From The Rev’d Gareth Miller – September 2019

Brian Wood

The Rev’d Gareth Miller

Dear friends


Helter skelters in cathedrals – golf courses too! What do you think? I’d be genuinely interested to know. I find myself deeply torn. My natural instinct is to say NO! Churches are sacred spaces and should be treated as such and resist the temptation to be gimmicky.

But it’s easy to rush to condemnation. The Luddite in me needs to be kept in check! The proponents say that it’s all intended to make the church more accessible. Apparently, people have been flocking to see these innovations.

The helter skelter may bring people nearer to the cathedral roof, but does it bring them any nearer to God? I have to say I remain skeptical.

I had a fascinating conversation with one of our teenagers not long ago. I asked if church was boring, whether we needed to jazz it up a bit. Her answer was an emphatic no. “It’s the one place that’s different, where I can get away from all the distractions of modern life,” (I paraphrase).

There was a fascinating programme on the radio the other day in the series Great Lives. Ed Balls (who went up very significantly in my estimation) was talking about his hero, the great English composer Herbert Howells. Matthew Parris, the programme’s presenter (whom I normally admire and agree with) was a little disparaging about people who go to cathedrals to hear this kind of music, and dismissed them as a dwindling minority. Of course, the truth is the opposite, and cathedrals are bucking the trend. And the reason, I suggest, is that people in our generation, young and old alike, just as in ages past, know deep down that there is something numinous that we long to get in touch with. As St Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”

So, inspiring music or helter skelters? I know which one I go for. But let’s be careful, because they may not be mutually exclusive, and God often speaks to his people in unexpected ways.


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