Sarah Brown, canon missioner at Peterborough Cathedral:
I’ve got an idea. It is ambitious, sketchy and a bit mad but in my mind it has God’s boot prints all over it and it won’t go away.
The only thing to do with such an idea is to sweat it out and see what happens. I have learned over the years to hold back, because if God is in it things will miraculously come together. People will come forward, connections will be made, dots joined, money found. The hard work of previous colleagues and slowly-built relationships can suddenly bear fruit and the impossible becomes gloriously possible.
So I’m testing it out on you. The idea is this: To use a property in the cathedral precinct to develop a centre for Christian care and outreach. The real vision is to restore a part of traditional cathedral function still hinted at today by buildings called Almoner’s and Infirmerer’s halls and based on the tradition of hospitality that goes back to our Benedictine roots, and the gospel imperatives of care for those in need.
Of course there is already much amazing work being done quietly by faith groups including the cathedral in various areas of social need, but I cannot think of a better location for a centre for homeless day care, a parish nurse, dementia drop in, a community of prayer, social enterprise or whatever is most needed. All we need is the plan, the building, the money, the people, the permissions…. Yes. I know. Bonkers. But nothing is impossible with God.
In an attempt to explore a few thoughts with an ecumenical colleague the Dean and I took him for a walk around the precincts. Mortifyingly, while exploring the under-croft and rambling connected buildings beneath the Beckett Chapel we let a door close behind us and found ourselves locked in. I briefly entertained thoughts about who would have to be eaten first if nobody came to release us.
As the fattest by far it would definitely have been me, as both my co-prisoners tend towards the lean and hungry end of the spectrum. Then I began to imagine centuries into the future, the discovery of our grimacing skeletons beside walls scarred by our desperate fingernails. Clearly all the history here is getting to me!
Luckily, such grisly prospects were averted by the joyous discovery of a mobile phone signal so we alerted the Dean’s PA and asked her to plunge into the labyrinthine depths to come and release us. It took her a while - and we had to shout to help her locate us. Very Anglican we were about it too, tapping on the door of our prison and calling out politely the equivalents of “I say! Would you mind awfully…? Hello? Hello?” until fortunately our sensible ecumenical colleague filled his lungs and bellowed with rather greater effect. And lo! With one bound we were free.
Does that contribute anything to discerning if my idea is good, I wonder? I’m pretty sure that being locked in the under-croft was not divine intervention to put the mockers on any social initiatives - but then I might be biased. I shall continue to wait and see.