The divine word speaks only dialect, Newcastle Cathedral is a cathedral larning to Speak Geordie
By Team Newcastle: Dean Geoff Miller, Canon Peter Dobson, Lucy Cooke, and Canon Clare McLaren, and Jon Canessa
A church has stood on this site since the 11th Century. It has been a cathedral since 1882. Yet it is still learning to speak the dialect of the community within which it is set – I think it always will be, or at least it should be. And the dialect it wants to speak is far more than a few Geordie clichés, much more.
It is a whole culture, a people, a way of life. A culture that is in a constant state of flux, a culture that refuses to stand still. Rather it develops as its people change, as they absorb newcomers, adapt to new contexts and pressures, as they follow trends and, in some cases, struggle against them.
David Bosch in his classic study of missiology uses the following quote: ‘The divine word speaks only dialect’
We couldn’t agree more.
Trying to speak the Gospel in this particular dialect has always been the task of the cathedral – perhaps of every cathedral in its locale. We at Newcastle, in our generation are called, commissioned to try in the here and now.
That has been what we have, and indeed still, are about in these last years. To do that we have needed to treasure our past, celebrate our present and nurture the future. But most of all learn to speak in a way that our people can hear the message of the Kingdom of God.
For us that is to speak Geordie.
Like all cathedrals we are proudly unique. We share some of the characteristics of our sisters throughout the land. Not least here you will find the Cathedra of the diocese, here you will experience wonderful English Choral music, here there will be a daily rhythm of prayer, here you come to ordinations and diocesan services, civic celebrations and the rest. We are a newish diocese set in a region of rich and ancient Christian heritage.
Unlike many cathedrals though we have no saint’s shrine, no monastic foundation, no manicured lawns, no beautiful Close to house our clergy.
The cathedral sits on what might best be described as a busy city roundabout, close to the castle and river. An oasis perhaps but the peace is broken minute by minute by the city soundscape of sirens, reversing lorries, traffic engines, and of course people – revellers, stag and hen do’s, shoppers, skate boarders, office workers and construction sites. Some cross the threshold, even more hear the bells, nod at the iconic Lantern Tower and pass by. For over 20 years and in particular the last 10 we have been acutely aware of the failings of the building and the resulting impact on our mission. We love the place but it had been diminishing in front of our very eyes.
Together we have dreamt of a different way of being who we are, of opening ourselves to the city, A way of exposing (and building upon) our heritage as well as finding new audiences and of course of serving our community.
A new vision emerged amongst us and it emerged from the values that we named and which have become the heart of our strategic planning: Offering a RADICAL WELCOME; creating INSPIRING WORSHIP and becoming a community the EMPOWERS WORTH. Working in these building sites would be our way of making sacred space common ground!
In 2017 we had a major breakthrough moving through stage one of a Lottery bid and beginning to prepare a fuller stage two bid. We had the ingredients of a plan, some experienced staff and now we needed to prepare our application. We submitted it on time in the autumn of 2018. It filled nearly a dozen boxes of over 20 documents. In March 2019 we were awarded £4.3M pounds to which we fundraised a further £2M and set about turning plans into reality.
But we were always convinced that we about much more than refurbishing a building. It would be crucial to have a building that exploited our heritage and resourced us into a different future but we knew we needed a transformation in our whole way of being.
If we were to speak Geordie with any competence change was the order of the day.
Our values and vision again became the foundation of what we tried to create.
Hospitality as crucial as it has become to us does not take away from us the deepest desire and calling to be a place and a community framed in worship. We have searched for excellence, for inclusivity, for relevance and as wide an understanding of worship that we could muster.
For us welcome and worship form the first two parts of a triad of values that inform all that we do. The third we articulate as empowering worth. It cuts across all our work streams or should I say underpins it. We aspire to make every contact we have with another one that makes the other and ourselves feel better about ourselves. It has proved a good litmus test to all our encounters even the challenging ones.
So, this is our story. Well the one we can tell so far because it evolves day by day. I’m not sure we have in any sense ‘got there’ but we are not alone. We have made many allies and developed partnerships across every sector of our city and we celebrate our non-monopoly of the good.
Our close neighbours in the heritage sector, Universities, the Business Chamber and its members, local arts groups, schools, orchestras and performers. All friends, co-workers with whom we joyfully share same our work. A thriving Cathedral serves and works for a thriving city. We are co-creators not mavericks.
To our joy some people have just got what we are about. They have understood that we do not just want to create a destination or a gathered church. We do not even juts want to blur the boundaries between the so called secular and religious. We want to blast them apart for we do believe in truth they do not exist. There is no simple in and out of the kingdom and God is at work in the whole caboodle and with everyone. And indeed if he has any favouritism it is with those who in so many ways get pushed to the edges or even outside the city walls.
In our desire to keep widening our contacts and reach this year we took the risk of working with a partner on a new venture – Comedy at the Cathedral. It provoked much criticism – telling jokes in Church God forbid! In his celebrity Guardian columnist David Mitchell (of ‘Would I Lie to You fame too) unsolicited came to our defence and in doing so succinctly formulated an in his inimitable style articulated our whole mission.
‘I’m not very religious, but neither am I an atheist. I’m a “don’t know”. I hope here’s a nice big God, and I hope I find myself believing in one when I expire, but I don’t reckon thinking about it a lot is going to give me the answer. I like churches though – I find them both calming and moving, a combination rarely achieved in TV drama – I was extremely pleased to be in a cathedral.’ And Mitchell doesn’t even speak Geordie!
Does the Cathedral speak Geordie?
After 900 years it is still larning. Does God speak Geordie? WEY AYE MAN.