Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Anybody out there?

So the other week when I was in Liverpool, being greatly embarrassed at the hotel’s attempts to get my boss and in the honeymoon suite, I decided to take a little look around the Metropolitan Cathedral, which was right outside our training venue.

I had visited the cathedral once before when I was 18 on an English A-level trip (which incidentally had nothing to do with English, I’ve never really understood why we all went away, I think it was jealousy on the part of the English department that the A-level Geographers used to get to go to Switzerland) and I remembered not being a fan at all. I had been completely taken away with the Anglican cathedral, further down the road, and this place was all modern and felt a little alien. What was the pulpit doing in the middle?! I wasn’t a fan at all.

However I think the 27 year old me can appreciate it a little bit more than the 18 year old me.

What looks like an extremely odd building from the outside – all stone and angles and spiky bits and quite frankly scary looking doors – is transformed into a rather breathtaking space inside. Rather than being cold and jarring, it actually feels kind of cosy inside and despite its enormous size, kind of intimate.

Scary looking front door

Most of this I’m convinced is down to the clever use of stained glass throughout. The light in the cathedral is stunning and even though there aren’t big massive windows inside, it doesn’t feel dark and dank and cold, something that more traditional churches suffer from I think. There’s also a more modern take on the use of stained glass, it doesn’t all have to be pictures of lambs to the slaughter or disciples falling on their knees, these are just simple pieces of plain coloured glass.

Apologies for crappy, shaky photos. Although you're allowed to take photos, I just felt a bit wrong doing it, know what I mean?!

At the very top of the cathedral, in the wigwam bit that you can see from the outside, the glass gently turns through the spectrum so that as you walk around the perimeter of the pews, you see a different colour and the light shines through in a different way.

It’s funny really, it wasn’t how I remember it at all. I remembered this strange, spacecraft type building, but actually it’s just like any other church, just round instead of square. There are chapels and places for contemplation all around the outside and it doesn’t feel odd once you’re in there. You feel like you would in any other church.

Which is where my problems arise.

I like churches. I like them a lot and it’s hard to explain why. I don’t know if it’s because they’re peaceful and quiet. I don’t know if it’s because they always feel a little bit special, I like to think of all that the people went through to build something like that just to go in and talk to God. And then I come a bit undone. I feel as if I shouldn’t really be there, appreciating it all. What right do I have to sit and marvel at the work someone’s put in to building a house of God when I don’t even know if there is a God? I feel like an interloper, intruding on a place which really should be marked Out of Bounds to the likes of me. I actually feel guilty sometimes, I hope that God doesn’t mind that I was in there when I’m not even sure if he exists and don’t have any sort of relationship with him.

And I always feel terribly guilty if I go and light a candle, which I nearly always do. I don’t know why I do it, is it just because I’m in a church and I remember doing it when I was small? Do I do it as an insurance policy – “Just in case you are there God I just want you to make sure these people are ok up there”. Do I do it just to remind myself that there are people I just need to take a minute to remember?

It’s a funny bunch of conflicted feelings I get from going into church, from initial “Oh this is lovely and peaceful” to then feeling sad and thinking “I wish I could get out of this what the people who really believe in God must get out of it” before moving on feeling guilty, “They know I don’t believe you know, I should stop stealing all the sacredness and leave some for real believers.”

Maybe it’s better that I just stay clear of churches.


  1. It's a wonderful building isn't it? I do prefer the Anglican Cathedral but the contrast between the two is really interesting.

    I'm not a practicing Christian really, although I do have some sort of faith, so this is probably better coming from someone who actually knows what they're talking about, but isn't part of faith questioning what your beliefs actually are? As long as you're there with an open mind then you've just as much right as anyone else to be there. You might not get the same out of it as other people but from reading what you've written here, you're clearly getting something from it...

    Yay for talking about my hometown though. If you're there again for work let me know!

  2. My boyfriend at the time's graduation was in here - I thought it was quite modern and different looking inside for a church - maybe just the way the seating is arranged in a circle...? We also used to do some of our exams in the crypt of this cathedral lol... oooooh!!!

  3. Wow its so different on the inside,the stained glass windows look gorgeous...I really need to visit sometime soon.
    I know what you mean about visiting churches though, I love to wander around churches, church yards etc etc.
    Some of the most beautiful and awe inspiring buildings I have ever been in have churches or cathedrals but as a non-believer I too feel guilty as if I really shouldn't be in there.
    But hey York Minster charges £7 entrance I'm pretty positive they're more interested in tourists cash rather than their souls!!
    Em xxx

  4. Going into churches if fine when you don't believe in god. It's all about appreciating the architecture. I don't feel any guilt, those buildings (old ones at least) are superb reminders of previous societies and ways of life, and the craftsmanship can be incredible. If you're not sure about how you feel, surely if there's a god he'd understand if you're not sure about things? But then I kind of feel silly writting that, I feel more and more certain about my views and suggesting that there's even just a possibility, well you know, I just feel like a fake pretending. Anyway, enough about that!

  5. I know how you feel, I always feel really out of place when I'm in places of worship and like those who are there because of their faith can somehow see that I don't believe (writing that down has made it seem slightly ridiculous haha). I went to a friend's baptism recently I spent the whole service feeling conspicuous and uncomfortable even though the members of the congregation were all really welcoming. I was there with other friends who also don't believe, yet I seemed to be the only one who was slightly bothered by the fact that we weren't there as practising Christians.
    I guess it's because even though I'm too scientifically minded to fully believe in God and the Bible (or whichever other holy book it might be), a small part of me still holds on to the "what if he really is out there?" notion and I don't want to give up on the idea that in times of complete desperation there may be someone looking out for me, so going to a church when I've said that I partially believe in God but not completely makes me feel like a fraud.

  6. It looks much better on the inside than it does on the outside. I dont think God minds who is in his church quite honestly. xxx

  7. I know what you mean, I feel exactly the same about churches. I always feel like I have 'Non Believer' written on my forehead when I am in one. I do like looking at them and wish I could appreciate them for the resligious aspect as well as the feat of engineering and design which churches (particularly old ones) are.

  8. Isn't it an amazing building.
    When I was a first year student I lived 30 seconds from the building. It's wonderful.

  9. I'm exactly the same as you, I love looking round churches but feel a bit guilty as a non-believer. We can still appreciate the architecture though. When I did A level Geography we went to Swansea!?!

  10. OK, so I'm a believer (cue The Monkees) of the Catholic kind and I have to say I am only too happy to have anyone come into a church for a nice look round whatever their motives or beliefs. I'd never dream of trying to convert them (and I HATE being approached by vergers and other worthies in church) and don't care if they come for spirituality, a look an the building, an appreciation of history or just a sit down when their feet are tired.

    And feel free to light a candle, even if it's not a fully formed prayer for you, it's still a thing of beauty in an increasingly ugly world.

  11. The 'God' question is definitely a BIG question isn't it? As you may, or may not remember, my parents brought me up to go to church. I wouldn't say that I'm a true believer, but I feel quite at home visiting a church. They really can be places of peace and reflection (not necessarily the spiritual kind).

    I always light candles too - even if there's not a God, I like to think that my parent's are watching over me and Violet, so I light a candle to their memories.

    Jill x
    PS - I love the stained glass window photos.

  12. There is so much I want to say in relation to this post but my RSI is giving me grief tonight...I need to microphone/dictaphone or something!

    Firstly -this church really reminds me of the famous one in Brasilia. Just the is pretty cool. Okay, that was my superficial comment.

    Deeper comment in brief:

    I'm like you. I don't know if there is a god and I don't know what relationship I want if any. But if there is a god, then I'd reason that he/she/it knows you and he/she/it loves you because if we go with the idea that god exists then he/she/it possibly is responsible for your existence in someway anyway. So I'm sure they wouldn't mind you sitting in their church.

    I love churches and graveyards and quiet places. Even if you are an atheist you can appreciate these places because they give you the silence and space to reflect and look at your life and be thankful. They give you the space to sort out problems and feelings...everyone needs a place like this - no matter what religion or belief you have. So don't worry too much about it. Just enjoy that it is there and you can access it. xxx


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