In April, the Archbishop of Canterbury the Most Revd Justin Welby, visited the Diocese of Peterborough. Whilst here, he launched a new interactive trail through Peterborough Cathedral for visitors, which uses the award winning Gamar app. The Moment talked to him about the app, about the changing world and the place of the Church in it.
This app brings the very old and very new together. How important is it that a place like the Cathedral embraces the new?
I suppose that every moment that technology changes, there are always questions – ‘Oh, are they just doing it to be in with the fashion?’ They probably did it when Caxton invented printing, with people saying ‘I much prefer the old hand-written version!’ But the world around us is changing. People want to come and look at these extraordinary buildings, but they also want to be informed, and the way this app is designed – which I think is very clever – is a really intelligent way of catching the imagination and informing as well. This app is designed mainly for children and young people, and it is incredibly powerful, because that’s how they get most of their information now. There are two ways traditions die: one is if they don’t innovate at all. The other is if they innovate so sharply that there’s a complete break with the past. If a cathedral like this stayed as it was in the middle ages – no lighting, no loos, no sound system, and so on – nobody would come. But if it adapts it is capable of remaining the centre of the community here in Peterborough. So, continuity is absolutely essential. I did nine years in cathedrals and ten years in parishes, but I was in the oil industry before that, so I’m used to high-tech!
People sometimes regard cathedrals as just large churches – but how do they differ in practice?
They’re completely different! The name comes from the Latin ‘cathedra’ which means seat, so it’s where the bishop has his seat; it’s the church of the bishop. Secondly, they are deliberately very large and provide a focal point for community life and community events, There is an immense luxury of space – far more space than you need, including a hundred feet of space above you. But that gives a sense of peace, and it gives a sense of magnificence. It’s a reminder of who God is – of the magnificence of God. Also of the service of people who have served Jesus over the centuries – nine centuries in this case – and who raised these churches and cared for them, and who have come here to worship. Everything happens here. I know Cromwell came here and tore the place apart a bit. In Durham he stabled his horses. So, they are places which reflect history in the most extraordinary way.
Historically, the office of Archbishop of Canterbury has huge significance. Do you feel the weight of that?
Yes, you are conscious of this extraordinary heritage. A few weeks after I started the job I was in Canterbury Cathedral – I was going around it at night, because I have a key to it, and was showing some friends how beautiful it looked with the floodlights on. And we came to a chapel I didn’t really know – because I didn’t know that much about it then – and I saw my name at the end of the list of Archbishops. There were all these names going back, column after column, to 597 AD, and I did feel that extraordinary sense of history – but also that the church is for today. The good news of Jesus Christ is for everyone, everywhere, from sub-Saharan Africa to the great cathedrals of England.