The Rochester Cathedral issued a mini-golf course in its central nave to attract visitors during August. The news sparked a row across the United Kingdom and made headlines not only on Sky News and other national media but also abroad.
A family park
A nine-hole course occupied the whole of the main nave. The course emulates Rochester Bridge and other significant bridges. Financed by Rochester Bridge Trust, the course aims to take people to learn about these structures. For Reverend Rachel Phillips, it’s an opportunity to take people to think about the bridges they need to build in their own lives.
Bringing people in was the main goal, and it was attained. During August, and amidst the controversy generated, a good number of people went to the Cathedral to try the mini-golf course, most of whom had never been there before. While it was not explicitly mentioned, targeting non-religious and secularised people was the main goal of the activity (while coping with religious people’s adverse reactions).
Reverend Rachel Philips stated that the number of visitors was up 80%, compared to August 2018.
A Dutch-style recycling?
Some foreigners commenting on social media said that they had seen something like that before, online. In the Netherlands, an abandoned church had been “recycled” for bicycle storage. In fact, the old Dominican Church of Maastricht is presently a bookstore.
But this is not the case, as the Rochester Cathedral is not closed, of course. And for some of the critics, this is perhaps the most criticised issue: the fact the Cathedral Chapter actively thought of this as a positive measure.
For Bishop and Right Reverend Dr Gavin Ashenden, the Rochester golf move is a mistake. Quoted by BBC, he said that it is “perhaps born of desperation”, but it’s not the way to bring people to God, by “entertaining” them in a “trivial way”.
However, France 24 spoke to Peter Scholey, a retired teacher going on a tour to all the 27 medieval cathedrals of England and Wales. Mr Scholey said that he felt shocked at first sight, but he considered that in the Middle Ages, the use of the cathedral was very different. Markets were held inside temples, with people bringing even their animals inside. Maybe it’s time for another change in the social interpretation of these wonderful places?