Cathedral as Emergent Community

Cathedrals are doing quite well.

Now, as with all generalisations and stereotypes, this is both sometimes true and sometimes not. However, it is something that quite a lot of people are talking about.

The recent Grubb Institute report had some astonishing statistics suggesting that large portions of the adult population in England had entered a cathedral within the last year. Futhermore, people seemed to think of cathedrals as places which projected spiritual values and were places where the life of the spirit could be nourished and blessed.

I’m always interested in reports like this. The danger of them is that they make cathedral people smug and non-cathedral folk cross and jealous. However, it is important to try to listen to what is behind these reports of success in order to see whether there is something in the life of cathedral congregations that can be shared in other contexts. I happen to think that there is.

I was very struck recently by a conversation with someone in St Mary’s. We were talking about the emergent/emerging church phenomenon. There’s lots more to be said about that, but for now, we’ll just live with the idea that it means new, non-traditional ways of being a Christian community – pub church, late night church, fresh expressions of church and all the ballyhoo.

(I was entertained recently by the idea that I might get a grant for something to do with our regular Sunday morning liturgy by branding it as Mass Church – a Fresh Expressions Experience).

Anyway, back to the conversation. I was saying to someone that I sometimes wonder whether there might be space for an emergent expression of faith within St Mary’s. Some places have done this quite well, maintaining a fairly trad service in the morning, for example alongside an alternative community late on a Sunday evening. Maybe we are doing this already a bit with the Open Silence (an hour of shared silence on a Sunday evening) that takes place once a month.

I was musing that I was surprised that we had not got a more confident, weekly Fresh Expression going in St Mary’s and also noting that Scotland does not seem to be particularly fertile ground for it. As with Alpha, Fresh Expressions sometimes seem to be more of a thing south of the border than north of it.

The person I was talking to said, “Hmm, yes, but you’ve got to remember that you’re allowing the cathedral congregation to be a fresh expression…”

It was one of the moments where all the lights seem to turn on at once.

“Yes,” he said, “you’re allowing the congregation to grow using the themes that the fresh expressions people use. Remember that many of us here never expected to find that our faith could be sustained in a traditional church. Many of us thought that we had moved beyond all that. We’re all surprised to find ourselves here.”

What an interesting thing to think about.

Here are some of the themes that I think are sometimes floating around the emerging/emergent experience which I think we are playfully engaging with in and around St Mary’s:

art mattering
visual stuff being important
online being integral
networks of smaller groups making up something bigger
ability to live with apparent contradictions
freedom to experiment
radical hospitality and welcome
LGBT/Straight inclusive
embracing tradition without being hidebound
influence of monastic patterns, rhythms and themes
not being embarrassed by joy

Ring any bells with you?