There has been a whole load of controversy in the Church of England in the last couple of weeks over uncathedrally things that have been happening in cathedrals. Specifically, Rochester Cathedral has had its mini-golf and Norwich has its helter-skelter. (Of course, both have rather more going on in these events, but the way of the modern world is to form a snap judgement based on one photograph. In other news, do religious journalists have no one else to talk to other than Gavin Ashenden, collector of various episcopal orders and notable non-Anglican? Or is he calling them constantly and the only way to stop him calling is to quote him in a report/broadcast/column?)
My feelings are somewhat mixed about both these events.
I used to work in a cathedral: the wonderful St Albans Abbey. The cathedral was never occupied with anything quite like these two events – at least in my time. However, the cathedral was regularly occupied with other events.
There was the week of university graduations every year for the University of Hertfordshire. There was the regular organ festival. There was an enormous flower festival. There were endless concerts that required staging that obscured the medieval screen. There were rehearsals going on during the day, closing the nave to visitors.
None of these events helps with the numinous experience of visiting a cathedral. If I was in the midst of grief or trauma and came to my local cathedral in hope of solace only to be confronted with a long line of recent graduates hoping to take a selfie with the former England goalkeeper David James, I think I would have felt somewhat unhappy. I was personally always happiest when the daily routine was back to normal.
None of these events stopped prayer or visiting going on, just as the golf and the helter-skelter don’t stop the regular work of the cathedral going on.
Do you want the Church of England’s cathedrals to be peaceful, holy, quiet, spiritual, empty places, where you can go at a moment’s notice for your spiritual thirst to be quenched? That’s entirely reasonable. But why were you not kicking up a stink about all the other events that close our cathedrals for weeks at a time? Why are children having fun in a cathedral unacceptable, and yet elderly people looking at flowers are just fine?