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Helter skelters and mini golf… What should our church buildings be doing in 2019?

The installation of a mini golf course in Rochester Cathedral and a helter skelter in Norwich Cathedral has sparked a debate about the sanctity of churches.

While many are excited by the new ways of attracting people, others have labelled them “ill-judged” and “mistakes”.

Sky News got two different views on what English churches should be doing in 2019.

Rev Canon Andrew Bryant on why his cathedral put up a helter skelter

“I can understand why some people may be a little bit surprised to see a helter skelter in a cathedral.

“But it is a deliberately playful idea with a very serious purpose – to get up close to what is one of the greatest collection of medical roof bosses in northern Europe.


“And those bosses tell the story of the Bible, and by using this technique we are helping people to engage with that incredible story, the story of the Bible.

“We have got more than children in the cathedral enjoying it now – one child told us ‘today my granddad got young again’.

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“At the top you get the most amazing view of our fabulous cathedral and you are closer to the roof bosses than probably anyone has been since they were made.

“Certainly there have been people who were surprised and upset and some people feel that strongly.

“But when we explain the wider project, they see that the ride isn’t there just for the fun of it.

“As a canon pastor in a cathedral, much of my work is solemn and heartbreaking, but it’s important to celebrate – we were made for fun and laughter as well.

“The cathedral is for the whole of life, it’s not just about solemn and serous bit of life, but the whole of life and beings made in the image of God.

Image: The Rev Andrew Bryant says churches should be places of laughter too

“I think it’s an exciting time in English cathedrals, there is a feeling of confidence with worshipper and visitor numbers going up. They are being more creative and innovative in projects.

“From those visits interesting conversations happen, which means that cathedrals are doing what they have always done and creating conversations about faith.

“People are warming to cathedrals, the music and the architecture, but also the way the space is used creatively and imaginatively.

“There is a helter skelter in the nave but the life of the cathedral is continuing as it always was, people are lighting candles and writing prayers and the pattern of worship is going on.

“The building is so large is it able to speak in different ways to people at different times – no one event drowns out any others.”

Dr Gavin Ashenden, a former chaplain to the Queen and now a missionary bishop, explains why he feels differently

“I think the Church of England is asking the wrong question and getting the wrong answer.

“The wrong question is ‘How do we get people into our churches?’ and that is the question a failing retail store might ask.

Image: Attractions such as the golf course in Rochester Cathedral have split opinion

“The reason it is the wrong question is that there is no evidence that people who come into churches find Christ that way.

“They find interesting things, they have an interesting time, but they do not get the impact of what Christianity is about.

“If you divert and entertain, then an encounter with God becomes less likely.

“So what should cathedrals be doing? The answer is then that there are already places that are doing quite a powerful job for Christianity.

“They are magnificent, huge and breathtaking buildings – they speak about the awe and power of the creator who is beyond us.

“But they also speak about the God who comes into us and transforms us.

“Cathedrals do a good job of that but you have got to let them do it.

“People must also be ready. It’s a bit like a pregnant woman being ready to give birth at nine months. Before that, she won’t be ready.

“A person coming into a cathedral has to be ready for that encounter.

“It is unprofessional, they should know better. There are things you can do, like the hugely popular Alpha course which has people come in and discuss the Bible together.

“Being inspired by people from history and life, like Isaac Newton, who were inspired by the story of Jesus and the gospel.

“Just getting them into the building is the reaction of a failing retail store and we ought to do better than that.”


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