This week, five hundred clergy and staff from all 42 Church of England cathedrals have been meeting in Manchester for a conference. Called Sacred Space: Common Ground, this is exploring the many ways in which cathedrals enrich and benefit the lives of people.
Cathedrals provide sacred space simply by being churches energised by and dedicated to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. They have been hallowed by the prayers of the faithful over centuries.
We at Ripon point out that St Wilfrid’s crypt is the oldest built fabric of all England’s cathedrals and a place where prayers have been said for almost 1,350 years. And prayer is central to all that we do and offer. Hundreds of thousands of people pass through our doors each year as visitors, tourists, pilgrims, worshippers, those needing to thank God, and troubled souls looking for help.
So, cathedrals provide sacred space, and they also offer common ground.
They belong to everyone. All cathedrals are keen to open their doors wide to visitors, whatever their motivation and reason for coming. Of the twelve million people who visit our cathedrals each year, many will be of other faiths or none; they are all welcome. We believe they are all children of God.
At Ripon, the cathedral’s vision and strategy is entitled Growing God’s Kingdom.
This includes seeking to enhance lives through culture and the arts, as well as enabling a closer relationship with God through inspiring choral services and affirming Christian teaching. Over the weeks of September, Ripon Cathedral is delighted to host the Great North Art Show – a life-enhancing exhibition of artistic work that is appreciated by visitors from all over the north and beyond.
We have enjoyed a fantastic concert given by the London Mozart Players as part of the Ripon International Festival. Many groups - including civic and military leaders - have enjoyed tours given by our expert guides.
At the end of the month, there will be the annual Dean’s Banquet – a lavish event that raises much needed funds, followed the next evening by a traditional harvest supper enjoyed by all ages.
This week’s conference is celebrating that what can be said for Ripon is true for all England’s cathedrals. They offer common ground for all to enjoy, and all but eight do not charge a penny for entry. I should add, however, that for most of us, we can only keep the doors open and the fabric maintained if visitors and supporters are prepared to donate with enough generosity.
If you were to look at the calendar for Ripon Cathedral this month, you would see that next Sunday at 10.30am we have the annual service for the Mayor of Harrogate; and the following Sunday at 10.30am the Harvest Thanksgiving service for the Yorkshire Agricultural Society – everyone is welcome to both. Last Sunday, we hosted the annual Battle of Britain memorial service within the Sung Eucharist.
We welcomed the Vice Lord Lieutenant, representing Her Majesty the Queen, the Mayor and councillors, and officers and personnel from RAF Leeming. It was important to celebrate the miraculous delivery from evil forces achieved by ‘the few’ of the RAF in the Battle of Britain.
We also celebrated, as we do in services every day of the year, the miraculous delivery from the powers of evil achieved for all by one man, Jesus Christ. It is this that makes Ripon Cathedral sacred and motivates us to offer it as common ground.