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A BEACON OF LIGHT
The Latest from the Lantern Initiative
In this article, Revd Jon Canessa, Lantern Initiative Lead at Newcastle Cathedral considers, “what is a ‘Radical Welcome’ and how is this different from any other sort of welcome?”.
It appeared in the March 2022 edition of Link, the monthly newspaper for the Diocese of Newcastle.
In the gospels, we read that Jesus sends out his disciples in pairs to proclaim the Good News, directing them to stay where they are welcomed and shown hospitality. Jesus is quite clear that they should not waste time where their presence is not wanted: “If anyone does not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust from your feet.”
Since the completion of the redevelopment work, made possible by support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Newcastle Cathedral has been considering the question, how do we offer a welcome to all our visitors, so they stay to be blessed by us as well as to be a blessing to us?
The Cathedral is hugely grateful to its volunteer welcomers that are committed to embodying its core values of ‘Radical Welcome’, ‘Inspiring Worship’ and ‘Empowering Worth’. Welcomers provide a visible presence, greeting everyone as they enter the building through its main West Entrance. Volunteer training looks at how we manage the tension between ‘All Are Welcome’ and ‘All Feel Safe’. This includes unconscious bias, rescuing behaviour and the drama triangle, personal safety and boundaries, trauma-informed environments and responding to conflict and pastoral needs.
In centuries gone by, a fire was lit at night in the Cathedral’s Lantern Tower as a beacon to aid boats to navigate their way safely home up the River Tyne in the dark. Drawing upon this analogy, the Cathedral’s Lantern Initiative seeks to be a beacon of light to those visitors navigating difficult circumstances in life, such as those who are homeless or have refugee status, those living with addiction and poor mental health and those who are lonely or grieving.
‘Radical Welcome’ cannot only be a passive response; it must be proactive and an attempt to meet people where they are. If we are serious about offering hospitality for everyone, we will need to actively seek out and walk alongside those individuals and groups that have previously been alienated by the Church and wider society.
Through the work of the Lantern Initiative, the Cathedral has been working with a group of women who have been through the criminal justice system. As a result of their past, their collective experiences have been impacted by being judged by others, by being denied access to certain opportunities and they carry a deep-rooted sense of not belonging. The trauma and abuse these women have been exposed to throughout their lives unsurprisingly means they value ‘feeling safe’ and are highly attuned to their environment. Their sense of the Cathedral as a place of sanctuary where they are affirmed simply for who they are, has resulted in two exciting projects which the women are leading on.
We were delighted when one of the women recently expressed a desire to become a Cathedral volunteer welcomer. Our safeguarding policies relating to volunteer recruitment necessitate checks and risk assessments that require disclosing some information about the individual’s past. This was painful to put down on paper by the individual concerned and had the effect of triggering painful feelings and emotions for them, despite our best efforts to do this ‘sensitively’.
Reflecting on this afterwards has resulted in the individual offering to help us to re-design what we do and how we do it, and better enables us to work in ways that are trauma-informed. This way of working is messy and disruptive but when we work with (as opposed to for) people, something new is co-created that both parties own and are invested in, and everyone learns and is changed as a result. ‘Radical Welcome’ inevitably involves disruption and change, but unless we are willing to embrace this, people will shake the dust from their feet and search for hospitality elsewhere.