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NEWCASTLE CATHEDRAL
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Opening times

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

Written in Stone!

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

A good friend of mine always advises that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast.’ It is a good piece of advice for change-managers, but sadly, one that they are often slow to take on board. Its insight is simple but profound: Setting clear (SMART) goals and objectives, organising and cascading directions, even evaluating and assessing progress is all well and good but any change they may seek to bring about is all too easily thwarted if the organisation’s culture (the way it works, its common understanding of itself, or in short, its self-identity) does not work with the grain of the desired direction.

When it comes to seeing change happen I’ve also found the opposite to be true. Meg Wheatly (a favourite American management guru of mine) put it this way:

‘There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.’

So, in a complex, fast moving situation where resources are scarce and time is pressured, people are faced with a bewildering complexity – not unlike the Cathedral in this year of transformation – I believe it will be the culture we create and sustain among us that will be the biggest factor in our ‘success’. The theologian Walter Wink calls this culture the ‘angel’ of an organisation or community. You may prefer words like corporate soul, self-understanding, ethos… Whatever you call it you know when you encounter it, you know by being ‘in’ the group or when you enter, you know whether you feel welcome, energised, creative, ready to get going, empowered or whether the group leaves you feeling heavy, or is fractious, cliquey, negative, full of scarcity thinking, problematic. The ‘Angel’ can be good or it could be fallen, the ‘Soul’ could be grace-filled or damaged and scarred. In short it is the habitat we create which will allow us to thrive or flounder, and that even more than the technicalities of any programmed change-management.

It is my contention that while we all have a hand in creating the ‘corporate soul’ it emerges among us, ‘bottom up’ so to speak. This cannot be dictated by a ‘big domineering boss’ or ‘fabricated by snazzy charts’ or the ‘selling of the message’, rather we find it together – or it finds us.

You will see this has become quite a rant on my part, apologies!

In real terms, at the Cathedral, we have been approaching this whole dilemma in quite a different way. In the autumn of last year, we decided to hold some open invitation meetings to try and articulate who we wanted to be together, to say what was the ‘best self’ that we wanted to be as a community, a church. About 50 people took part in the discussions – staff, volunteers, congregants, clergy. Together we tried to identify what made us tick, what are our values. Led by an experienced facilitator we talked a lot about what was important to us and what was our common ground. Different words spoke to each of us, inspired us, helped us make decisions about what to do and how to become the people we want to be. To be honest it proved difficult to find an agreed set of words but there was a sense that the discussions themselves helped us see ourselves in a new way. We tried out our ideas on various real scenarios from our daily life, would our self-understanding help fashion, shape how we would act?

We agreed that our values – both real and aspirational – coalesced around three simple ideas:

  • We want to be a place that offers a Radical Welcome
  • We want to be a place that facilitates Inspiring Worship
  • We want to be a place that Empowers Worth

Now I tell you all this because right at this moment we are at a crucial stage of putting the final touches to the design for the churchyard. You may already know that the gardens are to be completely refurbished with new paths, paving, floor grills and of course planting. There will be a new entrance to the Cathedral (where the Ladies loos used to be) and the old carpark is to become a lovely new stepped ‘piazza’. And we have been considering new seating and snazzy waymarking. The Churchyard is already a well-used thoroughfare and it comes into its own on a sunny day when people use it to sit and eat their lunch. We are hoping, however, that it will be transformed into a fresh oasis and we want to encourage people to enjoy the space even more. The old carpark and new entrance will invite loads of activities: concerts, markets, art exhibitions and the green spaces will link us more closely with the offices and work places.

You probably already know that it was an ancient Roman Road and our dream is that it will be enhanced as lovely urban thoroughfare – even on a grey day in the winter. The planting and paving plans are well advanced. A new bespoke metal grill will cover the trench that goes around the Cathedral foundation – its pattern will take its inspiration from some of the tracery on the windows. The planting will be simple and colourful and the seating areas easy to manage but pleasant. However, what has excited me most are some ways in which we will mark the paving. I think they are inspirational on many levels and I am really excited about introducing them to you in their fullness but I wanted to give you a taster right now.

We carefully collected the words that people used when they talked about our values. Now around the exterior of the Cathedral we will have a ribbon in the paved floor. It will wind its way from the south door along the pathway to the so called ‘bin alley’ on the north. Along its path engraved into the floor will be our chosen words. These articulated ‘Values’ will surround us, etched for posterity on our daily path. It will be hard to ignore them. So just when we don’t feel welcoming or worshipful or empowered or generous or joyful or kind may they rise up to meet us.

And there is more: Peter, Clare, Rachael and myself searched for a way we could connect the Cathedral with the life of the city, and the heritage around us, and make the area more thoughtful, meditative if you will. So together we have produced the ‘Newcastle Beatitudes’ – ten places to pause, to observe, to take a moment and be still. Each Beatitude takes its inspiration from what you can see at the spot, in each case you are given a brief detail to help you focus and invite you to ponder. They will be engraved in a roundel embedded in the pavement. I’m not going to spoil it by revealing to you what each will say but I thought – seeing you’ve been following these blogs and at the moment the actual work is paused that I’d let you see just one, in the hope that you will look forward in anticipation to seeing the other nine. Here is number three which will be placed on the floor just near Amen Corner. Now of course this isn’t the actual design but a unique chance for you to see the idea before it becomes a reality. 10 Newcastle Blessings for Newcastle, a simple prayer-walk to encircle the ‘Cathedral for the City’.

Now I wanted to write about all this to afford you a unique insight to our planning and preparations for the development of the churchyard. But even more to invite you to share our values, help us create together a ‘culture’, if you will, with its principles written not only in stone but also in our hearts, in the way in which we, as a community, want go about our daily lives. The way in which we will ‘be’ as well as ‘act’. That in God’s grace we may become a place of Radical Welcome, Inspiring Worship, Empowering Worth.

I look forward to taking this special walk with you, in the not too distant future.