Cathedral-shaped church

It was budget day at General Synod.  But there is no red box, no photo outside a door and no rabbits being pulled out of hats.  What we have instead is the most amazing presentation by Canon John Spence who looks after the finances for the Archbishops’ Council.  John is blind and so he is helped on to the platform – and then he is on his own. What happens is quite amazing.  Now, you have to understand that my memory is pathetic, I actually called the Bishop of Oxford the Bishop of Sheffield, forgetting he had moved a few years ago!  But John Spence has a memory like no other.  I was chairing the debate on the budget and apportionment and gave him 15 minutes in which to make his presentation.  Without a note John spoke to the PowerPoint slides that were displayed, everything was at his fingertips, but not in Braille but in his memory – the figures, the facts – all there.  In the debate that followed he responded with great ease.  So budget day may not be as it is in that other legislative body but it is no less impressive.

budgetbox_1107228c

No need for one of these!

John also manages to make a very clear connection between the money we vote with the mission in which we engage with the growth in discipleship that we seek.  That is what makes this particular presentation of a budget not a dry, boring experience but something to thrill the heart.

This was going to be an important day for those of us connected with cathedrals.  As I said in my earlier blog we were going to debate the Draft Cathedrals Measure in the morning.  None of us who had been involved in the conversations that have been taking place since last July had any idea how this would go.  But in the end it was a really helpful debate.  What was so good was how clear people were about where they felt that things in the Measure could be improved in the revision process that now begins.  Synod spoke very clearly and that makes, potentially, the next stage so much more straight forward.

The other thing was that it was clear from those who spoke in the debate just how important cathedrals are to the life of the church as a whole but also to the wider community.  The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Caroline Spelman, MP, spoke powerfully about how cathedrals are showcases for wider society, how they ‘belong’ not just to the church but to our communities and how many times she hears people speaking of ‘our’ cathedral.

I know that to be true from our experience in Southwark.  We, as you will be aware, were at the heart of the London Bridge and Borough Market attack.  So the Inquest that has been taking place into what happened has opened up for us the memories of that terrible night.  When I tried to go to the Cathedral the morning after the attack, it was Pentecost Sunday, the police stopped me at the cordon that had been set up after I found my way back to the Deanery after I had been in the Market the night before.  In fact we would not be able to open the Cathedral to the public, for worship, for a week.

People spoke about ‘our cathedral’ being closed.  They felt it as another loss in that greater sense of loss in the days that followed the atrocities.  They needed that inclusive, open, holy space that the cathedral is even for those who do not go to services or necessarily call themselves Christians. They needed the thin place of accessibility to the divine beyond them in the place that they are.

The Synod heard about the ‘Mission-Shaped Church and Fresh Expressions’ initiatives 15 years on.  A lot that is exciting has been done and it is much easier now to think of the budget, for instance, from this mission perspective.  But I also like to think of the church as cross-shaped.  Southwark Cathedral, being a relatively simple and early Gothic building is built on the cruciform shape.  I love taking groups into the church and asking them to stand in the centre and look east from the west end.  The tilting chancel, built to mirror the head of Christ on the cross, takes people’s breath away.  Then I point out that the church is the body of Christ, the church is built in the shape of the cross and the crucified Christ and is set right at the heart of the community.  The Cathedral-shaped church is a Christ-shaped church, a cross-shaped church.  As Jesus said

‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’ (Matthew 18.20)

It’s not particular to cathedrals, of course, but there are ways in which cathedrals can and do and should be this more purposefully, more deliberately, more self-consciously because of being that ‘showcase of the Spirit’ for wider society, for the community in which the cross, in which Christ is set.

George Herbert wrote a poem called ‘The British Church’ and it concludes like this

But, dearest mother, what those miss,
The mean, thy praise and glory is
And long may be.
Blessed be God, whose love it was
To double-moat thee with his grace,
And none but thee.

Herbert’s idea of a church ‘double-moated’ with grace, doubly blessed, doubly protected, is a lovely one and perhaps as he wrote this he looked across the water meadows from Bemerton to the great cathedral of Salisbury and saw a grace filled, Christ-shaped church, touching heaven and fixed on earth.  Glorious, a blessing.  That is what we want our cathedrals to continue to be.

God,
double-moat your church with grace,
that we may be safe and holy
for your people
the place of encounter with your Son,
crucified, glorified, and with us when we meet.
Amen.

Advertisements
Previous Post
Next Post
Comments are closed.
My Lent Diary

A journey from ashes to a garden

In the Steps of Martin Luther

A Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage 2017

sabbaticalthoughtsblog.wordpress.com/

Canda, Jerusalem, Mucknall

Southwark Diocesan Pilgrimage 2016

Hearts on Fire - Pilgrims in the Holy Land

A good city for all

A good city for all

In the Steps of St Paul

Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage June 2015

LIVING GOD

Reflections from the Dean of Southwark

Passion in real time - a retreat for Holy Week

Led by the Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark

%d bloggers like this: