A view backstage at Beverley Minster

You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone

Beverley Minster virger Neil Pickford contemplates matters theological and practical…
Firstly, let me reassure my many concerned readers that, so far, I have not been injured in any way this week. Not even a twinge, thanks very much for asking.
So we can concentrate on my emotional problems rather than physical, and quite poignant they are too. You see, I have been in contemplative mood following the end of the last-ever REaction event in the Minster.
REaction, I should explain, is (or was) a day-long get-together for school years 6 and 7 where they have fun and do something that ties in with the national curriculum on religious education (I can feel your eyes glazing over already, but hang on. It’s important).
Last week we were timetabled to have nearly 900 schoolchildren at the Minster spread through Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. They would be encouraged to think about matters of social or ethical concern, run around and sing while by far the best session (of course) was a brief trip in the roof of the Minster, choreographed by John Dell and narrated by yours truly.
We pioneered the event 10 years ago and it’s been adopted all around the East Riding and beyond since – but now it’s finishing as existing Local Education Authority spending is reassessed.
Not everyone liked it – I think particularly of the visitors who made it very clear that they hated loud music playing in the nave when it coincided with the few minutes they had decided to spend as tourists in our free-entry, world-class attraction.
“Makes me ashamed to be an Anglican” was one comment: another person wrote a long diatribe in the visitors’ book saying, in essence,:”It didn’t orta be allowed.”
Well, I know my well-meaning church has a reputation for faffing around, trying not to annoy anyone and putting off decisions on just about everything, but there are some things which just need saying straight out – so here it comes. People like that make ME ashamed to be an Anglican and yes, yes, YES! It did orta be allowed.
What could possibly be wrong with 300 kids smiling and laughing and having a good time while thinking of religious and ethical matters in a church like the Minster? A church which, long-term readers may remember me saying, was the headquarters of the northern branch of the Guild of Music in the 14th and 15th centuries. Our world-famous collection of statues shows the wide range of noise-making devices that would have been honking, squeaking, screeching and thumping inside our walls on celebration days. 
Beverley Minster was designed and built to demonstrate and shout about religion in a noisy and showbiz sort of way. These angry visitors imagine that their image of a silent (and probably empty) church, with doors eagerly open for them to enjoy is the only one that is valid. They are wrong, their knowledge of church history is wrong, their knowledge of Christ’s teaching (suffer the little children) is wrong, their understanding of the reason for Beverley Minster is wrong, their personal viewpoint on the world is wrong and, frankly, they are miserable toe-rags who would condemn the rest of us to greyness and decline.
If they had their way the next generation of adults would only be allowed inside Beverley Minster under strict control, would certainly not enjoy the experience and, without a doubt, would never return.
These new adults would then probably condemn Christianity and its wonderful message because of the selfishness of some of its supposed adherents, (it’s easily done – I myself became a vehement atheist for many years, thanks entirely to the behaviour of some hypocritical God-botherers.  But I eventually learned better).
If you prefer quiet churches then go to Denmark where, as I learned this week, a voluntary church tax keeps them in immaculate condition – and no one uses them (except for the traditional baptism, wedding and funeral). Our complaining visitors would probably love the atmosphere of lifelessness and sterility – I prefer to get the next generation excited and feel that there’s always a warm and tolerant welcome within our walls.
 And anyone who doesn’t agree with that statement should be boiled in oil.
BY THE WAY – the final day of REaction didn’t happen, thanks to the teachers’ strike. I wondered how many of the strikers were using this time to go on an official demonstration. I hope they all did a full risk-assessment beforehand. I trust someone checked the pressure in the tyres of the coach taking them to the demo: I hope someone tested the protest banners to see there were no sharp edges or rough surfaces that could cut or leave splinters.
Were the banner carriers trained not to wave them about in a manner that might cause distress or injury to others?  Were banners made of ecologically-sound materials that could be recycled afterwards?
Was the demonstration taking place in a safe environment, free from risk of injury from traffic or trip hazards along the entire route? Was there an adequate supply of trained first-aiders?
Could the demonstration be justified on educational grounds? Could it be linked in with the national syllabus in any way?
What if it rained?
Hmmm – I think it would have been much easier, and better, if you’d brought your classes to the Minster instead.

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