This September, Derby Cathedral will be hosting a series of films in collaboration with QUAD, our local arts centre and cinema. While some of the movies which will be shown in this season are very much viewing for the whole family – The Greatest Showman, for example – some are a bit edgier and have caused a certain amount of controversy in the Cathedral and beyond. A couple of these – The Wicker Man and Don’t Look Now, with which we open the season – are sometimes described as horror movies. Both are rated 15 and include brief sexualised scenes (not explicit as suggested by some media reports). Later in the season we show Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, which some have seen as a satire on Jesus and the Christian faith. I want to set out our reasons for doing this.
The first reason for hosting this season is to draw new people into the Cathedral. Derby Cathedral is the cathedral for everybody in Derby. The Cathedral does not belong to me, to the Diocese, or to those who worship here. It belongs to all, of whatever faith or none, whoever they are and whatever might be going on in their lives. Of course, this is much easier to say than it is to make real. Many institutions in the arts and heritage sectors wrestle constantly with how to reach new audiences, and in that sense cathedrals are no different. We have to make new connections and attract new people or risk becoming a relic of the past. Cathedrals have a particular opportunity here, because the evidence suggests that they continue to be seen as neutral spaces by many people in a way that parish churches are not. But that view needs to be continually reinforced by activities which reflect the open, inclusive role of the Cathedral. These film screenings will bring in people who would otherwise not come into our beautiful, evocative space. Some will be touched and moved by it in a way that may lead to return visits for other events.
My second reason for welcoming this season is to do with the power of story. Every culture works out what it values and believes through telling stories. Stories have power to take root in the human heart in a way that propositions do not. From the earliest days, people have sat round fires or meal tables sharing stories, some of them historical, some of them fictional, and very many a combination of the two. Some of those stories would be about things that the culture fears or wants to avoid. After all, many of the fairy tales which we were told growing up, and which we may have passed on to our own children, had elements which were disturbing or a bit scary. And Christians, of all people, should understand this. The Scriptures on which our faith is based consist primarily of stories. Jesus didn’t write a book of theological statements to leave to his followers, but rather gospels which recorded stories about his life. And in his own teaching he understood the power of story, which is why he spent so much of his time telling parables. The stories on which our faith is based are not all lovely and uplifting. If for example we were to show a film of the story of Salome, Herod, and John the Baptist, it would probably have an 18 certificate. But of course, to tell – or show – a story in which bad things happen is not to condone the actions of people in the story. The story is told to provoke, to challenge, to make us think. It is in that spirit that some of these stories of faith, doubt, fear and obsession are coming to the Cathedral.
The third reason for hosting this season of films is, of course, financial. Cathedrals are expensive to run. Contrary to what some think, they are not funded by the Government, nor are the majority of our costs covered by the Church Commissioners. Most of what we need to sustain the ministry of our Cathedral we have to find ourselves. I am very clear, in a challenging financial climate, that I will ensure Derby Cathedral is solvent and financially sustainable. That means thinking outside the box about new income streams which can make the mission and ministry of this place possible, as well as creating resources to respond to new opportunities as they come along.
We will shortly be announcing a couple of special events to help people reflect theologically on these films, which I hope people will find helpful. In the meantime, to be clear, Derby Cathedral remains primarily a place of worship and mission, with at least three services offered daily. Nothing changes that, and nor will anything do so for as long as I am Dean.
The Very Revd. Dr. Stephen Hance
Dean of Derby