If I try to put a defining theme to yesterday, it would be ‘connection’. I became aware of it in all kinds of ways.
The journey of the day began at Kings Cross-St Pancras Station, which has undergone dramatic transformation in the fairly recent past. An international railway station (A really strange concept for an Australian!), has its obvious connection elements, but the part which really spoke to me was on the upper concourse, with the sculpture shown above. I’m really grateful for Kirsty telling us it was there, because we had to walk a bit to find it, and I might have otherwise stayed in the coffee shop.
The figures in this sculpture stand about 7 metres, and are powerful images but around the base is an incredible array of reliefs, all with the theme of ‘meeting place’. Here’s one of my photos, if you google “St Pancras station sculpture” you’ll see many more.
The base for the large figures, and therefore the placement for the reliefs, is at eye height. These were very powerful for me, and i spent a long time with them.
At Canterbury we spent a good, and long, time in conversation with Prof Robin Gill, priest, theologian and sociologist.
Significant for me was Robin’s drawing together elements of decline (particularly numerical and church attendance) in the British churches, which has been under way for a lot longer than we usually imagine- the best part of two hundred years in fact. In essence, the Christianity that made its way to Australia was already in decline. This is quite different from the picture often drawn: that the decline has only been since the ‘glory day’ of the 1950s.
This links me with the first part of Anthony Robinson’s book, Changing the Conversation” that lots of UCA people in central Hobart are reading together at the moment. The situation in which we find ourselves is bigger than us, and not our (or anyone’s) fault. At one glance this is kind of depressing, almost suggesting a tide we can’t affect. But as Robinson suggests, we’re also being presented with something of a blank canvas, on which we can sketch neatly/draw hesitatingly or simply throw lots of bright coloured paints and see how the G.O.D. images emerge!
Robin also had us thinking about the kind of questions we ask about our worship life, including things like “do I expect to be changed by attending worship today”? That could be an interesting one for the values/principles conversation Michelle…
After a rich time with Robin, we spent time exploring the connections in a cathedral town, hampered a bit by some torrential downpours, but only a bit. Wandering around the cobblestone streets with an excited expat Englishman was a wonderful exercise in connection and perspective.
Canterbury holds together a community of history, focussed largely but not exclusively on the cathedral, and the needs of being a living present town. It’s also both touristy and residential, so there are the little shops and eating places in the high street, but also department stores and street markets- not to mention some brilliant Kentish ice cream!
The cathedral itself was much more spiritually engaging than my experience of St Paul’s the day before. The statues to dead generals etc, are still there, but there was a much stronger sense of presence and sacred place for me. Wandering around the crypt area and the cloisters was rather moving, as was visiting the place where St Thomas Beckett was martyred. Right next to there, my attention was grabbed by a beautiful memorial plaque that spoke volumes.
Holding the richness of these stories and the various little chapel spaces together was a very moving experience, and as I write this, (way too early on a Saturday morning!), there’s much I’m still processing about the experience, and the connections which have characterised the day, including a very enjoyable dinner at the Wheatsheaf pub over the road from our hotel, and its Spanish dining room.