'Lights, Camera, Action!' Emma Pennington on filming her series on Julian of Norwich, to accompany her new book: 'At the Foot of the Cross with Julian of Norwich'

'Lights, Camera, Action!' Emma Pennington on filming her series on Julian of Norwich, to accompany her new book: 'At the Foot of the Cross with Julian of Norwich'

Lights, Camera, Action!: filming a series on Julian of Norwich at Canterbury Cathedral

By Emma Pennington, author of At the Foot of the Cross with Julian of Norwich

The script is written, our old photographic camera cleared of memory and charged, indoor location discussed, tripod set up and then, at last, after many minute alterations made to the shot, we begin to film. For the last five weeks it’s become quite a ritual but when the filming is ‘in the bag’ and we’ve had a brief, embarrassing check that it will do, there’s a sense of achievement, satisfaction even, in a job well done. As lockdown deepened and the final editing of my book for BRF came to its completion, the idea to produce a video series on Julian of Norwich: a medieval take on lockdown and how to survive it naturally presented itself. Even before  23 March we had begun live streaming our worship here at Canterbury Cathedral. A gorgeous looking image of us saying our prayers before the High Altar in an empty cathedral had gone out to the world. But somehow it felt distant, remote, if not rather exclusive to only the priests present. It was when the announcement came that all churches and cathedrals were to be closed that our online presence took off.

It seemed an obvious step to take our online streaming with us into our own homes. With the situation nationally and internationally moving and changing fast we all agreed that it was important for the Dean to say Morning Prayer each day, thereby able to respond quickly to current events. Each of the Canons, myself included, would take the Evensong slot and say a pared down version of the Book of Common Prayer Evening service with reflection. On a Sunday we would all come together and provide different slots of the Eucharist in chequered patchwork of liturgy. Then, each armed with some recording device, be it a smart phone, video function on a Canon camera, or professional filming equipment supplied by the Friends, we got to work and began to quickly learn a new ministry we never thought we had. It soon became clear that our daily regular YouTube offerings from gardens, chicken coops, studies, bay windows, romantic ruins and even a pig pen, was drawing a daily regular audience. Not only was the daily prayer time intimate, personal and profound, but folk were invited into the hidden world of the Precincts houses and gardens to share our homes and the animals that made up our private lives.

When lockdown first began a few people in the national press had mentioned similarities with the fourteenth century anchoress Julian of Norwich who had lived a life of self-isolation in the cell attached to St Julian’s church in Norwich also at a time of pandemic with the plague. So it seemed obvious to take these references further and make an online video series, Julian of Norwich: a medieval take on lockdown and how to survive it. Having just written At the Foot of the Cross with Julian of Norwich for BRF and given my long history of writing and researching on her to doctoral level at Oxford, it was easy to relate her life as a solitary to our own experience of isolation. So then the fun began with writing, filming, editing sections together and uploading onto YouTube. Thankfully I was able to call upon the expertise of our own communication department for much of the technical work and I’m very grateful for the time they spent in making the project happen.

Now lockdown is easing and life is returning to normal, be it a somewhat chaotic new normal. Services resume this coming Sunday, 4 July, with the Archbishop, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, preaching and celebrating at a Eucharist which will be broadcast to many followed by the return to the daily round of cathedral worship. But what of our online ministry? Many have written, posted and emailed to beg us to continue even when life in our churches returns to normal and with viewing figures for a single service now topping three thousand each day it seems our online ministry is also here to stay for the foreseeable future. Before lockdown the clergy may have been joined by two or three others, now this most ancient daily office of Morning Prayer has escaped the confines of the building and found a new following with those who cannot make it to church or for whom a church building is just too intimidating. In turn we have come to realise that our idea of cathedral ministry with worship in a beautiful architecturally historic space and stunning music has expanded beyond the building and the simple act of daily saying your prayers whether in church or at home is still as relevant and required to sustain the world and deepen our relationship with God as it ever has been.

To watch Emma's series on Julian of Norwich click here

Rev’d Dr Emma Pennington is Canon Missioner of Canterbury Cathedral.  Formerly vicar of Garsington, Cuddesdon and Horspath in the Oxford Diocese and chaplain of Worcester College, Oxford, she has also been a prayer and spirituality adviser for the diocese and an area dean. She speaks widely about the spirituality of Julian of Norwich.





All shall be well,and all shall be well,and all manner of thing shall be well.' This quotation may be all that many people know of Julian of Norwich, an anchoress from the fourteenth century. This book seeks to bring to a popular readership a devotional engagement with Julian’s work.

The introduction gives a general background to Julian, the nature of visions in the 14th century and the type of text Julian gives us, namely a meditative text which intends to lead the reader to ‘beholding’.'

Each chapter centres on one aspect or image from Julian’s Revelation, which seeks to make the events of the Passion present to the reader’s imagination. The commentary incorporates reflection, the biblical narrative and Julian’s subsequent teachings to create a meditation that enables the reader to linger on the wonder of the cross,ending with a prayer that leads to silence and a thought or verse to carry into daily life.

For more information and to order click here.

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