When I came to this city at the beginning of last year I knew nothing much about Peterborough and even less about cathedrals, writes Canon Missioner Sarah Brown.
I could possibly have pinpointed the city on a map but my notion of cathedrals was almost entirely based on works of fiction. It owed much to Ken Follet’s Kingsbridge Trilogy (inspired by Peterborough and a terrific read if you are not squeamish about a bit of sex every now and then) with its plague hospitals and alms houses, Trollop’s The Warden with its provision for destitute old men, and of course the efficacious herbal healing ministry of Brother Cadfael and his gentle brethren!
With a Benedictine heritage and buildings with names like ‘Infirmerers Hall’ and ‘Almoners Hall’ it seemed evident to me - and still does - that if our core tasks as Christ’s Church is to love God and our neighbour then we are called to serve the city, assist those in despair or poverty and help feed the hungry, doing whatever we can to bless the city and giving what we can.
‘What we can’ is of course the operative phrase for a large historic building in a difficult, though much improved, financial situation. So we have had to find ways of blessing the city without financial outlay but with imagination, creativity and opportunism.
Setting aside the glorious fact that our doors are open for all and we seek to welcome people of all faiths or none to their cathedral with an array of events we are able, through the passion and time and gifts of our congregations, friends and volunteers, to support projects like a Hope into Action home, the Peterborough Winter Night Shelter, the Foodbank, the Near Neighbours hub bringing communities together and my (not very secret) favourite, the Garden House day provision for the homeless (visited by the archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby last month) sited in the Precincts and literally changing lives.
Many churches and mosques and other organisations seek to look after those in need.
And praise God, because there is more need out there than any of us can manage alone, whether that is material need or any other sort.
But I’m proud that in addition to being a place of worship, a major tourist attraction, an important and amazing building and a functioning business (necessary for anything else to happen) the cathedral is doing its bit.
I would love to see this work growing according to the need of the city, perhaps something for dementia or children with learning difficulties. God knows. If it is to do more, then God will provide the ideas, people, money and opportunities.
But for now I think Brother Cadfael would not be too displeased.