How did a helter skelter end up being booked for ten days at Norwich Cathedral?
Roll back two years and I am standing in the Sistine Chapel. I am being jostled by the crowds, packed tight, the guards are shouting at the people “Stop talking!” and “No photos!” The ceiling is amazing but I just want to get out of there. As I try and work my way to the exit, I find myself longing for the sanity of Norwich Cathedral and a thought strikes me: the ceiling of the Nave at Norwich Cathedral, with its amazing roof bosses, is every bit as beautiful as the Sistine Chapel. It is just so high up it is difficult to appreciate.
I should have stopped there but my mind kept racing. How could you get closer to the wonderful images captured in the roof bosses? Tours along the Clerestory? Out of bounds! A tall scaffold tower? Ugly and too many steps? A ferris wheel? Lovely idea but you would never get it through the doors. A helter skelter…surely not? But in that moment Seeing it Differently was born.
Could the playful presence of a helter skelter help to open up conversations about the building, help open up conversations about God? This unexpected presence in the Cathedral would act as a draw. Climbing to its top, the visitor will literally see the Cathedral differently. They will also come closer to the roof bosses and to the story they tell, the story of Salvation.
Although the star attraction, the helter skelter will be only one of the ways our visitors will be encouraged to think about seeing it differently. Visitors will be encouraged to literally lie down and look up. We know from previous occasions how much visitors love being able to simple lie down and enjoy a different perspective on the building. And as they lie there they will be gazing up at the story of salvation.
In the North Transept there will be the opportunity to walk a labyrinth. This ancient practice of intentional walking has long be recognised as a way of helping the walker see things differently, gain a new perspective in their life. For the more passive in the South Transept will be a Bible Box, offering the opportunity to literally sit inside the Word of God. Surrounded by all the words of Scripture, and the story of Salvation, how would you see life differently?
For the more ambitious the Cloisters will offer a blind trust trail. When we cannot see how then will we see life differently? We we are disorientated in our lives, whom then will we trust?
Each of these installations is designed to provoke questions about both how we see the building and how we see life – and, linked to that, to open up questions about God. Our specially trained volunteers will be on hand to help and guide at each of these points in the Cathedral and, where appropriate, to follow up the questions and conversations that may flow from these experiences.
And in the East end of the Cathedral will be displayed stories from individuals explaining how Jesus has helped them see life differently. Alongside this there will be a range of free resources available for the faith curious. Twice each day we will also be offering “The Walk of Salvation,” a chance to discover more about our amazing roof bosses and to hear the story captured in these beautiful carvings.
For all the fun of the fair captured in the image of a helter skelter in the Nave of the Cathedral, Seeing it Differently is essentially reflective in nature. The image of this traditional fair ground ride in an unusual setting in itself invites the visitor to see things differently and once we start trying to see things differently, where might that end? To learn a new perspective is essential to resolving difficulties, to discerning a way forward; it is the beginning of wisdom.
The fun comes in the shape of a helter skelter. The serious comes in creating opportunities for reflective, God-shaped conversations. It is playful in its intent but also profoundly missional. It is the Cathedral doing what it has always done – encouraging conversations about God. By its sheer size and grandeur it speaks of the things of God; it points beyond itself. Its sheer presence helps to keep the rumour of God alive and plays its part in passing on the story of Salvation.
People of all faith and no faith are welcome in Norwich Cathedral. Wherever you are, or are not, on your faith journey, the space invites you just to be, to explore and encounter the space in your own way, to let it speak to both heart and soul. In the same way Seeing it Differently is an invitation to enjoy particular activities in the way that works best for the visitor. In the true spirit of hospitality the Cathedral invites but never seeks to impose. At Seeing it Differently the visitor may chose to experience each of the activities and just go on their way. But for the faith curious the opportunities will be there. Churches should never hector but only ever invite with a warm welcome offered without condition.
So roll-up, roll-up and enjoy riding the helter skelter at Norwich Cathedral but if you are so minded, it just might help you see things differently.
Seeing it Differently will take place at Norwich Cathedral from 8 to 18 August 2019.
Opening times will be 10am-5pm Monday to Saturday and 12noon-3pm on Sundays. Admission to the Cathedral is free (donations always welcome!) and it will cost £2 to take a ride on the Helter Skelter.