Saturday, 14 September 2013

Community the Post-Saxon Way

Ripon cathedral is hosting a really exciting new project. I think it's exciting because it's not one of those schemes that arrives well formed, telling you exactly what it's about and how it's going to happen....and therein lies its pulling power. It's called Saxon Roots.

The seed which germinated the project is the preaching cross.

Anglo Danish Preaching Cross
St Oswald's Churchyard,  Hauxwell

The idea is that in an age when people didn't often go to church buildings, they gathered round sacred stones and stone or wooden preaching crosses to hear the gospel told, to pray and to talk. This was, in Saxon and slightly later times, because there weren't many church buildings to gather in and for fear of being attacked by an enemy. Today, people don't go into church buildings but for very different reasons, often to do with awe of the unfamiliarity of the building itself or because we simply tend to congregate more naturally in pubs and clubs and cafes and secular places. Saxon Roots begins with the idea of the preaching cross as a place were people come together to take God seriously. I quote from their website,

'The point is....if we gather round a preaching cross, we arrive from all sorts of directions. We come as we are to a special place, a place of symbols....we look at familiar things afresh and they seem different. And in that difference is a space; an imaginative space for us to allow God to speak to us in new ways.'

Standing crosses were used for many purposes; within a settlement they marked the spot for public proclamation, preaching, penance and sacramental rites, they indicated places of sanctuary, they marked boundaries and they commemorated battles. Often crosses were located in market places and some are connected to a particular saint whose protection the presence of the cross was believed to invoke. The cross pictured above is not in fact Saxon but dates from a slightly later period - the 10th or 11th century, a time when there was a degree of fusion between Anglian and Dane as invader and invaded came to acknowledge that they had a common Christian faith. It stands in St Oswald's churchyard in Wensleydale and is, for me, a profound symbol of the power of the Christian faith, against all odds, to draw together people of vastly different heritage and culture whose interests are sometimes diametrically opposed. One of the panels is possibly older than the rest of the cross and refers to St James the Deacon, a seventh century missionary. If you want to be more conscious of the Saxon heritage of the area, wander down the road to Thornton Steward, described here

I think Saxon Roots is on to something special. On 25th October, Ripon Cathedral, with its 672 Saxon crypt and a community that's worshipped ever since (not the same people, you'll understand!) is simply inviting us to come and help create a worship event. Bring yourself, as they say, be yourself, and prepare to meet others who are different. The worship will blend elements of traditional Christian worship with non-traditional elements. There will be time to do your own spiritual exploring with things to look at, to read, to think about, to discuss and to do. The evening will include 'ancient music', biblical meditations and a short talk. There will be time to pray and space to be either alone or with others. There is even talk of a digital preaching cross and bacon sandwiches! There are plans subsequently to take this event outside the cathedral into the villages of the area as well, in keeping with the project's inspiration.

To read more, go to

What has this to do with social justice and community development (the themes of this blog)? Well, it's all about bringing people together to a place of honesty where together we can acknowledge God and each other; it's all about difference meeting and joining up so that new understandings are created.

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