'˜In 900 years there have never been so many people across the threshold in such a short time' - Peterborough Cathedral
I am, in some respects, a 1980s' throwback. True, it is a long time since I looked good in shoulder-pads that would not shame the Tennessee Titans, huge gilt buttons that don't actually fasten anything, tight midi pencil skirt, cinched in jacket, killer heels and a South Fork perm.
Those days are done, thank the Lord, but musically I am still rooted in the 80s. I must add that I also truly love the exquisite choral music at the cathedral, but it has a few limitations when it comes to grooving with the beat and finding lurve. Mind you, I had my first serious smooch to Madness’ ‘Baggy Trousers’ which is not an obvious contender either, but where there’s a will and a boy drenched in Lynx and with absolutely no sense of rhythm, there’s a way.
Lionel Richie was a safer bet. Blondie, Abba, The Police, Wham, Phil Collins, Duran Duran and even The St Winifred’s School Choir (presumably now all grandmas themselves) provided the soundtrack of my youth. But the best were Simon and Garfunkel, for cultivating pseudo-intellectual angst and Chris de Burgh, master storyteller before he went all mushy in the 1990s. (Before someone corrects me I know that some of those were 1970s’ creations but I discovered them in the 1980s and that is what counts. I’m the writer. I’m in charge!)
A Chris de Burgh track comes rather cornily to mind because the cathedral is quiet at present. It is full of a great and awesome hush. After almost 180,000 visitors to the Tim Peake space exhibition in three months it feels as if the building is physically exhaling. In 900 years there have never been so many people across the threshold in such a short time. Never before have so many written prayers been left and candles lit for struggling families and friends and lost ones of this city.
Cathedral staff have been run ragged keeping up with an apparently insatiable demand for candles and pencils and post-its. Our chaplains have been busy providing care and prayer. People who had never set foot in the cathedral before came to see the space capsule, and were simultaneously wowed by Something Else. Many have commented along the lines that they have realised that Peterborough Cathedral is their cathedral, that it is a place of peace, that although they may not have noticed Him for years, God is for them, and that they faintly sense long buried needs that are whispering to be met.
I am thrilled. I want everyone to know the love of God and I’ve been wondering how to offer encouragement to those who dislike organised religion, but who may quietly be reconnecting with God’s love through God’s initiative, helped along by the ultimate scientific artefact displayed in the ultimate house of prayer. And that is how Chris de Burgh burst unsubtly into my brain with “A Spaceman came travelling” and his unusual take on the birth of a baby in a stable. It’s a contrived link, but it gives a clue.
The next Big Thing is Christmas. And like the spacecraft, Christmas in the cathedral is free and it has something for everyone. It also happens to be the whole point of the building. So come back over Christmas and see what you find here this time. It is for you. God is for you. Even if you do still dress like Alexis Carrington or Adam Ant.