SEE US IN A NEW LIGHT
Loos, drains and other dirty work!
The Very Revd Geoff Miller, Dean of Newcastle, writes:
Sometimes real transformational work is not particularly photogenic – well not to the casual observer or the untrained eye such as mine. Personally, I prefer to rush to the gloss, long before I have prepared the foundation: I’m impatient for the finished sparkling product and get too easily bored with the sanding and plastering, repairing and smoothing that needs done first. However, at my best I am convinced that glossing over a shoddily prepared base is especially counter-productive and wasteful because when you don’t do the work below the cracks and flaws soon reappear – despite my desire for pretty pictures for a blog!
So, you wouldn’t be surprised to hear from me, I’m sure, that there’s not much to report about the development of the works programme. Or that there isn’t much obviously interesting going on, and that isn’t all the fault of the COVID-19 lockdown. But you would be very, very wrong! The first and easiest good thing to report is that while we have been in lockdown the removal of asbestos has carried on. The work was already in high technical quarantine as were the workers so it was possible to continue. I am pleased to say that is a job thankfully ticked off the list. Without having to dodge the public it continued uninterrupted and although there were some minor hiccups – the telephone system being the prime victim – it has now been signed off. Even more pleasing is that first reports haven’t identified any further asbestos that needs to be removed. So, with a basement all clean and perhaps for the first time empty it has been possible for preparations to be made for drains and so called ‘dirty’ work to be done. The pit shaft for the lift has been dug and work progresses at a pace now with the rest of the basement work. Never again will you be able to venture into this bowel of the Cathedral to find it clogged up with an accumulation of years of debris, colonic irrigation over now we wait for the benefits – how gross but true!
Up a level, with work now up to 60% capacity, there has also been some remarkable developments and though I promise not to press the point they too have a somewhat lavatorial theme. Near the Hall, just down the steps into the Cathedral the ladies’ loos have just gone! Smashed into thin air. ‘Plein-air’ is quite a useful phrase here because not only are the loos gone but they have broken through the walls and into the old car park. A new east entrance and corridor is emerging!
See I told you things hadn’t stopped – not even for COVID-19!
In the Cathedral nave there is more to tell too. Now obviously progress has been measured, not as fast as we had all hoped – construction workers included. Many of the ledger stones that will be moved into a display position have now been lifted, identified and are ready for the Conservators. The poorer quality ones (there are too many to exhibit them all) will be reburied under the new floor so as to preserve them as best we can.
I’m told that we would barely recognise the Nave at the moment. The platform in the crossing has gone. A start has been made on the very complicated levelling that has to go on before the underfloor heating and the new flag stones can be laid. And the channels or gulley’s that carry piping and wires have been exposed ready for the technical bods to get to work. Two interesting finds are worth sharing. First as the present flagstones have been lifted it is possible to see the ‘concrete’ strata or foundation of the Gibson Scott 1870’s restoration. The contractors are looking at scraping off the foundation surface (more cost) to get the levels right and to cushion the ledger stones with something softer. Here we are repairing other people’s repairs – what have we got ourselves into? Like surgeons removing scar tissue!
The wiring and pipe work look very scary and I am more than pleased it is about to be sorted out. It reminds me of the fibre optic wiring in those green boxes on the corner of our streets. Perhaps it more like the wiring in the Deanery which seems to contain every bit of professional and DIY wire ever put in some in use and some obsolete for years but which ones are which? Now it will be sorted, and hidden away again hopefully in excellent working order.
So please don’t for a minute think nothing has been going on recently. Not a chance. Rather perhaps some of the most important work below has been quietly happening. Hopefully we won’t notice it when it is glossed over, polished and sparklingly finished. If we do, I guess it will mean that it wasn’t been done well enough. I’m sure however, it won’t be lost on you that the transformation taking place in our building, our beloved Cathedral, is more multi-layered. It is hard to make pictures of cleared basements, demolished toilets and underfloor wiring exciting. But there are other strata of transformation that are impossible to photograph at all. They are about real work that is perhaps the hardest to execute, though for my money the most important. What good will be a refurbished beautiful building be if it is inhabited by an unreconstructed community? It’s too easy to say that the Church is the people not the building. Pah! Sunday School sentimentality. The building work needs (demands) to be accompanied by the cleansing, refreshing, enlivening work of the Holy Spirit dancing among us and transforming our common life.
Naturally there are many facets to any transformative process. They all are based on an understanding that the concrete changes, or the changes to structures or policies are only a starting never an end. I have always loved the mantra in Ursula Le Quin’s book, The Disposessed, that ‘The means are the ends.’ Nothing really changes unless we change and we change together. How we go about that will be as important as any changes we make. This is no easy task and it is impossible, I think, to see it as a task that can be ticked off or finished, so to speak. Rather it must be approached as a dynamic process that works on lots of levels.
The Weinstein model of learning attached has been helpful to me show the kind of cyclical reflective processes that we will have to continue if we are to be really transformed. Returning and creating the new normal will only be as good as the active reflection we have been able to do as everything around us is changing.
For me this is not only a complex task it is a deeply spiritual one too. We can look to our forebears for insight and help. St John of the Cross and the ‘Dark night of the Soul’, springs quickly to mind as does the value of the Ignatian exercises, and the Pastoral Cycle. No doubt there are other resources to draw upon, do let me know of any you have found useful. What they all have in common is to remind us that transformative practices need to go deep. On the surface it may seem little is happening but blockages are clearing, wiring needs resetting, walls need demolishing, all before some new things can be put in and older traditions refreshed and restored. Fundamentally this will be God’s work in us for unless the Lord builds the house we labour in vain (Ps 127).
So, we go on in confidence and hopefully with some humility. We have to let him do with us as he will, and we must learn to be co-creators with his Spirit. And where there are bits in the depths that seem too hard to face or change all we can do is hope to squirt in a bit of grace.