Helter Skelters, Crazy Golf and LEGO®

The summer holiday weeks present visitor attractions with many more people. Cathedrals are among those places that need to respond to this – which is very demanding.  One approach is to develop installations and exhibitions that people want to see or experience. Not everybody agrees that these things have a place in church.

LEGO® Mako Shark at Chester Cathedral

Libby Purves writes in today’s edition of The Times, “Are there plans for the Basilica di San Marco in Venice to bolt its horses on to a carousel? How far have the Notre Dame restoration team got with the dodgem track and waterslide, and will the pilgrim journey on the Camino de Santiago now include a Crayzee Cakewalk Hall of Mirrors in the cathedral … Are the great mosques, temples and synagogues of the world in talks with Disney?”  These are testing questions – provocative and eye-catching!  

Many of our Cathedrals sit in busy commercial and shopping centres and must speak the language of the High Street if they are to say anything.  Libby Purves’s questions are as much a challenge to the culture of our British high streets as they are to the Cathedrals situated in them.

A question that exercises our minds in Chester Cathedral is “how can we capture the imagination of our visitors to think more deeply about the wonderful world we are given to live in and the God who presents us with the gift of life itself?” Commissioning artists to help with this in provocative and eye-catching ways is one of our answers to this question.

At Chester Cathedral we want to be accessible and fun, real and deep, challenging and reasonable, dealing with the stuff of life. Our LEGO® exhibition, “The Deep”, has raised a few eyebrows. It sits alongside an exhibition made by local North Wales artist Jacha Potgieter called “Saving the Deep” (https://chestercathedral.com/event/saving-the-deep/). His work is made from plastic waste collected on just three visits to Criccieth beach. He has provided fifteen stunning installations depicting sea creatures made from the very pollution that is killing the living animals.

Jacha’s Blue-Fin Tuna made out of waste plastic washed up on the beach

The LEGO® exhibition builds on this, demonstrating the beauty of the undersea world in a way that enthrals children (and adult fans of those familiar colourful building bricks). In order to publicise this my Cathedral colleagues thought it would be a great idea to send me into a tank of sharks. This was not in my job description. The kind people at the Blue Planet Aquarium assisted and I had my encounter with Wilma the Sand Shark (all fifteen feet of her) and her family. It was truly transformative to be amongst these magnificent creatures. Is it naïve to hope that others can be nudged into deeper insight and wonder of creation and provoked to act differently?

Face to Face with Wilma at the Blue Planet Aquarium

One unexpected effect of this LEGO® exhibition has been to highlight the widespread use of plastic. All our models are of course made from the familiar coloured blocks . We are well on the way in our Cathedral enterprises to dispense with single use plastic. The Deep has opened our eyes to the reliance we have on plastic in almost everything – clothing, furniture, buildings, technology, everyday basics, toys and tools. Many of Jacha’s installations are made from parts of these objects collected on the sea-shore (though no LEGO® bricks). Responsible living needs more care and attention than just avoiding carrier bags in the supermarket.

If you come to our exhibitions you will not be able to avoid thinking this through.  Cathedrals stand in the centre of most of our cities.  They are places that intrigue and people of all ages visit them.  They are places of discovery, encounter and faith. And what we do should not be seen simply as mere gimmick but invitation to go deeper.

A new place to call home

Joy and excitement are good words to describe how I feel having been appointed as the next Dean of Chester Cathedral. This is tempered by the feelings of sadness and loss that accompany winding down and leaving after my time as Archdeacon of Leicester.

St Werburgh’s Chapel

I am delighted to be joining the Cathedral and Diocese as Dean. When I was growing up in Liverpool, Chester was the historic city “over the water” where we would go for a treat and a day out. The opportunity to get to know the City and County of Cheshire from the inside and to make a difference will be a privilege.

The Cathedral is a beautiful and historic building in the centre of the city that draws people to visit. But it is more than that too. It is a place where people can encounter the presence of God and get a sense of the things that ultimately matter beyond the here and now. I hope that over the years I serve as Dean, the Cathedral will grow strong as a sign of our spiritual futures and heritage.


These last few years as Archdeacon have been challenging. My life has been located solidly in Leicestershire but work and ministry have been largely peripatetic. I have had an office and a home, which have both been creative, but I haven’t had a church and I have missed that. Sometimes it has felt like I belong to 180 churches and that Sunday by Sunday everything changes. I am looking forward to a worshipping community to which I belong again.

Leicester Cathedral and the Bishop of Leicester’s Leadership Team have been important places of fellowship over these years. But recently the Cathedral has done something radical. No longer do the canons have a seat to call their own. Portable furniture – the flexibility to re-pitch the tent as circumstances require – has been a bold decision for changing times. This has been energising, but at times dizzying. There is a cost to not having a place. I am reminded of Jesus saying, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” For me now, I must try to avoid becoming so settled that God’s creative Spirit has no space.

So in July it will be a sad goodbye to Leicester for Jen and I. We have felt loved here and have come to love so many great friends. We hope these friendships can continue to be as renewing and life-giving as they always have been.  In September, we begin a new life in Chester. We look forward very much to what God has in store.

Chester Cathedral
Chester Cathedral


(Festival of Mary Magdalene)
3:00pm on Sunday 22nd July 2018
Goodbye Service at Leicester Cathedral

(Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary to whom Chester Cathedral is dedicated)
2:30pm on Saturday 8th September 2018
Installation and Welcome at Chester Cathedral