This week, England’s Norwich Cathedral installed a carnival slide, ostensibly to give visitors a better view of the cathedral’s impressive medieval roof bosses. Yet the Church of England has long been hemorrhaging members as it embraces secular cultural trends like the LGBT movement, and even the reverend who said the slide is “certainly not a gimmick” also admitted a desire to attract more visitors.
“It’s certainly not a gimmick. It’s fun, but it is about serious, really serious matters, in trying to get people to think about the meaning of life, to think about their place in the world,” the Rt. Rev. Jane Hodges told the BBC. Then she added, “There are a lot of people that won’t come into a cathedral because they think this is too posh, it’s not for me. We hope people will see that actually the cathedral is here for everyone.”
If only declining church attendance really were about people thinking cathedrals are “too posh”! In reality, a growing segment of the British public either does not believe in God or thinks that God is irrelevant to their lives. A cathedral installing a “helter skelter” seems only to confirm suspicions that the church is an all-too-human institution seeking publicity.
The BBC video shows a young boy — a cathedral singer named Daniel — flying down the slide with glee. “It’s very weird having a helter skelter in the middle of the cathedral,” Daniel admits. “But it’s very good ‘cause you get a brilliant view and you get to look at a completely different perspective.”
— BBC Look East (@BBCLookEast) August 9, 2019
Whether or not the massive carnival slide is a sacrilege, it’s far from the only thing Norwich Cathedral has erected in order to attract visitors.
The “Seeing It Differently” project also includes yoga mats, ostensibly to encourage visitors to “Lie Down Look Up” and appreciate the sheer scale of the building. A “canvas labyrinth” is meant to encourage people to reflect and pray, but this seems utterly superfluous in a cathedral, where gorgeous stained-glass windows with Bible stories should already encourage such reflection. “A Blind Trail” is meant to challenge visitors to “experience the world in a different way.”
In addition to these bizarre and likely unhelpful aspects, the project will include special tours to teach visitors about the cathedral’s roof bosses and a “Bible Box” to get people to read the Bible in a new setting.
Whose coming to see us today?
The helter skelter (you might have heard about it) is open from 10 am.
But did you know as part of #SeeingItDifferently you can:
-Lie down and look up
-Take part in a trust trail
-Sit inside the word of God
-Walking Salvation tour and much more. pic.twitter.com/J8HvdpmHdu
— Norwich Cathedral (@Nrw_Cathedral) August 9, 2019
These “certainly not” gimmicks may encourage a spectator’s version of church attendance, but they are unlikely to attract people to the beauty and truth of the gospel. Few people who come to slide down the heater skelter and take a blind walk will commit their lives to Jesus Christ and come sit in the pews each Sunday.
God forbid the religion that built the cathedral make any claims about how these visitors live their lives!
Indeed, this project seems to introduce the wrong kind of “safety” to a space dedicated to holy awe. While cathedral visitors should have a sense of shrinking before an awesome and holy God, the slide and yoga mats are likely to make them feel at home.
Don’t worry — if slides and yoga mats aren’t for you, Norwich Cathedral is bringing the dinosaur skeleton “Dippy the Diplodicus” from London’s Natural History Museum between July and October 2020.
Rather than gazing at the stained-glass windows, reading the Bible, listening to hymns, and taking part in a Communion service, visitors can enjoy a slide, a maze, and later a dinosaur. These exhibits tell audiences what the true attraction is.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.