We like to think too that there is a sacredness about the Meeting House: not the “holy” atmosphere created by mysterious dark spaces, candles and incense, but an atmosphere of hospitality, friendship and unconditional welcome. If people feel this when they come into the Meeting House, we believe they have felt something of God just as truly as in any church, temple, mosque, gurdwara or cathedral.
Recent research has shown that about eleven million people visit the Church of England’s cathedrals each year. In an age when church congregations are declining, this is quite remarkable.
The visitors are not of course all “worshippers”, in the sense of Christian believers who come to attend a service. Many would be described as “tourists”, who are drawn by the architecture, the art and the history, or simply visiting because it is a famous place. Some come for cultural events that have no direct “religious” content, others simply because they find it a place of quiet, welcome and space.
But who is to say which is which? Surveys of visitors suggest that many who would not call themselves “religious” feel a sense of the sacred when they are in a cathedral. Some come as tourists and are surprised by what they feel. Cathedrals have never been just a place of worship for members of the Church: they have always been a focus for the community life of a wider community, and a kind of sign of the presence of God at the heart of the city.
The Chaplaincy’s Meeting House on the Treforest campus is a bit like that. It doesn’t have the dimensions or the beauty of a cathedral – though of course there’s no accounting for tastes! But it is a place where people of all faiths and none come for all kinds of purposes – to meet friends, to have fun, to learn, to raise money for good causes and so on – and a place where one can find quiet to pray or meditate. In these senses the Meeting House offers students and staff a cathedral experience at the heart of the University.