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  • Sunday
    Closed
  • Monday to Friday
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  • Saturdays and Bank Holidays
    Closed
  • FREE ENTRY

Time for a ‘Progress Report’!

The Very Revd Geoff Miller, Dean of Newcastle, writes…

There is only one thing I hated more than getting my own end of school term report and that was writing the reports for pupils during in my time as a schoolteacher. Managing to find something sensible and useful to say at the end of term, rather than vent my pent-up feelings and hasten the bell that signalled the long summer break, was tedious. Not that I had many difficult or obstructive pupils to be fair, more was the annoyance at having to write 500 individual comments on reports (usually in use by someone else just when you had a free moment) in a week – remember these were the days before computers and internet. We all amused ourselves with possible cheeky ‘bloc’ comments: for Geography – “I am not sure how she finds her way home!” or for RE – “He’s a little devil” but their composing just gave us some distraction. I guess ‘Old teacher’s never die they just lose their class!!!’ What really bugged me was that too often we were writing after the horse had bolted, so to speak. They weren’t progress reports at all, just comments on what had already happened, written when it was too late to do much about things.

Well I learnt this week that this is not the practice in the construction trade and with construction projects – praise the Lord. Today, two months after Historic Property Restoration came on site we held a long and very thorough ‘progress review’. Somewhere in the region of 20 people gathered around the table: Architects, Planners, Quantity Surveyors and Landscape Gardeners, Site Foreman and Company Directors, Project Manager and little old me! I am quite getting into the new language: We have ‘Gant’ charts and very scary Risk Registers, Client issue and Variance reports and Architect’s Reports. We have policies for just about everything, as well as methodology statements and written protocols. We have toolbox talks and site-induction processes. Exciting stuff! But more exciting we have good (and frank) exchanges about how things are really progressing: What has slipped a day or two, what new issues have arisen, what still needs to be done and how things might be better facilitated or improved.

So, the good news is that on the whole we are on target. Like the fitness bike programme at the gym we are recording somewhere in the region of 4% complete (on 12 Feb) but the bar is moving daily. Not that it is without challenges. This week we understood for the first time that the courtyard entrance cannot be used for the next 8-10 weeks which severely limits access points. Outside that doorway a complete enclosed cabin has been constructed to form a safe passage for asbestos removal from the refectory basement. Soon the heating will have to be turned off but fortunately it looks like we won’t have to turn all the electricity off, otherwise it might have meant considering closing up shop at least for a short while. For now, it will be business as usual even if a little on the chilly side. What’s new there I hear you say? And, of course, there is the unexpected uncertainty of C—-D 19. Sorry I had to mention it. Though in its wake I’ve even heard some people say that they are almost missing all the talk about Brexit.

The great progress review was given further detail at the ensuing meeting of the Project Delivery Board. This greater detail moved us beyond the physical construction to look at some of the other aims and objectives: Volunteer recruitment and development, Activity Planning, Project evaluation, targets for student placements, volunteer time, cashflow projections and financial activity, marketing, social media presence, fundraising, interpretation design ….. I promise you the list goes on and on. Best simply to report that things are happening on all fronts and according to the plan – too much to give detailed report here. I want to make sure you to keep reading these posts! Fortunately, we have the wonderful duo Lindy and Kate as our ‘project bouncers’ and they keep us all hard at work – I warn you that hard hats are needed … and not just for the construction work areas!

For my part, at this stage of the game, I couldn’t be more chuffed (and proud) to see the real progress and to feel the buzz that is around the place. Long may it last, please, please.

But just as so many school reports this is only part of the picture. The physical transformation of the Cathedral is crucial, vital, necessary and it will be our legacy but it will be an utter waste of money, energy and time – and I mean that 100% – if we are not transformed ourselves, individually and corporately. Our goal is easy to identify and name – that we become more authentically the people of God who are faithfully sharing in the building of the Kingdom of God, here at the heart of Newcastle. But how far have we progressed? Now at this point I am missing the Gant charts and the frightening Risk Register. I hope we have made some progress but how do we assess it? We have tried to be more prayerful, we have, at some cost, experimented with a practical desire to become more welcoming, we have cosied up to one another (admittedly against present advice an d our English preferences) and settled into new worship patterns in the quire. We have begun to live, occasionally patiently (though sometimes reluctantly), with change. Of course, we have had scratchy times, snappy moments, even grumpy days but hopefully not enough to spoil our project.

Most of all we have seen Christ among us, often in unexpected, yet always gracious, ways. We are learning to keep on looking to the horizon of the coming of the Kingdom and yearn for its growing presence amongst us. Without doubt we know that we have a long way to go and a lot to learn. So, I think that might just count as about 4% progress, we are at least heading in the right direction. Amid all this I am daily reminded of something that was said to me many years ago by the General Secretary of the Mission Populaire d’Evengelique – a French group with whom I spent a sabbatical year in 1990. Andre Micaleff was a tough old French resistance fighter and his assessment of their work in mission went something like this:

“I believe we are not the best or worst at mission but in the end, we will not be judged by the soundness of our doctrine or the purity of our Christian practice but by width, depth and breadth of the patience and tenderness we show to all those we meet – those already loved by God.”

This will be my ‘litmus test’, my ‘assessment tool’ and the basis of any real progress report for all that we are doing in the Cathedral. I’ll let you into my assessment secret …. this is really what I really care about: Will our newly refurbished Cathedral and the transformed community that animates its life be bold and confident, imaginative, creative, and passionate in the declaration of God’s gracious love for all people …. and will we be a people and a place that declares this in who we are and how we act? So time for the progress assessment:

March 2020: ‘Satisfactory for now, but don’t ease off, the journey has only just begun.’

Now, I never read that on my school reports or wrote it on a report when I was a teacher!