Earlier this month, Norwich Cathedral installed a helter-skelter in its nave as part of its Seeing it Differently Campaign. Reverend Canon Andy Bryant, the cathedral’s Canon for Mission and Pastoral Care, said the fairground ride was intended to give visitors a better view of the ornate ceiling.  This decision proved controversial.
I first saw the story about the helter-skelter on Twitter, where a heated discussion was raging. Many complained that the installation turned the cathedral into a fairground; the idea of sacredness was also brought up.  The most vocal critic of the cathedral’s decision, however, was the Queen’s former chaplain, the Right Reverend Dr Gavin Ashenden, who said that cathedrals should not be treated as just tourist attractions. 
Ashenden’s concerns were legion but included worries over how the installation would affect the cathedral’s evangelism. He said: "There is no evidence that people are converted by treating cathedrals as a cultural artefact." 
Representatives from the cathedral, however, defended their decision. Both Bryant and the Very Reverend Jane Hedges said that the helter-skelter was challenging perceptions of cathedrals as exclusive places.  Bryant said that the helter-skelter "is the Cathedral doing what it has always done – encouraging conversations about God". 
Much of my experience of evangelism in the Church of England came from when I was a teenager. A common theme I noticed in discussions of evangelism was that the best way to introduce people to Jesus and the Gospel is not to be ‘too preachy’. The technique was thus: don’t tell people about Jesus, that will just put them off – instead, show some display of hospitality that will make Christianity seem more palatable. In short, make Christians seem like nice people so others will want to be Christians.
In reflection, this seems like an odd way to go about evangelism. It is less about spreading the Good News and more about selling the lifestyle of Christianity – or, rather, the lifestyle of British Anglicanism. It is this kind of idea I can see reflected in Norwich Cathedral’s decision to attract tourists with a helter-skelter. Perhaps Ashenden is right to question such methods of evangelism; do we want people to listen to and engage with the Gospel, or do we just want to get people through the door?
It seems to me that Church of England evangelism is always dodging the question, leaving the elephant in the corner of the room. It is awkward. I do not see that Norwich Cathedral’s helter-skelter will encourage much conversion, but I do think such events go a long way to challenging the (in my opinion, problematic) notions of sacred space whence it seems much of Ashenden’s criticism comes.
In a country where the Church of England is inextricably linked with the State and where it has enjoyed centuries of privilege as the ‘default’ religion, the Church of England does not seem to be very good at evangelism. I have no idea what Church of England evangelism should look like, but I do know that church attendance is falling and that many fear that the C of E will be dead in twenty years. I am fully on board with Norwich Cathedral’s helter-skelter, but I don’t think it will work as an evangelistic tool. The Church of England is stuck in an echo chamber, and it’s not doing itself any favours being in there.
 Swerling, Gabriella. "Norwich Cathedral accused of 'treating God like a tourist attraction' after installing helter skelter." The Telegraph. Last modified August 8, 2019. Accessed August 10, 2019
 Notable critical Tweets include: Tom of Bedlam, Twitter post, August 2019, 9:36 a.m., https://twitter.com/bedlam_of/status/1159760234413481987; John Bowley, Twitter post, August 2019, 2:57 p.m., https://twitter.com/Johnbowley53/status/1159841244354240512; Elliot W Bulmer, Twitter post, August 2019, 9:53 a.m., https://twitter.com/Tom_Paine_Jr/status/1159764680728092672; Elliot W Bulmer, Twitter post, August 2019, 10:05 a.m., https://twitter.com/Tom_Paine_Jr/status/1159767668662165504.
 Swerling, Gabriella. "Norwich Cathedral accused of 'treating God like a tourist attraction' after installing helter skelter." The Telegraph. Last modified August 8, 2019. Accessed August 10, 2019; BBC. "Norwich Cathedral helter skelter 'is a mistake'." BBC. Last modified August 9, 2019. Accessed August 10, 2019; Powell, Luke. "Cathedral faces criticism for helter skelter installation - but what do you think?." Eastern Daily Press. Last modified August 9, 2019. Accessed August 10, 2019. https://www.edp24.co.uk/news/norwich-cathedral-helter-skelter-criticism-....
 Quoted in: Powell, Luke. "Cathedral faces criticism for helter skelter installation - but what do you think?." Eastern Daily Press. Last modified August 9, 2019. Accessed August 10, 2019. https://www.edp24.co.uk/news/norwich-cathedral-helter-skelter-criticism-....
 Andersson, Jasmine. "Norwich Cathedral has installed a 50ft helter skelter to ‘open up conversations around faith’." iNews. Last modified August 8, 2019. Accessed August 10, 2019. https://inews.co.uk/news/norwich-cathedral-helter-skelter-open-size-chri....
 Quoted in: Swerling, Gabriella. "Norwich Cathedral accused of 'treating God like a tourist attraction' after installing helter skelter." The Telegraph. Last modified August 8, 2019. Accessed August 10, 2019.
Written by Ellen Grace Lesser. Ellen is a postgraduate researcher of Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter. She is an Anglican (though identifies as more spiritual than strictly religious) and has been involved with SCM since 2016 when she became the General Secretary for the University of Exeter’s Methodist and Anglican Society.