A recent news story prompted me to think about the nature of the Church. My local cathedral made the international headlines recently as a centre for vaccinations against Covid-19. Two things struck me as strange about this: it wasn’t the first time the cathedral had been used in this way; and why was it thought so strange as to be a newsworthy?
On the first point, perhaps it all comes down to the ‘news cycle’, available good video footage, a photogenic location, need of a ‘good news’ story, government policy, or whatever. For some reason this was the day that everything came together, and our ancient stonework flashed across screens worldwide. Maybe fortuitous is the best word for it.
The second point can be more definitely answered. It was newsworthy because health care is not what cathedrals are for. The argument is that vaccinations are not part of the core business of a cathedral – and that incongruity made it worthy of attention. It was like the ambulances converted to ice cream vans I remember from my youth. Their oddness drew attention – though, of course, a few people would never buy from them because of their association with injury, pain and death.
This sense of oddness applied to cathedrals takes no account of their actual history. Over the centuries cathedral have been used for all sorts of things and all sorts of gatherings. It is said our cathedral was used to stable horses during the English civil war!
The prevention of illness seems to me to relate to health, which in turn relates to wellbeing and ultimately to salvation. Here surely vaccination is related to a cathedral’s ‘core’ business? The sense of oddness seems at odds with a building dedicated in the name of Jesus Christ.
It was that talk of ‘core’ business that really troubled me. In the commentators minds the cathedral was a branch of an enterprise whose goals weren’t being served by a public health campaign.
I often hear that kind of logic being applied to the Church, but as Bishop Lesslie Newbigin said years ago, the local church isn’t a branch of anything, it is the Church universal gathered locally. That is made plain in the Acts of the Apostles, and it speaks not of that which is fortuitous but the presence and prompting of God’s Holy Spirit. And that’s core business indeed!
Christopher Burkett, Editor