Column: Keen to hear your views on exhibitions

"Keen to hear your views on exhibitions""Keen to hear your views on exhibitions"
"Keen to hear your views on exhibitions"
The Dean of Ripon, The Very Rev John Dobson’s monthly reflection

I was pleased to read in Saturday’s Yorkshire Post that the recently re-opened Yorkshire Sculpture Park is hosting a monumental exhibition by the Portugese artist Joana Vasconcelos.

It’s described as a ‘vivid dream’. Well, we are enjoying hosting two summer exhibitions at Ripon Cathedral. These could be described more as ‘striking visions’ than ‘vivid dreams’. On until the last week of September, each shares an encouraging insight into life-enhancing possibilities.

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Together they are attracting people in large numbers from near and far – an added benefit for Ripon. It is clear from many conversations that people are enjoying engaging with all that the cathedral has to offer, beyond the exhibitions. Children, following their trails, are becoming the family tour guides (we are looking to recruit more volunteer guides and welcomers). But the exhibitions themselves are inspiring hope, thought, reflection.

The first, A Wing and A Prayer, is a vast, stunning installation involving 10,000 origami angels. These were inspired by countless requests for prayer during lockdown. The sight of a host of angels seems to speak to this. Psalm 91:11 says of God: ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways’. The need for reassurance of God’s care was strong in lockdown and still is.

The theme of the installation also reflects a strong desire to celebrate those in the community who were giving of themselves courageously for the sake of others. Another dimension of angels gives us a glimpse of where divine care and support is often to be found – in human service and effort. Strictly speaking, angels are the messengers of God; think about how they feature in the stories of Jesus’s birth. It was the angel Gabriel, for example, who told Mary she would give birth to a son.

Those who give of themselves in so many areas of society – health care, schools, supermarkets, refuse collection and so on – could be described as angels. Through their efforts, the love of God is made real and communicated. This is a point made well by the former Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, in his recent book, God and the Pandemic. God works through our positive efforts.

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This connects to our second exhibition; Ripon Cathedral Renewed. Over recent years we have been developing plans to provide facilities that have been an obvious need for decades. The cathedral hosts large services, concerts and events which attract people from the local community and the wider region.

Containing St Wilfrid’s crypt and so much more, it is nationally significant as a centre of history, culture and spirituality. It is thereby an attractive destination for visitors from all over the country (and in ‘normal times’ from all over the world). And yet it does not have toilets, something which seems incomprehensible to almost everyone crossing its threshold.

The usual cathedral refectory and shop (we have a small shop) are missing (keeping many tour companies away). A lack of storage for essential equipment can leave the sacred space cluttered. And we expect our brilliant choirs to rehearse in a Norman undercroft, formerly used as a burial chamber.

The striking vision is for an integrated building which will provide 21st century facilities to enhance the contemporary mission of this ancient church, serving the needs of local and regional people as well as visitors. As the angels remind us, the ministry we offer is part of our calling to serve the world and help that world to become more like God’s kingdom. We are keen to share this vision with as many people as possible.

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We have come a long way and believe that we are nearer now to meeting those essential needs than we have ever been. We have had some incredibly generous and significant donations; we cannot thank these supporters enough. Also, we have been liaising with representatives of the several bodies who will need to give approval. Clearly, we are hopeful that we will be given permission to build.

Our prayer is that Ripon Cathedral Renewed will become a reality for the benefit of the people of the cathedral, city, region and beyond. Please, do come along and see both exhibitions.

We are keen to hear your reflections. The cathedral is free to enter and operating a safe Covid-19 regime. Don’t forget your face mask!

Also, if you are interested in becoming a volunteer welcomer or guide at the cathedral, please contact [email protected].