It is 8.30pm and Norwich Cathedral is glowing in unfamiliar colours of red, gold, green, purple and blue. 250 people are locked in the building, the Dean has welcomed us, the Bishop has blessed us and the Lord Mayor has just launched a giant inflatable ball over a sea of up-stretched hands.
Nothing could be in starker contrast to the solemnity and glory of the Liturgy that is usually celebrated in this glorious space, with the voices of the choir soaring heavenward. And was our Founder, Herbert de Losinga, turning in his grave?
Norwich Cathedral is a big place. Its vastness hints at the greatness of the God to whose glory it is built but its size also echoes the breadth of God’s embrace. This space is able to take under the shadow of its wing the widest range of human experience; within these ancient walls all of life, in all its many dimensions, can be safely held.
Underneath the Reliquary Arch a lone tent and dirty blanket sits in the coldness of a hazy blue light and reminds those locked in the safety of the Cathedral of those homeless on the streets. Where for hundreds of years Bishops have entered the Cathedral hangs a washing line of painted pillowcases, each decorated with images of home. In the Bauchon Chapel our Lady of Pity looks down on young people playing “Shelter from the Storm’, a simulation game about natural disasters. Through the South Transept snakes a queue for the Café where hot dogs have just gone on sale – no matter how late the hour food brings comfort. In the Cloisters gladiators do mock battle on a giant inflatable, the passing hours not dimming youthful energy levels. In the Locutory, where once Monks were permitted to speak to each other, a Skype link unites us with young people in Brazil. Beneath the great West Doors, safely caged, twelves hours of non stop, two against two, football keeps the competitive spirit alive whilst in the Nave Sanctuary Guvna B raps his stuff and hands are lifted high in praise.
And in the relative stillness of the Presbytery lies a UV lit bed, its pillow a tv monitor showing the face of a child sleeping. And on the bed’s white sheet young people write their prayers and one prayer stands out: “Thank you for letting us run wild in this holy space”.
Set against the backdrop of the daily rhythm of worship to which this building is most familiar all this activity might at first glance seem like “running wild”. But in these 12hours together we brought the whole of our lives before the presence of God and affirmed the presence of the sacred in every aspect of our lives. Eating, sleeping, dancing, kneeling, playing, painting, talking, singing, in the loudness and in the silence, God was known, affirmed and worshipped.
Looking and sounding as it has perhaps never before, for this one night the Cathedral was, as one mum put it, strewn with living, sleeping young people alongside the effigies of the ‘sleeping’ saints. For one night the Cathedral became their shared home, and as the young people were were allowed to “run wild in this holy place” may be, just may be, they began to understand that this ancient shelter house of prayer is also for them too. And perhaps Herbert was quietly smiling, rejoicing to see his building so full of life and being so loved.