Norwich's Anglican cathedral installed a helter-skelter in its nave to try to bring people to church
A controversial amusement park ride erected in Norwich Cathedral has come down after an 11-day installation.
Rt. Revd. Johnathan Meyrick, the Anglican bishop of Lynn, delivered a sermon midway down the helter-skelter slide during the final liturgy held in the cathedral with the ride present.
“God is a tourist attraction,” Meyrick said, claiming that God would be “revelling” in the joy it brought to visitors. During the time the helter-skelter was installed, over 20,000 people came to visit the nearly thousand-year-old cathedral.
While an estimated 10,000 people rode down the 50-foot-high slide, the move drew criticism from Anglicans and Catholic alike.
The Right Reverend Dr Gavin Ashenden, former chaplain to the Queen – who is supreme governor of the Church of England – called the event a “mistake,” and misjudged “what a cathedral is good for.”
“For such a place, steeped in mystery and marvel to buy in to sensory pleasure and distraction, is to poison the very medicine it offers the human soul,” Ashenden told the BBC.
In the sermon, Meyrick defended the decision to place the retro carnival ride in the cathedral, saying, that God wants to be “attractive” for humanity, and “for us to enjoy ourselves, each other and the world around us and this glorious helter-skelter is about just that.”
“Enjoying ourselves is a good thing to do and God will be revelling in it with us and all those people who have found fun and joy and laughter here,” he added.
A Dominican priest told CNA that the slide, along with another carnival attractions brought in to a different English cathedral, was a sign that the Church of England has misplaced priorities.
Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., vice president and academic dean of the Dominican House of Studies, disagreed with the Church of England bishop, saying that his rhetoric is “just close enough to be dangerous.”
“I would not say that God wants to be attracted to us. He is attractive to us. He is everything that is attractive in the world, everything that is good and lovely and desirable and pleasurable,” said Petri in an interview with CNA.
Petri characterized the implication that God had to lower himself in order to be attractive to humanity as “absurd.”
“Everything God does He does perfectly, because He already is attractive,” said Petri. “It’s we who cannot see this because of our sinfulness.”
The helter-skelter was one of two unusual installations placed in Church of England cathedrals this summer.
In July, the Rochester Cathedral placed a nine-hole miniature golf course in its central aisle. The holes feature models of bridges, and the course will be open until September 1.
Petri criticized these efforts by the Church of England to draw people in to the scared buildings, calling them suggestive of a warped sense of priorities for church buildings created to direct people towards God.
He told CNA that while God is present everywhere, including at the carnival, the construction of places of worship–whether it be a church, temple, synagogue, or other building–was one that was ordered by God and are special places specifically for that purpose.
The construction of houses of worship was “not something that we’ve invented,” said Petri. “This is something that God revealed, revealed in scripture, that there are to be sacred places where we are to worship Him and give Him praise. We don’t have the right or the option to do something other than that in those places,” he said.
“And so that’s why when you try to bring the profane, the carnival, into the church and into the place built directly to worship God and to raise the mind and heart to God, not only is it confused, it’s scandalous,” said Petri.
“It’s a reversal of its priorities.”
Norwich cathedral was built in the 11th and 12th centuries, with work beginning in 1096. Like many historic church buildings in the United Kingdom, it was Catholic for many centuries, until the foundation of the Church of England during the Protestant reformation.