“A STRANGE collection,” I thought. We were gathered in the common room at Sarum College on Friday night for the opening of their latest art exhibition. Canapé in hand and a strange purple non-alcoholic smoothie in a glass. “Not a very auspicious start to a Friday night,” I thought.

Keith spoke first. He welcomed us in a few carefully-chosen words on the subject of sanctuary, the title of the exhibition. He spoke about cathedrals and churches as safe havens in the past. Of sanctuary today taking on a wider meaning – places from which one could go out into the world, refreshed and better prepared. Of Sarum College, an ecumenical centre for Christian study and research giving believers and non-believers alike a sanctuary in which they can nourish their spirit.

Then John spoke; a leading and established sculptor whose works currently adorn the Close. He spoke about the men without whom his works could not be created – of quarrymen with knowledge, understanding and respect for stones who provided him with the raw material for his works. He talked about the masons who cut and shaped and finished his designs, and of those who provided a home for his finished work - giving them new life; sending them out into the world to inspire and confront and refresh.

Then Susan spoke, an artist in her own right who for the last year has been working with a group of residents from Morning Star Salisbury, a charity giving support to those struggling with homelessness and addiction.

She spoke about those attending her classes discovering creativity and self-expression for the first time, about people whose lives had been hardened discovering a sense of fun, about creativity in collage and giving discarded materials their own new life.

And finally Sharon – a volunteer and former resident from Morning Star. She spoke movingly about how she had discovered value in herself through art, about how it taught her that her creations didn’t have to perfect to be of value, loved and appreciated.

They were distinctive speakers for a distinctive audience - staff and guests from a Christian college, the occasional librarian from a conference in search of the bar, artists, recovered alcoholics whose art was now on display, Cathedral Close residents, seekers of spiritual truth, passers-by, neighbours, hangers-on, a canon or two from the Cathedral and Bill Browne from the Journal.

Would we ever have met in other circumstances? What else could ever have brought us all together to talk, listen and discover? Yet here we were. The opening of the exhibition provided the occasion. The audience and speakers provided the real collection.

So much of our time is spent with people who are just like us. At work. At home. With friends.

They confirm that our world view is correct.

Friday night was quite special and quite different.

Each of us was given a glimpse into someone else’s world. It turned out it was a very auspicious start to the evening, after all.