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Pilgrim, priest and ponderer. European living in North East England. Retired parish priest, theological educator, cathedral precentor and dean.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Lindisfarne Gospels: the Young Person's Guide

Superlative alert…

It’s been marvellous to have the Lindisfarne Gospels in their ancient home of Durham this summer. Around 90000 visitors have been to admire it, and acclaim for the exhibition itself has been matched by enthusiasm for a huge variety of events being held up and down the North East during the book’s residency.  Among them was a spectacular flower festival in the Cathedral, Jewels of the North that celebrated not only the Book and our northern saints but also the life of the region today.

But nothing will have moved me more than the performance I attended in the Cathedral last night. It was called The Young Person’s Guide to the Lindisfarne Gospels. A large cast of children, teenagers and young adults aged from about 3 to 21 gave everything they had to this utterly brilliant interpretation of the Lindisfarne story. There were colour and light, speech and drama, rhythm and dance, ventriloquism and puppetry in an entirely convincing alchemy of fact and fiction, fantasy and pantomime, wit and parody. It was an unashamedly Christian ‘take’ on the Gospels with no attempt to airbrush out their religious significance as if the book were 'no more' than a landmark in cultural history and great art. 

There were many highlights (including the 3-year old in the front row who kept waving endearingly to his family in the nave). Eadfrith explaining to his monks why he was writing his Book, the Viking senior management team launching their campaign, and the Four Gospels Blues with clever montages imitating the evangelists’ portraits in the Lindisfarne Gospels were unforgettable. The commitment of all involved was one hundred per cent. It's clear that the Gospels had vividly taken hold of these youngsters' imagination.

I always find it moving to see young people achieve. We are fortunate to enjoy this every day in the Cathedral as we listen to our choristers sing evensong.  But the cast of Young Person’s Guide were not like most choristers, except for their talent.  The organisation putting on this performance, ‘Enter’, is a Community Interest Company (CIC) works with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to promote personal and social development through the creative arts. 

I learned a bit about the backgrounds of some of these children. You would think there was little hope for them. Yet parents and children tell powerful stories about Enter's impact. For some, the performing arts have brought about a real transformation of their lives keeping them off the streets, giving them confidence and a lot of fun, enlarging their imagination, and imparting life-skills that will serve them in adulthood. It forges them into a community, gives them something to belong to and helps foster life-giving relationships.  I would not have believed what these youngsters were capable of if I had not seen it for myself. It takes inspirational leadership to bring it off, and parents pay tribute on the website to Enter's staff and how they are touching young lives.

I couldn’t help thinking how all this was a metaphor of how the church should be a place of inspiration and transformative life. It was abundantly clear that these youngsters loved what they were doing. It was as if they had given their lives to it. Isn’t this how Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God as a glorious rainbow party that creates a wholly new way of looking at life?

This morning, as I presided at the eucharist in the Cathedral, I thought about the previous evening. The exuberance of that evening had been replaced by the solemn dignity of cathedral liturgy – yet somehow the vibrations had not quite died away. The music of Stanford is not exactly Elvis or the blues. But once again, children were excelling themselves through their singing, and the joy on the faces of the young family who had brought their child for baptism spoke of the same life-changing power of great performance – for isn’t the divine liturgy the greatest drama there is? - and the glimpse it gives us of a world made new.  

Visit Enter’s website at www.entercic.org.

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