On the 11th September 2011 a recital of John Lennon’s famous anti war song Imagine was performed using the bells of Exeter Cathedral. The event was attended by more than a thousand members of the local community and heard online in 32 countries. Listen to the recital using the player below.

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Imagine was a social art event that commemorated the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and stepped beyond remembrance to encourage reflection upon religious tolerance and world citizenship. Performing a secular song from a place of worship raised questions that were too challenging for some. The project was programmed by Trinity Church in New York but later rejected due to the song’s lyric. It was also removed from an international arts programme marking 9/11 and described by its US organiser as ‘anti-national’ and ‘anti-religious’. These decisions highlight problems the project examines and shows the depth of religious conservatism in the US.

Before the performance a public walk for cooperation and interdependence led the audience from Exeter Mosque to the Cathedral. This silent crowd included Atheists, Agnostics, Anglicans, Baptists, Buddhists, Catholics, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Pagans, Sikhs and Quakers, representing the largest gathering of religions in the city’s history. Only the Evangelicals declined to take part. 

Imam Mohammed Abrar at Exeter Mosque and the walk (pictures by Pete Millson courtesy of PVA Medialab)

The Bishop of Exeter summarised Imagine by saying that although many attending were people of faith, the event was not a religious occasion but a human one. We thank Exeter Cathedral and Exeter Mosque for their enthusiastic collaboration and embracing the project’s challenges with the vision to see its potential. The participation of Exeter Mosque was particularly profound in view of their experience of Islamophobic crime following 9/11.

The small wooden cross (picture by Dennis Hopkins) found at the Cathedral after the event is a disturbing reminder of religious tensions. These issues and others were considered in an essay written by Carl Turner, acting Dean of Exeter Cathedral that appeared on the front page of the Cathedral website. In it he explained their decision to participate in Imagine and reflected upon 9/11 by considering subjects such as the writing of the great theologian Thomas Merton, the Vietnam War, Lennon, the Beatles, self-loathing and hate. Click here to read in full.

BELOW IS A SMALL SELECTION OF THE MANY RESPONSES WE HAD TO THE EVENT

“Last Sunday was a memorable and poignant evening and is still resounding with me. It was good to be amongst such visible diversity. Great speeches, amazing bells – a brave Bishop and Imam. A real credit to you and everybody who made it and allowed it to happen.” Fran Marsh / Audience member

“The turnout exceeded our expectations and contributed to a moving occasion where we recalled all those and their families and friends who died ten years ago, as well as in violence, war and conflict across the world since. I spoke with two separate audience members from the US who said they were extremely moved and that their perspective before had been dominated by the official US view but this had been overturned by the experience of diversity and solidarity at the event.” Martyn Goss / Director of the Council for Church & Society / Diocese of Exeter / Church of England

“Just a word of thanks for tonight, it was an event I felt proud to attend and represent Exeter. I met with members of the Muslim and Hindu community and lots of other Exeter people who thought it was a really worthwhile event.”                 Stella Brook / Lord Mayor of Exeter

“Your project is resonantly ecumenical, and a wonderful appeal to peace that appeals to me as a US Citizen.”          Stacey McNutt / Email / 18th August 2011

“A really brilliant educational project” David Price OBE / Twitter

“Imagine is a thought provoking project that I think will touch many people in Exeter and across the world. The opportunity for young people to examine the important issues associated with 9/11 through this project is one which I believe will remain with them for many years to come.” Phil Gibby / South West Director / Arts Council England

“Big admirer of what you’ve achieved. Well done on a wonderful project.” Schools Council UK / Twitter

“Hello, I am 14 years of age and I was involved in the peace walk and I thought that it was brilliant! I enjoyed walking through Exeter in aid of all those people who are living under war and all they and we want is PEACE!”                                  Shola McDonald / DigitalME Education Blog

“Wonderfully discordant and powerful.” Jessica Evans / Senior Lecturer / Open University 

“I love what you’ve done with the Imagine project – original, resourceful and inspired.”
Anne Walker / Workers Educational Association / Twitter

“Listening online to the bells of Exeter chiming Imagine. Just beautiful. Well done to all involved.”
“Congratulations – just listened to it live on the Imagine website – wish I could have been there.”                              Twitter