a devil set aside for me”. I have written to complain but so far have been told that the programme decisions were made by the University hiring the venue. I will possibly publicise this more if they don’t acknowledge what is at best a serious error of judgement and at worst an appalling blasphemy, far worse than crazy golf, and perhaps worse even than Islamic calls to prayer. Unless of course there is no spiritual realm, no God and satan, and Cathedrals are just expressions of our higher instincts, or shared space for community cohesion?

    • Obviously the Cathedral must have agreed to this in advance. So yes, let’s have bingo evenings, auctions, Tupperware evenings, Ann Summers events, anything that brings in money. Why, we could have moneychangers, pigeon sales, the sky’s the limit!
      Just don’t tell the Owner.

  11. The trivial round, the common task
    will furnish all we ought to ask
    room to deny ourselves, a road
    to bring us daily nearer God. (John Keble)

  12. “Norwich Cathedral planned to install a helter skelter (though I don’t know whether that ever actually happened)”: their website indicates that it is about to happen, from 8 August.

    The 1983 Roman Code of Canon Law includes (1211) ” Sacred places are violated by gravely injurious actions done in them with scandal to the faithful, actions which, in the judgment of the local ordinary, are so grave and contrary to the holiness of the place that it is not permitted to carry on worship in them until the damage is repaired by a penitential rite according to the norm of the liturgical books.” Is there anything comparable in the Church of England?

    I have the too-vague impression that the less-than-worshipful use of (parts of) the interior of Churches – and notably, Cathedrals – was one of the things the English Reformers objected to – any recommendations of good popular scholarly discussions of this, on- or offline?

    Charles Williams’s 1939 pageant play, Judgement at Chelmsford, has a scene satirical of analogous activities, but I do not know if that had any specific contemporary references or is some sort of imaginative prescience (so to put it).

    I must say I find the case for doing things like this in and to the nave unpersuasive and indeed disingenuous sounding. I see much attention to the gardens of Rochester Cathedral, and activities therein, on their website. Why not figure out how to use a part of them, perhaps involving a sophisticated modern tent, etc.? In a lifetime of enjoying miniature golf, I have only ever encountered it out-of-doors. (One might compare the revival of drama in Dean George Bell’s Canterbury Festival which, as far as I recall, very deliberately made use of the Chapter House and not the nave.)

  13. I was slightly taken aback but then tried a bit of the dispassionate… It’s crazy golf not Satan worship… Prayer spaces are set aside… The services continue as usual… the banners speak of prayer (my grandchildren went today and I’ve seen the pictures… Hopefully Christians are there to chat as opportunity arises… It’s free to use maybe it breaks down some barriers. Empty buildings serve no purpose.

    I was ordained there…. and am not offended…

    And I the last 42 years I’ve encountered church stuff in Cathedrals that’s been pomposity unrivalled and sermons that have IMHO been crazy… not in a fun way!

    • I think Ian makes a good point

      Some might think the whole clerical frippery, pomposity, ceremony may be more off-putting to communicating the gospel than the open doors and fun for the family in a venue that itself is a stone n mortar witness to Christ.

      Are people paying for the crazy golf in the cathedral – or paying to enter the cathedral?

      I have been musing on why some cathedrals feel ‘good’ to me and some not. I think it may be directly related to how they go about soliciting funds from visitors: Worcester & Truro where I have often enjoyed visiting have voluntary standing boxes for gifts: Winchester/Salisbury you are funnelled through to tax collectors booths. If I am not mistaken, its not an entry fee proper, a charge, but a ‘voluntary contribution’ to the charity as they want to claim VAT back?

      £21 per person to enter Westminster Abbey or bargain £45 for 2 adults n 2 kids. Tempting? Nope.

  14. What it says is that the Church of England has nothing to say about the Lord Jesus Christ; that their religion is bankrupt, and all it can think of is to do is play games.
    When Hezekiah became king of Judah, one of his first acts was to clear the rubbish out of the Temple (2 Chronicles 29:5). To clear the rubbish out of the C of E will involve a whole lot more than clearing out the crazy golf; it will involve wholesale redundancies.
    Today, as a member of Gideons UK, I was working with an organization called ‘Farming Christian Link’ at an agricultural show in Devon, reaching of to the folk who passed by. In one day, we gave out around 470 Gideon New Testaments and innumerable tracts, and had many good conversations about the Lord Jesus.
    People will listen to the Gospel if we are earnest, and if they think we believe what we are saying. But the message put out by Rochester Cathedral is that its staff don’t believe their own holy book, are embarrassed by Jesus Christ and would sooner do almost anything than preach the Gospel.

    If I were Cromwell I would stable my horses in Rochester Cathedral instead of Ely.

    • I wonder if that is really the case, given the stated aims by members of the Cathedral chapter that people should have contact and feel welcome, in order that they might here the good news…?

    • “What it says is that the Church of England has nothing to say about the Lord Jesus Christ;”

      Honestly… That’s a sweeping insult to the thousands of orthodox believing Christians that make up a huge part of the CofE. I’ve “baptised, married and buried” quite a few in 40 plus years of ordained ministry. That a denomination has faults is not an issue. I’d suggest some Holy Spirit led thinking before you blast fellow believers in such an atom bombing way.

      “as a member of Gideon”… Many of whom are members of the CofE… and give money to you.

      “But the message put out by Rochester Cathedral is that its staff don’t believe their own holy book, are embarrassed by Jesus Christ and would sooner do almost anything than preach the Gospel.”

      What’s embarrassing is that one Christian can display such a total disregard and ignorance of what, in this case,” Rochester and its staff “believe.

      How about some repentance to match the violence of your assertions?

    • “What it says is that the Church of England has nothing to say about the Lord Jesus Christ.”

      Hundreds of thousands of Anglicans in England go to church, seek God, and each week hear about Jesus. They also try to live out their faith, visiting the sick, befriending and helping the elderly, and in all kinds of ways trying to share the love of God.

      So I’m afraid I feel your statement is sweeping and I don’t agree with it.

      • I am happy to concede that there are individual churches within the C of E where the Gospel is faithfully preached. My own (non-Anglican) church has excellent fellowship with several of them through the local ‘Gospel Partnership.’ I also happily concede that there are individual Christians in C of E churches where the Gospel is not preached and that some of them are my colleagues in the Gideons.
        My post was aimed at the C of E as a whole and especially at the leadership. It is apostate. As a former Anglican, I came to the conclusion long ago that the denomination was beyond recovery and almost every day brings further confirmation of the fact. Evangelical Anglicans tell me they are ‘in it to win it.’ So how come they keep on losing?

  15. S’s comment, ‘it makes Christianity look ridiculous … and, worse, desperate’ comes closest to expressing my own sense of distaste.

    Jerusalem’s Temple was destroyed in AD 70 not because it was a building where God was worshipped, but because the worship there was based on animal sacrifice (which Christ had done away with) and the belief was that he could only be worshipped there (John 4:20).

    If my body is holy because the Holy Spirit has chosen to inhabit it and I seek to respect his presence with me by living a holy life, then it seems little different to say that a church building is holy because the people of God worship there, and (assuming that he acknowledges them as his own) he is present in the teaching and worship. This applies most clearly to buildings designed from the outset as churches, rather than to schools or factories borrowed for the purpose – but even there, the churches who rent them do their best to give it a sacred feel, by putting up Christian banners, spreading a white cloth over the table, erecting a brass or wooden cross.

    When I enter a cathedral building, I remember the many who worshipped there faithfully before the Church of England became apostate. I am awed by the soaring architecture, by the sense of space that makes me feel small but God big, by the faith of the original builders who expressed their sense of his majesty and holiness in stone and glass, with such a wonderful understanding of how these materials could be turned into a thing of such transcendent nd harmonious splendour. They are reminders of what we have lost, spiritually.

    • As newly ordained, I am so encouraged by the depth and breadth of Ordinand’s in training from all ages, gender and ethnicities who love Christ and are so engaged in commitment to the gospel. I believe God is moving in the C of E in amazing ways. I am not C of E by background and came from a strongly conservative but evangelical Brethren background who taught me that there were no Christians in the C of E or for that matter any other traditional church. Due to employment I moved to the country where I joined an evangelical church who were just moving into the Charismatic Movement. I have now been worshipping in a C of E church for the past 18 years and find the statement that the C of E is apostate to be unfounded and a somewhat dangerous comment to make. I would really like to know your basis for the statement as it is certainly not my experience within the C of E. We need to be authentic in a world which is rapidly changing and I find that engaging people with the gospel message comes and goes in various forms and God by His graces uses whatever means to speak into a persons life.

  16. How could you mention the name of G….. B…? Don’t you know he stands accused of a horrible crime and a Significant Cloud rests over his reputation? We know this from the highest figures in the Church of England who are Fearless For Truth.
    /sarc (for the avoidance of doubt).

  17. A useful piece thank you Ian. Once the cries of outrage die down we find that cathedrals who have to support their upkeep hire themselves out for all sorts of activities and it is this which grabs the headlines. I think this is a useful debate to be having. There is a constituency which wants all our churches kept for single religious use and this is simply not going to be viable going forward nor is it the reality now. The Church of Scotland is far ahead on making its churches multiple use so community enterprises can make better use of what is usually prime real estate space. So it’s good to discuss what the boundaries and ground rules ought to be. Our cathedrals and parish churches are not temples and we look ridiculous if we claim that they are.

      • One response might be to first find a theology of multi-use of human beings inhabited by the Holy Spirit in contrast to single use – not everything we do is holy. Sort that out and the sacredness of buildings whether only used for sacred purposes (or other purposes too) ought to be simpler to resolve!

  18. I encountered an aphoristic expression in quite another context the other day, which seemed apt to something I had been wondering about these Rochester and Norwich and such-like instances: “Transgressive chic mocks old-fashioned standards.”

  19. First time I have felt moved to add any comment to Ian’s excellent blog.

    Lots of opinion here (of course – that’s what we’re all here for!) but perhaps not much direct experience of these events.
    I am reasonably local to Norwich. I attended the “seeing differently” event three times and managed on the final attempt to “do” the helter skelter.

    The Dean and chapter did a great job and I think should be congratulated. I saw queues out the door all three times I went. The cathedral space full of people not just engaging with the helter skelter but also with the personal testimonies of meeting Jesus and seeing the world differently set up around the walls. Copies of Luke’s gospel given out and still popping up in coffee shops all around the city. And two more personal testimonies.

    As an evangelical Anglican with RC family members you can imagine there have been occasional tensions. A family member and their children came with us, read every testimony around the walls, enjoyed exploring the space and admitted this was the first time they had ever been in a Protestant Cathedral. It prompted interesting conversation, more open than previously.

    And my teenage child and their current GF came with me on the final time, enjoyed the ride, wandering the building – and stayed for communion, experiencing a different style of service to the New Wine worship we embraced in summer.

    It was perhaps an unusual installation, but at least in Norwich it did not strike me as an experiment in using a shared community asset for new purpose, but in using a Christian asset as a springboard for mission to a seeking world.

    Or perhaps I’m just hopelessly naive.

  20. Well this does show that we are in the End Times and that The Organised Church is Falling Away from GOD’s Holy Word aka The Great Apostasy…! When they make what should be a House of GOD into a Playground for The World’s/Satan’s ways then we are on that Slippery Slope down into the abyss..(via a Hell ter Skell ter, or a Hole in One or via Worshipping The Moon? or via models scantily clad?) etc…!!!

    Soon Very Soon they will be SHAKEN by our Dear Lord Christ Jesus…!

    • So what do you think Peter meant when, at Pentecost quoting Joel, he talking about them being ‘in the last days’? Or, for that matter, the writing to the Hebrews 1.1 ‘In these last days’?


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