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Are Churches Still a Place for Prayer or Have They Become an Arena for Amusement?

08-10-2019
National Cathedral
National Cathedral

Some British churches have launched controversial new projects in an attempt to attract people and make cathedrals accessible to everyone. But one leading clergyman is calling it "blasphemous."

Norwich Cathedral in eastern England constructed a 50 foot fair ride inside the sanctuary on August 8 calling it a “helter skelter.”

The idea came to Canon Andy Bryant "when he was visiting the Sistine Chapel in Rome" and wanted to find a unique way to show off Norwich Cathedral's own ceiling.

"We have one of the greatest collections of medieval roof bosses anywhere in northern Europe," he said. "The trouble is they are so high up that most people never get a chance to really appreciate them."

The ride gives visitors a unique aerial view of the inside and the chance to experience the cathedral in an entirely new way.

Jane Hedges, canon of Norwich Cathedral said, "It's fun, but it is about serious, really serious matters in trying to get people to think about the meaning of life. To think about their place in the world."

But others say a church sanctuary is not the appropriate place for a carnival attraction.

Dr Gavin Ashenden, former chaplain to the queen, said the priests at Norwich Cathedral have been "unprofessional" and are "making a mistake about what a cathedral is good for".

“There’s a sliding scale between mockery and blasphemy. It’s a mockery because it’s treating God like a tourist attraction, instead of as the creator of the universe who is going to hold us accountable for our ethical failures,“ he told the British newspaper The Telegraph.

“It becomes blasphemy at the point where the cathedrals represent a long line of belief - much of which is martyred belief - people have paid with their lives to believe in Christ and cathedral is corporeal embodiment of Christ.” 

“To turn this into entertainment,” he added, “is blasphemous to Christ and the people who died for Christ. It suggests cathedrals have lost their responsibility to Christ because they are preoccupied with the demands of society.”

The amusement ride is part of the "Seeing It Differently" project at Norwich Cathedral and ends on August 18.

Britain’s Rochester Cathedral also tried to attract new people by installing a nine-hole mini golf course inside this house of worship on July 30.

The cathedral and Rochester Bridge Trust paired up to build a golf course with the hopes of attracting a younger audience to the church.

Each hole is accompanied by a brief explanation of the bridge in question, adding to the educational experience of the course.

Matthew Rushton, canon of Rochester Cathedral said, "Cathedrals are very confident at the moment to innovate and have events like this and to tell people about our faith in Jesus which is what we're all about."

"We are always looking for new ways to engage with young people and inspire them to take an interest in bridges and civil engineering, " Andrew Freeman, operations manager at the Rochester Bridge Trust, said in a statement.

The church says it aims to educate visitors while they take part in a fun activity. The adventure golf course runs until September 1.

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