If you go to Sunderland Minster this week, you may be surprised by the strange sight of a large sandy coloured round tent slap bang in the middle of the nave. Once you enter in, questions such as 'why here?' are answered immediately, as it is clearly a thing of great beauty and tranquillity - easily befitting a place of prayer.
I began my interest in yurts when Barbara Glasson, a Methodist mystic, introduced one to Bradford, and developed it into a place of listening and encounter. Then I visited the great yurt of St Ethelburga's church in London - a place of healing, reconciliation and interfaith friendship. I was hooked, and have been determined to bring one to Sunderland since my arrival.
In the course of working on this project, I contacted Paul Spencer from 'Highland Yurts' and immediately felt he was the right man for the job. He has a fascinating personal story, and clearly understands the emotional and spiritual resonance of these ecological buildings. His wood comes from sustainable sources from the areas he lives in in Aberdeenshire, and he crafts the yurts with skill and love.
After constructing the Yurt on Palm Sunday, he gave us a talk on his methods and on Yurt 'ettiquette'. Then we were led clockwise into the structure by Clare, beautifully playing her violin.
The first thing we did in the Yurt was to hear the stories of Syrian Students. It was extremely moving, and I couldn't help but think that the room itself made their stories more powerful, as it created an intimacy where you needed to pay attention to each persons hurt and hopes.
Why a Yurt in Holy Week? Well, at the end of the week, the Yurt will become a tomb. We will 'seal' it on Good Friday, remembering Jesus' death on the cross and subsequent burial. An on Easter Sunday though, the stone entrance will be rolled away and the empty Yurt will become a sign of resurrection and hope - a sign for Sunderland and Syria that God's love will always overcome the power of death.