SEE US IN A NEW LIGHT
How on earth does one nail jelly
The Very Revd Geoff Miller, Dean of Newcastle, writes:
Well now we are half way through the CGISS project.
I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t like to guess what the next few month’s hold in store, I never was a betting man or a lucky one. Perhaps it’s living in the drift of COVID-19 or just the sheer pressure of being me but to be honest I’ve been worrying (just a little) about my blogs. It may, of course, be ‘deferred anxiety’ (is there such a thing?) or ‘distraction activity’ or more likely ‘that time of life’. My worry may seem bizarre to you but it has bothered me this week. Simply put: ‘Have I been far to positive?’ Have I made delivering a project like ours seem ‘easy peasy, lemon squeezy’ or even too exhilarating or worse made it into too pious a moment in our common life. If I have, then at the very least I have been disingenuous and at worst downright misleading. So, I need to put it right now without ‘hesitation, repetition or deviation’ and this is as good a week as any to do it.
I have found that to the unsuspecting, untrained client getting accurate costs is harder than nailing jelly. Every specification and tender process comes with a flashing red alert and then at every stage later. Will it be anywhere near the estimated cost, the one we used to attract funding? Does it include VAT and Architects fees? Is there a sub-contractor fee and what about the cost of the QS? Does it include any necessary expenses? Management fees included? Variation fees? Will it cause any delays which might invoke an extra payment clause? How does the work fit with the necessary permissions and grant payments? What is the impact on the dreaded cashflow and how tight are the payment schedules? Ultimately can we afford to do it or, then again not to do it?
All of these questions (and more) are the stuff of my nightmares but not only mine. The whole team waits with baited breath at every stage – our futures (personal and corporate) depend on the outcomes. And we have learnt not to ‘soufflé’ (I love that idea of breathing out with relief) too much, when the news seems ok because at any point later things may (or usually will) change. I used to wonder how some projects went so horribly wrong and budgets escalated out of control. Now I am amazed when they don’t. Come back the days when you could simply place an order and pay a price!!
It’s not just the costs that are frustrating I can guarantee that any complication at first sight will be only a small measure of what could follow. A weak panel could involve finding asbestos and lead to unsafe wiring that affects the fire Alarm and interfaces with future designs for the interpretation kit about to be bought, which has a decision deadline of today. Like a Brian Rix farce the ‘domino effect’ would be laughable if it wasn’t so painful and so near the truth.
Now I offer this rant perhaps primarily because it feels good on my part to get it off my chest in a safe environment and among friends; hopefully it will also at least make the point that even without COVID things never seem to run smoothly; but perhaps most of all because it’s been one of those weeks. The new lighting scheme was difficult to price – scaffolding problems etc etc and therefore whether to agree to go ahead; the interpretation work, especially the animation film needs strong heads and words to keep on track; roof structures have let us down at the last minute in the new entrance area and the remedy will boost the costs. Fortunately, we have some excellent colleagues batting on our side and the experienced among us keep their cool – they have seen it all before. I have no doubts it will all work out.
At a recent leadership course, I was challenged to remember that the most important function of the Dean was to provide a ‘non-anxious presence’ at the heart of our Cathedral. I’m trying, though my nightmares (literally on occasions) reveal that at times it’s all a fancy veneer. Good job I have you and this blog in which to sound off.
To be honest (dangerous this Geoff) there are times when I am driven to distraction and occasionally to a G&T. But so far, I have never doubted that together we will deliver a refurbished Cathedral (sometime) next year. We’ve even booked the Archbishop of York to come and celebrate with us, but to be on the safe side he won’t come until St Nicholas’ Day in December. Looking back, we have had other ‘hairy weeks’ just like this – worrying about asbestos and then losing electricity in the hall, the boilers being condemned and needing replacing, fire alarms and systems needing expensive upgrades, closing for worship and then St George’s Chapel becoming out of bounds, and toilets are always a problem, but we can’t do without them – just last week we found out that the doors won’t shut anymore swollen by damp! The list could go on, but I am reminded that whatever is thrown at us, we are still here and things keep moving on, at least, in the right direction. Not even COVID has stopped us all together – though I am only too aware there is still a lot to do and who knows what we will worry about next. David Jenkins used to say, ‘Even the church can’t keep a good God down’ and I might add ‘and even refurbishment works (plus a pandemic) won’t stop our Cathedral from serving our city and diocese.’
If concerns about the building works can be taxing they fade almost into significance when it comes to talking about people and change. I have from the outset been clear that it’s not just the stones and the wiring that we are hoping to ‘refurbish’. Our own transformation as a modern, vibrant and gracious Christian community will be crucial to the future of the Cathedral in Newcastle. One of my favourite organisational gurus is called Meg Wheatley she often talks about an organisation’s ‘culture’ – I would call it the soul – others talk about ‘ethos’ or ‘identity’. Who are we who call this place our Christian home, family, household, tribe? We certainly don’t own the place but we do inhabit it for a while – how do we open it and ourselves to each other, to others, to the world. What will we spend our selves doing and who for? We are following but what will we become? Fundamentally we are a people in transition, in formation, waiting to leave exile. For me this is an exciting place to find ourselves we are being forced to learn to trust, take each step and let God’s future emerge. But gosh we have a lot to learn, and so much of the learning will be on our knees with hands held open. Meg Wheatly loves to say that nothing is more powerful than a community who know what they are for. Join me please in a prayer that as we nail the building jelly we will more importantly find our own beautiful Godly flavour. A crass analogy I know but it’s been one of those weeks – anyway I hope you get my point!