Sunday, 20 July 2008

Mission is possible

Four of us have been on mission in Ely Cathedral this week. Not 'a mission' but part of the ongoing mission, working as day chaplains and talking to anyone and everyone who ventures in or near the building.

Ely is a small city with a big cathedral, thanks to the Saxon Princess Etheldreda, who founded a double monastery (for men and women) in the 7th century. It became a place of pilgrimage, leading to the building of a great Norman Abbey with Etheldreda's shrine, and the establishment of the cathedral and its diocese.

The cathedral church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity suffered a setback in the 1300s when one of its towers collapsed, but this led to a great symbol of resurrection with the building of the Octagon and its lantern that draws a quarter of a million visitors a year to the former swampy island.

The Victorians carried out major refurbishments, opening the inside of the building into one glorious sweep, installing the beautiful stained glass windows and building a beamed and painted roof that draws gasps from all but the fussiest (and most historically naive!) visitors.

More recently, refurbishments to mark the millenium included restoration of the Lady Chapel, a new enclosed processional walkway and a range of sculptures around the building. Well over a thousand years of praise and prayer are in the foundations of this church (buildings and people).

So much for the history. The present is the 'nerve centre' of Ely diocese, which includes Cambridge and Huntingdon alongside the many fenland towns and villages. Until a couple of days ago, that was my diocese: my 'sending church' is a Cambridge church, Holy Trinity, so I came to train as an Ely ordinand.

Ely isn't exactly short of ordinands, and I now know I'm not one of the privileged few who will remain but one of the large majority who are 'exported' - so my hunt for a curacy somewhere starts here. Or it will when we're past the grieving stage. Meanwhile, back to the week of mission.
Four of us - Jamie, Nick and Stefan and myself - donned cassocks and badges and met between us lots and lots of people. Our job in a nutshell was to offer prayer to and for all who felt in need, and to help all our visitors to relate the buildings and their history, Jesus whose story is told by those buildings, their fixtures and the daily pattern of services, and their own life and story. Not in a ramming-religion-down-your-throat kind of way, just being available, friendly and taking a few risks. It's genuinely a privilege to meet so many people from so many places near and far.

Looking up in the octagon there's a 14th century statue of the crucified and risen Christ, showing (assisted with Victorian paint and beams from every age in between) one hand raised in blessing and displaying the wounds that mark the brokenness he received from us and took into the very heart of God for us.

His blessing offered freely and his voluntary suffering are always the beginning of the Gospel. For our own issues we receive not always relief, not even an explanation, but always that loving, wounded hand reaching out to take ours.

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It's great to get comments - a good way to encourage, challenge and help me! Thank you. Jeremy