SEE US IN A NEW LIGHT
A new vocabulary
As we reach the end of February 2021, the Very Revd Geoff Miller, Dean of Newcastle, writes…
It’s strange how the word ‘lockdown’ has become so much part of our everyday vocabulary. This time last year, if used about or daily lives, it would have had an eerie feel to it. As if it was part of a public announcement designed for wartime or preparation of a nuclear attack – ‘keep calm and carry on’ style. Now it slips out easily and often. We even use it as a benchmark of time and events: ‘That was during the first lockdown’, we might say, to pinpoint or mark a happening we want to refer to.
It’s not just common parlance, but it weighs in with an ever-growing baggage that we all carry. It has become shorthand for so much suffering, loss and daily restrictions on our lives: a world where common freedoms have been challenged, and we have been forced to think and live very differently. Strange, too, how so many other words and phrases have joined our daily talk pattern – ‘data, not dates’; ‘following the science’; ‘keyworkers’; ‘social distancing’; ‘you’re muted’; ‘I’m all zoomed out’. I could go on, but I am sure you get my point. A whole new lexicon reflecting and attempting to normalise what is a bewildering and often scary ‘new normal’ for us all. I have been reflecting on the power of language to frame and construct the world we inhabit; just how much it comes out of our experience and how much it determines it is an interesting dynamic. But I am convinced that how we speak has a powerful impact on the culture we inhabit, our thinking and our actions.
At the Cathedral, many of us have been learning a very different new language which is also constructing our experience. A year ago, we would probably (well, I would) have baulked at ‘Gantt charts’, ‘cost control’ and ‘change variance’, or at ‘preliminaries’, ‘procurement and commissioning’ and even more at ‘Marcomms’ and ‘monetising’, ‘brand control’ and ‘loyalty ladders’. Now they are part of necessary everyday chatter, though, as you would expect, we are constantly calling ourselves to reflect on the world we are constructing.
I guess that ‘construction and reconstruction’ have been at the heart of the lockdown life of the Cathedral in recent months. With some irony, the enforced closure to congregations and public visitors has somewhat masked the business of the builders’ activity that has continued secretly but apace. Indeed, though COVID caused an initial delay in the works, recent weeks have seen a concentrated effort by masons, ‘sparkies’, heating engineers, conservators and ‘Uncle Tom Cobley’ and all. See, those Gantt charts do keep us all working at full pace and our Project Manager, Lindy, has a deft hand in using them to keep everyone to task.
You may already be up-to-date with recent developments, but just in case, perhaps a quick round-up might be in order…
In the Cathedral Nave, we are still without heating, but we are now in the last throes of connecting the underfloor pipes, and the air source heat pumps to the four new boilers in the Cathedral Hall basement. My guess is that it will be a little bit like a spaghetti junction somewhere under there, but that we will soon be like toast – coats off for worship!
The Nave floor is transformed: level and even with beautiful new stone in almost all the parts. There is a little finishing to complete in the south transept, particularly where the new floor edges onto the re-laid ledger stones. Nearly all the ledger stones are in place (I think over 90 are now displayed). These have been given a first clean with a gentle restoration, and further work will continue at a later date. Around them is a lovely black marble-like stone to provide a fitting frame.
Much more delicate work has begun at the west end. The medieval limestone font has been painstakingly dismantled into three pieces. The awkward steps on which it used to stand have been removed. Soon it will be reassembled in all its simple beauty to take its place on the floor under its uncovered canopy – though I think the glorious canopy will still hang slightly off centre; some quirks have to stay! Around the font will be a beautiful floor pattern made of Frosterly marble, and inside the font, a new bowl with a fitment making water flow constantly: a font with water really is a font.
Other exciting developments have seen the ‘Unknown Knight’ (our oldest inhabitant) transferred to a new resting place in St Margaret’s Chapel. Our Learning Officer has made a great series of films (available on this very website) which cover the big move and latest theories about the knight’s identity in more detail; however, I promise no spoilers here!
The Nave is almost ready for the electricians to begin the new lighting and then the interpretation team to start their fit-out. At the same time, the designers for the ‘shop’ are about to get down to detail. The units they design will be totally moveable and designed to blend with the new seating.
The new liturgical furniture design has also reached its final phase, and now we for the Cathedral’s Fabric Commission for England to give us their assessment. We are very enthusiastic, but I think I had better wait to wax any more lyrical.
Two other areas have developed apace. The Cathedral Hall basement (we must find a better name!) – the scene of many a bludgeoning romance (and game of table tennis) in the Anglican Young People’s Association of the 1950s – is transformed. No longer a dumping ground for all that useful junk (and the rest) that has been there ever since I came, it is now opening up as a lovely new visitor/volunteer suite. The entrance will be via some stairs and a lift in what was the ladies’ powder room and is to become a smart east entrance. The plasterers have been in doing their work, and I promise you, if you saw the space before, you will not recognise the transformation.
The churchyard is still a building site… mud, stone rubble, concrete slabs, and earthmoving machines fill every space, but it’s possible to see the new paths and grounds emerging. The new ‘blessings ribbon’ is shaping up to look rather beautiful, and the outdoor terrace (once a car park) set to be a lovely venue (fancy ‘coffee on the Terrace’ or ‘music on the Terrace’?). So, you see, lockdown certainly hasn’t meant inactivity, and we can’t wait to show it all off.
Of course, that moment will be just the gateway to the next phase of our transformation project. As important as they are, capital works will have been a waste if we don’t make this beautiful, holy space a home for a community. A community with a powerful and ancient tradition to treasure and share; a community open to new ways of being that help create a better future for all. What will be the language we need to learn and to speak? How will our words – our everyday parlance – help construct who we want to become? How do we want this place to be lived-in and to speak for itself?
I have some hints to offer that I hope will inform us. I dream some words and phrases will often be on our lips – hope, welcome, thank you, wow, and ‘tell me about it’ for starters. I hope our demeanour will be more generous, calm, patient, open and filled with gratitude. I hope we will speak a fresh language of graciousness and our own particular dialect of love. I guess time will tell.