Jesus would probably have loved a go on Norwich Cathedral's helter skelter
PUBLISHED: 18:50 22 August 2019 | UPDATED: 18:50 22 August 2019
Nick Conrad can't understand the negative views over the helter skelter that recently appeared in Norwich Cathedral
The sight of the Victorian helter skelter in Norwich Cathedral was delightfully unusual. The small chorus of critics voicing their objection was sadly predictable. We should be careful not to permit the minority, with views on what is or isn't appropriate in the House of God, to dilute the wider good work the church is doing to promote accessibility. This week I wish to support our innovative and passionate cathedral team, who work tirelessly to promote and preserve this iconic building.
Everyone acknowledges the difficult balance between respectfully honouring these wonderful buildings and ensuring they remain relevant in the modern age. The church must change with the times. For the traditionalists this might be hard to swallow, but if you object to this kind of progress, you make it even harder to safeguard this Grade I listed building's future.
The Church of England faces its greatest challenge - how about dwindling attendances, the emergence of the evangelical church and a fog of apathy for starters? The denomination's place at the heart of British life is being challenged. Now is the time to deploy its greatest asset - it's unique and truly awe-inspiring buildings. The church must be given the liberty to reimage these structures in the hope of attracting those who wouldn't usually frequent their buildings. The primary draw will rarely be religion, a place to pray or reflective worship. So, if it's safe and doesn't compromise these amazing places - I'm happy to support crazy golf, (Rochester) a rave (Prague) or this helter skelter
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I predict that even the staunchest atheist would feel something significant and special, even if not ethereal, in Norwich's most prominent place of worship. It's majestic and imposing structure fills me with a mix of wonderment and serenity. Even if God, for you, can't be found in this building there are many other reasons to visit. The intoxicating energy of this cathedral cannot and does not discriminate. This building has rightfully enjoyed pride of place on the city's skyline for nearly a millennium. More than ever it needs the next generation's appreciation, if not adoration, to continue its architectural reign. Diversifying the offering is a key way to ensure people come through the doors.
The most prominent critic of the helter skelter in the church is The Right Reverend Dr Gavin Ashenden. He claims the clergy at Norwich Cathedral have been "unprofessional" and are "making a mistake about what a cathedral is good for". He went on to say that there was no evidence that tourists become Christians and "to put in entertainment is naff". I think the critics, including Dr Ashenden, display a critical lack of understanding of where non-believers are at. These buildings are national treasures for everyone. Converting non-believers should be seen as a bonus not the main desire. I frankly find his argument illogical. Surely your chances of attracting the future faithful are bettered by actually opening your net. If you go 'line-fishing' for Christians, the 'catch' will be pitiful. Allow the church to act like a trawler and cast its net far and wide.
We take the cathedral for granted. It's always been there and sadly many fall into the trap of thinking its presence is a guarantee. So here is my message to those who have grumbled about the helter skelter... the building you profess to love and wish to preserve, needs to subtly adapt but not fundamentally change. It must enthusiastically throw open its doors and warmly embrace tomorrow's world. Rochester Cathedral this summer have apparently welcomed more families and children than ever before!
Maybe we should look at crazy golf in Norwich next year?
Ultimately some might say this is disrespectful in the House of God. Rubbish. I'd hedge a bet that Jesus would have loved a go on that helter skelter!