The silly season

The weather always provides a good amount of news for the papers during August. Photos of happy families on packed beaches, hot tourists taking refuge in cool fountains – it’s the stuff of summer journalism. Or at least it was. I thought that August was meant to be the ‘silly season’, that nothing would fill up my diary, that there would be no meetings, that everyone would be involved in something much more important than doing the serious business of the rest of the year by having fun. So, having my holiday in Spain earlier than I would normally do I returned to the Cathedral this week with a diary full of meetings and a ‘To Do List’ as long as my arm.  What had happened to rob me of the ‘silly’ space that I was expecting?

Holiday

One of my holiday snaps from this year

The problem was that the weather, which should be silly, became serious as records were being broken, forests were on fire, lives and livelihoods threatened and it looked and felt as though global warming had arrived.  Brexit, which has all the elements of silliness, is also now too serious to joke about.  The Prime Minister was forced to cut short her holiday and invade the holiday home of the French Prime Minister, making him get dressed up to meet her and dragging him away from the pool.  And Boris Johnson who, really, is very silly, became simply offensive.  There is no escaping the reality of life it seems this year.

One of the treats that we used to have as kids when we went for our week by the sea whether that was Cromer or Torquay or Shanklin was to be treated to a summer special version of our favourite comic.  Those great newsagents that used to occupy the fronts of all our seaside towns, the ones stocked with comics for the kids and extra thick editions of the ‘Woman’s Weekly’ with lots of extra knitting patterns for mum to attempt on the beach, which had buckets and spades in bright colours, moulds to make your sandcastles with, little windmills and a pack of flags (no EU flag amongst them in those days) to decorate them with and of course a counter full of sweets and rock and a fridge with a choc-ice for mum and an orange lolly for the kids, would be a treasure-trove for the whole of the week.  It was lovely.

Those summer special comics had your favourite characters – Minnie the Minx, Desperate Dan, all the rest – getting up to extra silly summer related things – lots of trouble and lots of telling off by parents and policemen.

It was another world.

So I am delighted that in the midst of unstoppable fires, searing heat, Brexit and burkas we at Southwark Cathedral have been able to bring a little bit of joy to millions of people around the world.  Yes, Doorkins has gone viral!  We had a message from a HuffPost journalist on Friday.  ‘Why had Doorkins suddenly entered the news?’ Well for no real reason apart from that a BBC journalist asked to come along with a  cameraman to do a piece on her that might be useful on a slow news day.  The piece was first posted online and then broadcast and the interest in the Cathedral cat exploded.  She is now big in Japan and across South America.  Her Twitter followers have increased exponentially. The book about her is no longer available on Amazon and our visitor numbers at the Cathedral have shot up.  Everyone, so it seems, wants to see this cute little cat.

southwark-may-10th-17-45-doorkins (1)

Not so silly cat

So is Doorkins all that is left of the silly season this year? Well perhaps even she can’t simply be categorized as just silly.  The thing that seems to have captured people’s imagination is her story.  The newspaper’s have all accurately quoted me when I said

“I hope that when in the future people see the corbel of Doorkins and ask “Why on earth is a cat here?” somebody will be around to tell the story of a little lonely stray cat who wondered into a church and found herself at home. And maybe they’ll wander in and find themselves at home as well.”

That is the non-silly news.  It’s all about the radical hospitality of God, who made space for animals, two-by-two, when judgment was passed on humanity and who welcomes each and every one of us into the house and to the table.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says

‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.’ (Hebrews 13.2)

I’m not suggesting that Doorkins is an angel, she’s a cat! But angels are principally messengers and our Doorkins is an eloquent messenger, reminding us that each of us has a place in God’s house.  It may sound a bit silly, but it’s true.

God of hospitality,
as you welcome the least to the greatest
may we reflect your generous love
with open hearts and open arms.
Amen.

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The cat and the corbel

Following the recent article in the Evening Standard about Doorkins, our cathedral cat, and the corbel that has been made of her we have received so many messages about her.  One of these included a specially written poem by John Elliot, a fan in Barnard Castle.  With his permission this is his poem.

southwark-may-10th-17-45-doorkins

Felicitous 

Astute cathedral deans declare
That problems come with mouse or rat:
They need a feline living there;
And Doorkins is the Southwark cat.
Magnificat, her other name,
Conferred by clergymen, whose ways
Show us that jokes are all the same
And have not changed since we sang that
Our souls would magnify the cat.

They know that she’ll pay for her keep
By killing vermin in the church.
She finds a comfy place to sleep
And keeps watch from her favourite perch.
Her face displays a look of bliss:
She knows the service will not stop.
There’s merchandise reflecting this
For sale in the cathedral shop.
This cat and human synergy
Is very clear for all to see.

Thanks John.

It’s a cat’s life

Mum was, I suppose, what you might call ‘house proud’. There’s nothing wrong with that.  When we were kids we always knew that the house would be clean and tidy, things put away where they belonged, that we would have clean clothes and there would never be a pile of washing or ironing to be done. I suppose at her worst she could be a bit of a Hyacinth Bucket but only in a little way.  But the implication was that we never really had a pet, I mean a pet that was free to roam.  My first pet was ‘Snowy’ the white mouse, neatly caged, but after its body rebelled on a diet of cheese and milk (Mum took her mouse care lessons from Tom & Jerry by all accounts) it went to meet its Maker.  We then had a number of goldfish, mainly from fairs, some swam around a bowl for a while but none made long-term pets.

Hyacinth Bucket from the British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances, floral dress and pearls_thumb[2]

Keeping up appearences

The best we managed was a Cockatiel called ‘Beauty’. He was actually my sister’s bird and he loved her but tried to take a chunk out of the rest of us.  When the bird decided he disliked intensely my sister’s boyfriend she had to make that difficult decision that can sometimes face us in life – ‘the bird or the boyfriend?’ – and she chose the latter.  So Mum inherited the care of Beauty even though it continually ‘went for her’.

My point is that we were never allowed a cat or a dog like other people.  No puppy nor kitten added to the fun of our lives.  We had a lovely childhood but no four-legged friend to grow up with us as in so many adverts showing happy, sunny, well disposed children.

Last Sunday at Southwark Cathedral we launched a children’s book called ‘Doorkins the Cathedral Cat’.  It has been written and illustrated by two members of the Cathedral congregation, Lisa Gutwein, the author and Rowan Ambrose, the artist.  It tells the tale, the true tale, of Doorkins who is the Southwark Cathedral cat.  The book is delightful and I’m glad to say is selling extremely well.

I remember the cat arriving back in 2008.  He, actually she is a she but we didn’t know that then, arrived in the Cathedral churchyard.  This cat spent a lot of time in the garden but was also around in the morning when the vergers were opening up the Cathedral. So eventually they decided to feed the cat and put a bowl of water out.  My predecessor, Colin Slee, himself a cat lover and owner (if one can ever own a cat) called him/her ‘Doorkins’ because that was where we first encountered her, in the door.  She was then given the posh name ‘Magnificat’. Doorkins Magnificat gradually found the courage to come from outside to inside, to take advantage of the warmth that was awaiting her.  And so a daily routine developed.  She comes in when we open, has breakfast, has a wander around the place, checking it out, finds somewhere to sleep, gets up during Evensong when she hears her own song, ‘Magnificat’, and then has her supper and as the Cathedral closes she goes back out to her second, night-time home, the Borough Market. It’s a cat’s life!

That’s the ideal of course.  When it’s cold, and now that she is older, she sometimes hides when going-out time comes along and the vergers have the difficult job of finding her and coaxing her out. Sometimes, when she senses that something good is happening she will wander through the sanctuary at just the wrong moment for us but the best moment for her as all eyes are upon her.

Like the whole community Doorkins was caught up in the terrorist attack on London Bridge and Borough Market on 3 June.  By the time that happened she had been put out and the doors had been locked.  As it turned out we were unable to check that she was ok until we were able to get back into the Cathedral ourselves many days later.  At first we satisfied ourselves with the knowledge that she is basically a feral cat who happens to lodge with us and would probably manage alright amongst all the abandoned food from the Saturday night revels into which the horror struck.  But then we heard that the Metropolitan Police, in the midst of everything else they had to do, were making sure that Doorkins did not go hungry.  Without being ridiculous about it that was a moment of such reassurance in the midst of all that was so horrible – we would be ok.

Doorkins book

The Doorkins book – get your copy!

So, why am I mentioning all of this?  Well, simply I suppose because, not being a pet person generally nor particularly a cat person I have come to recognise what the presence of Doorkins does for us and that was reinforced as the book was launched last Sunday.  I’ve noticed that for many people simply seeing a cat wandering around makes the place accessible, unstuffy, in a strange way more human, a manifestation of ‘The Human Haunt’ in Carol Ann Duffy’s poem about the Cathedral.  It’s as though they say to themselves ‘well, if these people accept a cat here perhaps they will accept me’.

But more than that there is something about how Doorkins arrived and settled that is a parable of mission.  The truth is that however warm and inclusive a church may be and think it is, it is still a church and to many people an unfamiliar and strange place. Getting through the door and across the threshold is no mean feat.  And then having arrived people need to feel at home, safe, able to stay, not frightened off by too much attention or too little.  Churches can be enormously off-putting to newcomers.  We may all have had the uncomfortable experience of almost sitting in a seat or a pew to be told ‘I’m sorry you can’t sit there – that’s where Mrs Tubbs sits!’ and you move off sheepishly – none of the ‘come up higher friend’ of Jesus’ parable!  But Doorkins will make herself at home wherever she likes, even in the Cathedra, even in the Dean’s stall – can you imagine and we have to cope with it!

Finally, she is someone (I know she’s not a person) who people love and relate to and that has to be good.  She found us and chose to live with us and now adds to the special place that we are. So I need to celebrate this cat who is the four-legged though rather disant friend that I never had as a child.

In the Book of Genesis the man names every creature God delivers to him.

‘So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.’ (Genesis 2.19)

Amongst them, in a way, was our lovely cat, who we name with love and always give thanks for, who opens doors for others to follow her into the church.

Creator God,
thank you for the animals
that share our lives,
our homes,
and our love
and thank you
for all that they teach us
about what it means to be
human.
Amen.

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