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malcolm chamberlain

musings about the emerging church, mission and contemporary culture...

God is at large, intimately involved in his world in ways that the church is maybe just waking up to!

What place do cathedrals have in the Emerging Church?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Two new posts today (keep reading for the other one!)

I would have blogged this thought at the end of last week if I'd had time. On Thursday I was involved in a meeting in Liverpool Cathedral, where the Dean was describing the various ministries he was involved in. At one level, his job consists of being a site manager extraordinaire (an unenviable task I can tell you), but in our discussion we started to ask questions about the role of cathedrals in mission today.

Personally speaking, I can see two sides to this and thought I'd blog it to see what others think. On the one hand cathedrals are visible symbols of a huge institution and, in some cases, seem to have more in common with museums than with places of worship. The magnitude of them (and I know not all cathedrals are big, but Liverpool's is!) may well point to an awesome God but to many may simply shout power, dominance and arrogance. For spiritual seekers suspicious of large institutions, cathedrals may be the final confirmation for them not to look in the direction of Christianity.

However, it also seems that in an age of spiritual tourism, the cathedral is a major attraction and can be a vital point of connection with the Christian story. When we had a labyrinth installation in Liverpool cathedral a couple of years ago (to my shame we've not done this more recently), hundreds of people of all ages walked it over the two weeks it was there, and many had deep experiences of God through doing so (if the comments book was anything to go by!)

So should our attitude to cathedrals be one of quiet embarrassment for what they may be seen to represent, or should we be opening up conversations with cathedral chapters and Deans about how we can help the cathedral be a more effective place of spiritual resourcing?

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 11:05 AM


As an ancedotal note to this post, we tend to find we get more (new) visitors dropping by at our Cathedral services three times a year, than our ones at Sacred Trinity (also CofE and only a few hundred metres away). We've often wondered whether it's because the Cathedral feels like a more public (safe?) space, and indicates somehow that we're "kosher" (not a cult/ sect/ totally on the margins).

commented by Blogger LauraHD, 12:07 PM  

When I enter a Cathedral (outside of service times only) I can appreciate the astistry and a longing for aspects of God that resonate with me by those of long,long ago. I guess I treat them like a museum of the faith, carrying all the benefits and deficits of any museum!

I am seperate from the cathedral in every other way. It's expression of God is meaningless or offensive to me, and often I am an offense to those who serve it (without meaning to be). The universalist in me allows me to dialogue, engage and love. The simplicty of my faith causes rift and bruising - and challenge.

God is no more there to methan anywhere else, so its value is no more to me than MaccyDees or the beach, maybe less.

commented by Blogger DAMNFLANDRZ, 6:34 PM  

I recall Fiona Horne the writer/actor who practices Witchcraft remarking how cathedrals in the UK are so good especially because church buildings have great acoustics (those that suit pagans with their rituals, chants etc).

It is also the case that some very old church buildings were erected over former pagan sites (as per Bede's Ecclesiastical History).

While a theology of the immanence of God and the presence of the Spirit throughout all creation is one of the "unpaid bills" of the church that needs refocussing, it would be a mistake to think that the old buildings inhibit spirituality.

There's something of a mindset in some EC networks that seems to be expressing embarrassment over selected morsels from the church's past (while paradoxically strip-mining other aspects from an array of church traditions in history [like the fashionable and romantic interest in finding an ideal faith in ancient Celtic Christianity]).

This state of mind seems to me to reflect more on the individual EC person than it does about either the church, the non-Christian's perception of church and so on.

As magickal and pagan traditions and East Asian traditions have icons and signs and symbols and rituals, the church also has a remarkable well-spring of symbols etc to draw on.

Elements of EC could go off the rails and produce reruns of age-old heresies if it loses perspective on Scripture, theology, missions, apologetics, ethics, church history and ignores the unpaid bills of the church created by our omissions in missions.

commented by Blogger philjohnson, 12:04 AM  

Malcom, I commented on cathedrals a year or so back - "Cathdrals and Strangers."


commented by Blogger Paul Fromont, 8:33 PM  

Not sure if this is any more than restating the original post but....

The image of the country as a spread of big spires and little spires - with the cathedrals as the biggest - brought to mind Kester Brewin's notes in 'The Complex Christ' about peaks and local maximums (pp. 7-9 etc).

A straightforward 'bottom-up' reading might say that the greatest spires occur where the greatest exercise of faith, in the most creative way, in the environment most conducive to visible expression of faith (large population centre, many church experiments etc), has occurred.

A 'top-down' reading might say that the spires grow where the money and power is (or where the money and power have imposed them).

And an objective reading might say that different cathedrals represent different combinations of the above.

That's to say that undertaking some kind of 'top-down/ bottom-up' analysis wherever cathedrals and large churches are present might give insight into the ways that particular cathedrals might 'emerge' - or not.

Perhaps a tool to help this kind of analysis could be adapted or created?

I live near the ruined priories at Tynemouth and Lindisfarne, still spiritual focal points though they have in the past been left to rack and rooflessness (Tynemouth priory was even used in a Star Wars promotion - R2D2 against its backdrop on a planet in a galaxy far far away.... The joy of a decent picture library!). It's just a reminder - backing Phil Johnson - that stone buildings can become elephants in our living room if all we do is try to pretend they don't exist. And more hopefully, (re)emergence can begin in the most abandoned of places.

commented by Blogger Steve Lancaster, 10:48 AM  

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