Wednesday 21 June 2023

The world that comes to us

Saying a little prayer

It was one of the strangest requests I had encountered that left me rather unsure of how to respond. He walked in off the street like everyone else who I had greeted that afternoon, now over 200 of them in just over 2 hours, strangers all, interest common.

Before I could greet him, excited as he was, he asked if I could pray for him, I had a sash on and an identity badge, but I had to protest, I am not a member of the clergy. I was at a confluence of belief systems that have shaped my spirituality in interesting ways. I would expect in the Church of England, you might pray with the spectacle of magisterial homiletics, whereas depending on what spectrum of the Evangelical persuasion you are, let’s not even begin to speculate.

He asked me to light him a candle as he was a bit scared of fire and still insisted I pray. So I did with the almost confusion of the laity doing what they were not trained to do and the mumbling of understanding his distress, a few strong words to remedy the situation that bothered him, for which I believe he was full of faith that coming to the church to ask to be prayed for will help. He left, just as he came in.

The world comes to our cathedral

It was the end of my first shift as a welcoming guide to the Cathedral and what an experience it was for me, that I learnt a lot more than I seemed to offer in terms of the basic information about our cathedral. If I do decide to do this regularly, there is a big consideration to have, the strain on my back as I steady myself with my walking cane, in that 3-hour stint, there were times I did have to sit down because the pain was getting uncomfortable and unbearable.

Visitors came from near and far, alone or in numbers, as family, with friends, in groups with purpose or just on a detour, with lots of time and sometimes barely enough to gather the spectacle of architecture before going on their way. When I asked, the nationalities and the small talk made a connection in my wayfaring archive of what a friend calls my library of seemingly useless information that just becomes pertinent for that engagement.

Probably more than a quarter of the guests were someone living in Manchester bringing someone visiting for the first time. I do not think I encountered anyone from Central or South America, but all other regions presented a representative from many places I had been to and could I remember something quite significant in the exchange.

Learning to learn more

For me, there were two things that stood out, visitors who said they were visiting from Kurdistan and if there was any justice in this world, the people should be a country, but I did ask which of the many Kurdistans as I thought they were at least in three countries and I was informed it was 4 countries, I soon realised from my knowledge of geography that was indeed true.

Another couple came in with beautifully trained and behaved dogs and their visit to our cathedral for which they wanted a more substantial guidebook than the simple folder pamphlet on offer that needed updating, they eventually found someone to help. It was in a later conversation that I learnt that there were 42 cathedrals in England, visiting ours was their 39th, they had two more to visit in Yorkshire and the last was undergoing extensive renovations, so they will have to wait to visit.

To be more effective, I need to develop beyond the platitude of welcoming to becoming an informed tour guide. There is so much to know about our cathedral, its history, the architecture, the windows, the majestic pipe organ, its function, the furnishings, the chapels, the memorials, the statues, the many influences from when there was a building in the same place from the 13th Century and the 600th anniversary of its establishment as a collegiate church.

There is a lot more to think about of my experience today, however, what is most important is, I enjoyed welcoming people to our cathedral.

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