August is a slow news season, a time for silly stories. Few stories could be sillier than one carried by the BBC of a full-size helter-skelter being built in Norwich Cathedral.
Norwich cathedral dates from the end of the Eleventh Century, it is the cathedral of a diocese that would have thrived during the times of the medieval wool trade. It is a place where worship has taken place for nine centuries. What would possess anyone to authorise the construction of a helter-skelter in the nave?
Cathedrals are among the few places where the church has been hanging on. As the numbers in the congregations of ordinary parish churches dwindle as the remaining worshippers die out, and the tide has gone out on the 1980s evangelicalism which gutted buildings and filled them with poor quality rock music, the timeless quality of cathedral worship has been a refuge for those seeking some sense of transcendence.
If ceremony and dignity and tradition and a sense of otherness are what attracts even non-religious people to sit and relish the choral and organ music, what possible merit would there be in putting a fairground attraction into the middle of the building? Even sillier, why would the national broadcaster find the story noteworthy?
It is not as though the BBC have even attempted to approach the story with any rigour. The report quotes from someone presuming to speak for the “Christian Episcopal Church,” a tiny sect with a handful of members. The words are no more authoritative than if the reporter had gone to the local shopping centre and asked people at the checkouts what they thought about a helter-skelter in their local cathedral.
The story is a silly one, but is a mark of how far the Church of England have drifted from being an institution that is taken seriously by most of the population. Who would give weight to the utterances of an organisation that does not even take itself seriously? Is there any other body that would allow the building of a helter-skelter in the middle of one of its most significant buildings? There are no biblical parallels, but Jesus’ reaction to the trivialisation of the Temple by the moneylenders might suggest that he would be unimpressed by a fairground attraction in a place of prayer.
One of the cathedral staff said that it was “part of the cathedral’s mission to share the story of the Bible” and that the helter-skelter was a “creative and innovative way to do that.” A sharp BBC reporter might have asked which Bible story was being shared.