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Friday, 10 May 2013 15:58

A cathedral that welcomes all

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Novocastrians are familiar with the soaring spires of the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral, sitting atop a prominent hill, like a sentinel guarding our port. Because it is close to the Police Station, the Court Houses and the port itself, there are always people in need of pastoral care who find their way there. When visiting cruise ships enter the harbour, many of those aboard, seeking a quiet place, find their way to this sanctuary.

So, what attracts so many people and ensures that these visitors are touched by the holiness of God? I approached Chaplaincy Co-ordinator, Fr George Mainprize, for answers.

The Cathedral Chaplaincy is based on a similar model in Ely Cathedral (UK) requiring a number of Duty Chaplains. These chaplains oversee the daily activities of the chaplain support people; the activities must have a community focus and embrace ecumenism. Each chaplain is inducted and given an overview of aims, including helping people to a deepening relationship with God. Chaplains must be able to work alongside any visitor to the Cathedral, a friendly presence open to the other’s needs.

So the call went out for volunteers. The call was answered by, among others, two Dominican Sisters, Sr Beth Egan OP and Sr Geraldine Maher OP, of Waratah. With backgrounds in pastoral care and imbued with an ecumenical spirit, they were warmly embraced as perfect candidates for ministry in the Cathedral. Similarly selected were two Uniting Church ministers and a Presbyterian minister. 

The Sisters greet the visitors with a Companion Guide to the Cathedral. This little booklet complements the general guide book. It is a spiritual overview of what makes the building what it is and it allows a visitor to “pray their way” around.

Each Sister has her own way of engaging visitors – where do they come from, are they part of a faith community, do they want ‘the works’ – the tour and the spiritual overview? They may ask if the visitor has someone in mind for whom they would like the volunteers to pray, and if the answer is “yes”, they are assured that prayers will be prayed.

Sometimes the Sisters point out special visiting stations like the rose window depicting the angel’s Annunciation to Mary, or the east window which proclaims “I am the vine, you are the branches”.  The empty cross above the altar reminds Christians that they are people of Resurrection.

The Sisters say that they have given blessings, prayed with and for people, listened to sorrows and joys and discussed all kinds of matters, from the plight of refugees to whether God would vote Labor, Liberal or Green. The Sisters value the visitors’ perspectives and know that there are some people who have found their way back into faith as a result of their encounters with the chaplaincy teams.

What is truly magnificent about all the Duty Chaplains, volunteers and assistant chaplains, is their recognition of what Anglican Ministry has achieved. It goes well beyond “Anglican” interests.  “People come for comfort or counsel,” said Fr George, “not because they are Anglican or indeed, necessarily, Christian, but because they recognise a special place in which God resides, or a movement to ‘that which they dimly grasp’.’’

I asked Beth and Geraldine if they ever become depressed or worn out from the many sad stories (they do hear good stories too), and they both agreed, “Never.  These people give us so much – much more than we give them.”

I found that hard to believe.

(Photo above of Sr Beth (left) and Sr Geraldine (right) used with permission from Aurora magazine.)

This article first appeared in the May 2013 edition of Aurora magazine, the official publication of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.