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Moving tribute

Lucy Winkett

WinkettThe parties have been going on for a week or two now but I've finally taken my leave of the community that has been my home and  place of work for nearly 13 years. St Paul's Cathedral is no longer where I'm from.

It's a strange feeling, no longer being part of the planning for services celebrating the work of Florence Nightingale, the Battle of Britain or the life of fashion designer Alexander McQueen. Strange not having to think about the cathedral's 300th anniversary next year or the erection of screens to accommodate Christmas crowds.

For good or ill (and it's been both) St Paul's has been a huge part of my life and the emotion of leaving has taken me a little by surprise. It obviously reminds me of arriving. In 1997, the Church of England was getting used to its women priests and the appointment of the first woman at the cathedral caused something little short of an ecclesiastical riot. Tabloid newspapers published  alarmist stories,  my particular favourite being an article whose headline was taken from the title of Callum Brown's The Death of Christian Britain. It was illustrated with a large picture of my face.  

Most people know the outside of St Paul's much better than they know the inside. The dome is a landmark and a potent symbol of London, and many citizens of the capital will say they 'know' and even 'love' the building without ever going in. But inside is where I've been for these years and the memories are varied and powerful: the lamenting sound of  the dutar as Afghans came to remember their families killed in war,  the laughing chatter of children lying on the floor looking up at the mosaics high above them, the haunting words of  Desmond Tutu describing the peace and reconciliation commission,  the raised voices as bankers and regulators argued about the banking collapse with theologians. All of this has been heard under the dome in recent years. A building that is often characterised as stuffy and posh has held a huge variety of  human experience before God and has been a home for prayers of grief, fury, joy and relief for innumerable people. It is a building built to the glory of God but which can't resist, in its size and form, being overwhelming, even intimidating.  It takes a certain degree of confidence to  go up those steps and through the front door, but inside the walls there is beauty and memory and an honest reflection of the failures of humanity as well as the triumph of the artistic spirit.

Cathedrals find themselves at the centre of the church, but not often at its heart.  Many Christians have an understandable ambivalence about their grandeur and privileged status. In spite of this, perhaps even because of it, their ministry is best summed up by Archbishop William Temple who insisted that the church is the one institution that exists for the people who do not belong to it. Londoners just love St Paul's, regardless of their faith commitments,  and now, from the outside rather than the inside, I will love it too.