We had our first service in the Yurt on Sunday, and it was truly beautiful. We had a simple time of Taize style worship (chanting and silence) whilst praying for peace around the world.
Many have asked - 'Why a yurt?' so I feel obliged to explain why it seems to work. My first encounter with a Yurt was when Methodist saint Barbara Glasson acquired one in Bradford. The purpose was to have a mobile contemplative space that encouraged encounter and opportunities for listening to one another and to God. From the first moment I went into one, I realised how powerful they were as a spiritual and human experience.
I think that the reason the Yurt works is down to its shape, size and functionality. Shape - round buildings seem to reflect the shape of a human being more adequately than square ones, and people feel instinctively more relaxed in 'curved' environments. Rudolf Steiner, the great philosopher and educationalist understood this, and it is reflected in the schools built in the 1920's. Even now, new education buildings encourage learning simply by adding curves - it just works.
The size of the yurt matters - the scale is human, small, intimate. Conversations feel more comfortable when words are held close, Words can truly be listened to and not lost in space. Large churches are ideal when we are trying to communicate to something much greater than ourselves, but not so great when your theology understands Jesus as being 'close' to us. 'Don't call me master' says Jesus, 'for a servant does not know his master's business. I have shared all I know with you, for you are my friends.'
An intimate God requires some intimate spaces, and the small scale yurt helps.
Functionality. Yurts are mobile and can be set up anywhere. once erected, they complement their contexts, but they make everyone examine their contexts afresh. Having a yurt in the Minster makes us think afresh about space and how it is used. The nomadic life of a yurt reflects something of the life of discipleship. We need to be ready to move if necessary. This will always be tough, and having just gone through such a process personally in our move from Bradford to Sunderland. The process of relocation is made easier when we learn something of the gift of simplicity. A yurt, a tent, helps us to gain and insight into this.
We complicate our lives with clutter and objects, and they in turn make us inanimate and unadaptable.
The yurt is mobile, yet is a place of hospitality and homeliness. It is always welcoming and warm.
Paul Spencer, from Highland Yurts, the man who built the structure has crafted something of great beauty and well as perfect functionality. Come and see it for yourself. We'll be hosting our services on a Sunday night in the Yurt till Easter, after that its available for storytelling and truthtelling around the North East. In the meantime, let us all try to learn from our Yurt!