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Just before Christmas, fans of Richard Osman’s TV gameshow ‘House of Games’ might have spotted contestants being challenged with a question about our very own Cathedral. The question: ‘For several centuries after its construction in 1448, the tower of Newcastle Cathedral was used as what?’ The answers to choose from: ‘A brewery’, ‘A lookout post’, ‘Target practice for archers’, or ‘A lighthouse’.
Hopefully, you would have easily picked the correct answer, and if you’re not sure, the title of this column will give you a clue. A lighthouse. When the Newcastle skyline looked rather different and the town of Newcastle, as was, was growing up from the banks of the Tyne, St Nicholas’ iconic ‘Lantern Tower’ was its major landmark, a beacon on the hill, something to help ships navigate their way up the Tyne and to shine a light at what was the heart of this town as it developed.
Today, the Cathedral’s ‘Lantern Initiative’ – a way of being, thinking, and behaving, to re-cast how we respond to vulnerability at the City’s heart today and live out our calling as a place of Radical Welcome, Inspiring Worship and Empowering Worth in one another – continues to seek to shine a light in ways that are meaningful for our time and the city as it is today.
While we hope we can shine a light for those in dark times, we also want to be changed by the light shining from others calling us as a community to change. Looking back on 2022, it is easy to think of folk such as one person traumatised and longing for a fresh start in baptism after leaving a difficult circumstance in life behind, and another, struggling in their mental health, who wanted to offer some of their estranged children’s favourite things on the altar and sit, in security, crouched by the cathedra. One volunteer, who came to us after leaving prison, has helped us find a better way to do all we need in terms of safer recruitment without triggering past trauma.
Whatever the Cathedral’s Lantern Tower has been in the past, today, more and more it and our Lantern Initiative stand to remind us not just about who we may be able to shine a light for but to be attentive to who may be bearing a light for us. How, at the beginning of another year, might we hold and cherish God’s light in the dark together?