November & December 2023 – Before planning your visit, please check our ‘Visitor Notices’ for accessibility updates and one-off changes to opening times. Click here to view.
A BEACON OF LIGHT
Saying Hello to an Old Friend
Now that the Cathedral is well and truly open once again to visitors, Director of Operations Kate Sussams writes:
We are open! My goodness, how amazing it is to be able to welcome people back into our wonderful Cathedral, which seems transformed yet enduringly the same.
If you have been following our progress via our regular social media posts, Dean Geoff’s blogs or our newsletter, you will have seen just how much work has been undertaken in the last 18 months. And what a feat, from the builders battling with social distancing or supply issues and staff adjusting to the lockdowns of 2020 with new homeworking regimes, to the clergy becoming livestreaming gurus and holding the worshipping life of the Cathedral together.
Finally, in the spring, we saw light at the end of the tunnel and could actually start thinking about our reopening, with all the planning needed for activities, volunteers, marketing and how it was all going to actually work. We were so pleased to be able to open on 12 August and, gosh, what a wonderful day it was.
The very first person to cross the threshold was a long-standing member of our congregation who just stood very still by the font and took it all in, confessing to me that they were there to ‘say hello to a long-lost friend who you’ve not seen for a while but they’re still there and just as lovely’. I left them to just take it all in and to be still and quiet and absorb.
However, that wasn’t for long as pretty soon the building was bustling with so many people, including lots of children and parents. They were wowed by the activities which our Learning Team had laid out, especially the activities station where there were boxes of things for children to pick up and explore/create/build. The first few weeks were awash with smiling faces and interested people.
Our wonderful volunteers were thrown in at the deep end with new things to learn and lots of ways to engage with all our visitors, whether those coming for a look at our ledger stones or those seeking solace and shelter.
One young volunteer, 17-year-old Andrew Cooke, writes: “The Cathedral has a policy of ‘radical welcome’ meaning that no matter who walks through their doors they are welcomed like anyone else would be and that they are just as deserving to have their needs met by this Cathedral as anyone else is.
“As a volunteer here, I will confess that this isn’t always an easy exercise. Trying desperately hard not to make judgements about people and treat everyone with the same love and kindness goes against our instincts and can make us feel a bit uncomfortable, anxious and sometimes even scared. However, despite all of these difficulties, it is a challenge that is no less worthwhile and rewarding and one that we should not shy away from.”
We have had some wonderful feedback from visitors on our social media pages, such as: “The cathedral provides a great welcome to families and sends out the message that kids are welcome in such places” and “The space is inspirational and weaves together old and new in a way which makes Christianity relevant in the 21st century. Today we encountered God in a new way. Thank you for this.”
Of course, the ‘hard work’ now begins! How to ensure that everything we do is high quality and meaningful and embraces all our visitors’ needs is top of our minds. Juggling the sometimes conflicting needs of visitors, worship and hosting large events is a pleasant challenge and one which gives us cause for daily reflection as a team.
However, we are thrilled to finally be able to say “welcome”!
We are also always keen to hear from potential volunteers. Volunteering is open to all, and people are free to choose when and how to get involved. Take a look at our Volunteering Hub by clicking here and if anything sparks your interest, please complete an application form and get in touch.
This article was originally published in the October 2021 edition of Link, the monthly newsletter for the Diocese of Newcastle.