It is 7.10am and it might be expected that, apart from colleagues also gathering for Morning Prayer, I will have the Cathedral to myself. But each morning either just ahead of or behind me there are others entering the building. Sometimes the same people but often different; all ages but often younger rather than older. They come not to join us for the Daily Office but to light a candle or leave a prayer; this is how they choose to start their day.
Worship is the absolute heartbeat of the building. Unfailingly, each day, every day, Morning Prayer, the sharing of the Eucharist and Evensong – familiar words that echo in and around the building, soaking the walls, scenting the air, permeating the space. It is a pattern that has been repeated for 900 years and that in its faithful repetition has created sacred space.
And into this space visitors enter, some coming deliberately and purposefully, others stumble and find themselves taken unawares. The dazzle of the lit candles is testimony to the number of prayers/thoughts/desires offered, the written prayers but a small glimpse into all that these pilgrims are carrying. Yet many more prayers are spoken silently into the space while sitting in a chapel, gazing at a statue, or wandering on floors made uneven by centuries of footprints. For some of these wayfarers faith will be fully formed but for others it will be a more tender plant or perhaps riddled with doubt and uncertainty.
But where ever they are on the faith journey every visit is a valid visit, every prayer, fully formed or half grasped at, is heard and held by the One who is at the heart of the mystery of this space. And by our smile, the kindness in our eyes, our words of welcome, the free offering of this space, we seek to affirm these travellers in their personal and private quest.
Whilst we might want to argue that every where is sacred, that God is fully present in all times and in all places, we humans have always sought out thin places which have spoken in deeper more profound ways to us. And this Cathedral is one such significant place.
Our task as a Cathedral Chapter and a Cathedral Community is to remain faithful and unwavering in our offering of this rhythm of worship, affirming this as sacred space. First and foremost this is always for the greater glory of God and this is the essence of it sacredness. But beyond that we do not create this space as something for ourselves, something for us to hold onto or even feel we have to protect. We create this space to gift it to others; it is our offering to this city.
Some will not understand it, a few may mis-use it, but still freely it is offered and many, many embrace the gift. We may in quiet and unobtrusive ways signpost towards the more that faith can offer, but never in a way that distracts from the significance of the encounter that is already taking place. In what ever way and for what ever reason, it is enough that they come; this is why we are here.
This is not our space, it does not belong to us. This is sacred space open to all, we are but its guardians. Our welcome must be an echo of God’s welcome, who accepts each of us just as we are.