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Norwich Cathedral's helter skelter will lead to fewer Christians, not more

PUBLISHED: 17:05 16 August 2019 | UPDATED: 09:36 19 August 2019

The Helter Skelter installed in Norwich Cathedral as part of their 'Seeing It Differently' project
Byline: Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2019

The Helter Skelter installed in Norwich Cathedral as part of their 'Seeing It Differently' project Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2019

Norwich-based Christian Alexander Blackburn is worried that the slide in Norwich's Cathedral is just one big gimmick

Alexander Blackburn who says the helter skelter inside Norwich Cathedral is a gimmick that won't encourage more Christians to convert to the faithAlexander Blackburn who says the helter skelter inside Norwich Cathedral is a gimmick that won't encourage more Christians to convert to the faith

It is no secret that Christianity in Britain - and across the west - is in a spot of bother. The number of British Christians has plummeted by a fifth in the last decade alone.

And even then, much of this defiant minority are nominal Christians - those who may say a desperate prayer for a sick loved one or go to Mass on Christmas Eve for a sing-song, but would never step inside a church to worship or identify with or believe in its teachings. To help reverse this trend, Norwich Cathedral has looked to the world of funfairs for inspiration, installing a 55ft slide within its nave. The Rev Canon Andy Bryant of Norwich Cathedral said the move will help bring more visitors in, claiming that "some people can feel that cathedrals are slightly exclusive".

Gimmicks may work to influence the more trivial decisions we face, such as choosing a cereal based on a free toy, or taking out car insurance for the free soft meerkat - but joining a church is one of the most monumental of all human choices.

Becoming religious in our times requires a fundamental shift in perspective. It requires you to reconcile your faith with everything you have been taught about the origins of our existence. It can require you to re-evaluate strongly held beliefs and assumptions. Becoming Christian also places demands and obligations on you as both an individual and as a member of your community - to be Christian is to struggle, especially if it requires turning over a lifetime of atheist conviction.

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Visitor numbers will no doubt temporarily increase, including many astonished disaster tourists seeking a peek of the plastic monstrosity. But the clergy would be deluded to think this will result in converting any reasonable number of people to the church.

The clergy should instead recall G.K. Chesterton's quip that visiting a church does not make you a Christian any more than "standing in your garage makes you a car". It is a relief that Norwich boasts literally dozens of other churches and even another cathedral - all, for now, slide-free. Visitors to these churches will find serene, peaceful environments devoted to worshipping something greater than ourselves - an atmosphere that, in my experience of bringing atheist friends along to church services, does far more to convince them of the beauty and majesty of belief than any PR stunt ever could.

The installation of the slide represents a wider belief that people are drawn towards cheerful solutions to the bleak questions of meaning and existence, when instead lasting faith is built upon bleak honesty.

More than ever people seek meaning to an increasingly meaningless existence, and meaning is central to Christianity's message. Religion offers mankind a route out of the misery that lurks around every corner by giving us a peek of the depths to which our existence could sink. People appreciate and respect this.

To think a fairground ride would attract people to believe in something so profound is an insult to believers and non-believers alike.

To return to Chesterton, religion has the power to make the "extraordinary man feel ordinary" and the "ordinary man feel extraordinary".

The cathedral and its patronising slide goes one step further, managing to make the extraordinary affair of religion itself seem ordinary, cheap and shallow. Its decision to relegate the Church to just another attraction to visit on a rainy afternoon will not only fail to attract more worshippers but risks tarnishing the appeal of Christianity for good, something our churches and their increasingly empty pews can ill afford.

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