Championing Mental Health at Norwich Cathedral

Published on: 1 September 2017

Andy Bryant explores the way the Cathedral is helping those struggling with their mental health.

Cathedrals seem to be spaces that attract peoples of all faiths and none. Something about its spiritual significance, history and/or its heritage draws people in. It is a building designed to point beyond itself; a still point in the midst of a busy world and a thin place where something Other can be glimpsed.

By the number of candles lit, the prayers left and those who come just to sit, ponder and pray, we know it is also a place which people seek out at moments of need. Most are content to come and go on their own, not needing the help of anyone; the building itself speaks sufficiently to them. But there are others who come not just seeking the place but also someone they can speak to, someone who will listen to them.

This is where our wonderful team of Day Chaplains comes into its own. Drawn from clergy and Readers from across the Diocese, our Day Chaplains are a quiet presence in the Cathedral, gently engaging with our visitors and being a listening ear when needed.

As with many other city centre churches, we recognise that a significant number of those who come seeking someone to talk to also have mental health problems. This can range from low level anxiety and generally feeling low to more developed conditions including depression and psychosis.

Recently moved in beside the Cathedral, in The Close, is the Wellbeing Centre, a project initiated jointly by the NHS, Mind and Relate. The Centre provides a range of support for people with common mental health and emotional issues, such as low mood, depression or stress. They work with individuals to help make the necessary changes to improve their wellbeing and quality of life. We quickly recognised that there was a link between this work and the people our Day Chaplains were meeting in the Cathedral.

Staff at the Wellbeing Centre suggested the Chaplains became Community Champions. A Community Champion is someone who cares about where they live and work and sees the importance of talking about mental health and wellness. They share information about wellbeing with the people they meet and they are able to provide brief and effective support so people can find the help they need.

As a result of these conversations, we now ask all our Day Chaplains to attend Community Champion training run by the Wellbeing Centre. This is a two-and-a-half-hour session, highlighting some of the key signs of mental health problems, ways of communicating with those experiencing such difficulties and how best to signpost them on to help.

This does not make our Chaplains experts in mental health but it does help give them more confidence in responding to those with mental health needs. Their primary role remains that of listening and then, when appropriate, signposting them on to sources of help, including the Wellbeing Centre.

Remembering our Benedictine foundation, the Cathedral remains committed to being a place where all are welcome and where without judgment, they can find acceptance and a listening ear. We are grateful to our Community Champion Day Chaplains for the part they play in this mission of hospitality.

If you would be interested in helping as a Day Chaplain at Norwich Cathedral, please contact Canon Andy Bryant via or 01603 218331.

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