Prayers and Putting: Rochester Cathedral's 'Fairway to heaven' brings families through its doors

Prayers and Putting: Rochester Cathedral's 'Fairway to heaven' brings families through its doors

The Background

Once upon a time in agency-land, no matter how tough the going got, we used to be able to rely on a phenomenon called ‘silly season’

Silly season, we were told, began as soon as the politicians flounced off for their summer holidays, the kids broke up from school and continental Europe stopped replying to emails. 

Silly season meant zero ‘hard news’, and therefore the best opportunity of the year for agencies to unveil their craziest campaigns, most outlandish installations and most cunning stunts.

Sadly for us, over recent years, the summer season got serious. 

When every working day in Westminster could reasonably be described as a circus, no one needs more clowns in their daily lives. 

For a while back there, we thought silly season might be gone forever.

The Big Idea

Which is why it’s somewhat gratifying to see the summer holidays kick off with something as big, fun and (let’s face it) silly as Rochester Cathedral’s conversion into a crazy golf course. 

In an effort to attract more newcomers and atheists, the cathedral installed a bespoke mini golf course into the church’s nave, with visitors able to play all nine ‘fairways to heaven’ completely free-of-charge.

What They Did

In keeping with the cathedral’s summer theme of ‘building bridges’, each hole was kitted out with its own scale model of a well-known bridge, in the hope that visitors would “reflect on the bridges that need to be built in their own lives and in our world today” (according to the Rev Canon Rachel Phillips).

The cathedral opened its doors to the world’s media on launch day and was greeted with a predictable mixture of delight, tabloid punnery and blusterous outrage. 

Sub-editors across the nation rejoiced at the opportunity for headlines such as ‘Holy-in-One’ and ‘More tee, Vicar?’, whilst The Telegraph lamented the initiative as an ‘act of desecration’.   

The Review

As a (disclaimer) card-carrying atheist, I can find little to fault in this idea. 

At a time when a growing number of us have little or no interaction with the church, it has helped to bridge the divide between the cathedral and its local community, bringing in young families and no doubt plenty of new visitors from the surrounding area.

Only last year the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby commented that “if you can’t have fun in a cathedral, do you really know what fun is?’. 

It seems that the organisers at Rochester have simply taken his word as gospel.

What much of the media coverage of the installation also seems to have overlooked is that it is free. 

And at a time when parents across the country are struggling with the financial strain of the summer break, for the church to be able to help ease the burden of entertaining the kids for six long weeks should surely be welcomed.

A family activity that costs nothing, hallelujah.

In Hindsight

I highly doubt that the organisers of this initiative could ever have anticipated the furore it’s caused. 

But when they look back on it, I hope they’ll see past the ruffled feathers and focus on the smiles they’ve put on the faces of players, and those of us who saw it from afar. 

And for this bluff old PR person, it’s just nice to see that silly season might not be over after all.

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