Dean of Wakefield: Easter and its meaning to the people of Wakefield and the city’s cathedral

Simon Cowling is the Dean of Wakefield.
Simon Cowling is the Dean of Wakefield.
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‘JUST give it a gentle tap mate – that always does the trick’. I was standing in the changing rooms of the local sports centre, waving my wet hands vigorously underneath a dryer. It was stubbornly refusing to work, and my frustration must have been obvious to the person behind me.

Well I’m always open to advice, so I hit the dryer very lightly with the back of my hand and lo and behold: hot air! The simplicity of the tip, and the gentleness of the tap required, nicely matched my very basic level of technical understanding and competence.

Odd though it might seem, I thought about that gentle tap on the hand dryer when I was beginning to prepare for my first Easter as Dean of Wakefield Cathedral. The terrible events of the first Good Friday must have made everything seem completely devoid of life to Jesus’s friends and followers. After all, they had seen Jesus die a slow and painful death. They had taken him down gently from the cross, wrapped him in a shroud and rolled a stone over the entrance to his tomb.

There was nothing more that could be done for their beloved teacher apart from carefully anointing his dead body – and that would have to wait until after Saturday, the Jewish day of rest. But when a small group of faithful women arrived at the tomb very early on the Sunday morning everything had changed. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb and that it was empty apart from the shroud. ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?’ two strangers asked them. ‘He is not here, but has risen’.

No massive thunderclap or drum roll, no complicated technical procedure, no divine wizardry. Just God’s gentle tap one Spring morning two thousand years ago in a Middle Eastern burial ground. As a result of that gentle tap, new life and new hope were born.

The women might have arrived at the tomb very early, but God had sprung into action even earlier. Jesus had indeed risen from the dead. Since arriving in Wakefield last autumn, I have been privileged to have conversations with people involved in public life across a wide range of sectors – the police and fire services, the local authority, education, commerce and industry, and the arts and culture. I have learned a huge amount about what makes our city and district tick and about the challenges we face.

But I have also formed a deep appreciation of the high level of determination and enthusiasm there is to ensure that Wakefield makes the most of our opportunities and that we move into the future with confidence and hope.

These positive attitudes were certainly on display at a Wakefield High Street Summit I attended a few weeks ago. The narrative of decline which has dominated national discussions about our city and town centres was challenged time and time again by those attending. At the end, Merran McRae, Wakefield Council’s chief executive, spoke for us all when she commented on the amount of passion and commitment the summit had uncovered.

All sorts of ideas had been shared which will allow us to shape a vision for what our city centre might look like in a few years. But this vision is not going to come to fruition with a single leap into a ready-made future. It is going to come about because lots of people are prepared to give lots of gentle taps, to play their part in generating hope and in working for our common good.

As part of our cathedral contribution to the renewal of our city centre, we are beginning to think about how we might bring new life to the area on the north side of the building in ways that will benefit everyone. We hope that this will include a new space for people to meet and relax, but we are open to ideas.

Wakefield Cathedral is a wonderful place to celebrate Easter, and I am looking forward to welcoming hundreds of people to our worship on Easter Day with Nick Baines, our diocesan bishop. But Christians do not want God’s good news of new life and new hope to be kept confined inside our cathedral and church buildings. We want our walls to be porous and our doors flung wide, fully open to the world. My ambition is for a cathedral that breathes in time with the rhythms of the city. I want everyone to feel drawn into the building to experience peace, rest and refreshment and to leave with a renewed understanding of all that God has made possible through that gentle tap early on the first Easter morning. May God bless you this Easter.

The Very Reverend Simon Cowling is Dean of Wakefield.