Thinking Anglicans

Dean of Peterborough bids farewell

The Church Times reports: Dean delivers harsh rebuke to C of E’s ‘blandness’ in final sermon

THE Dean of Peterborough, the Very Revd Charles Taylor, has bowed out of office with a stinging attack on envious people at the centre of the Church of England who resent “uppity” cathedrals and who wish to impose a “monochrome blandness” on the Church.

In late July, it was revealed that a cashflow crisis at Peterborough Cathedral meant that staff were in danger of not being paid. A loan was secured from the Church Commissioners. At the same time, it was announced that Dean Taylor was planning to retire.

In his farewell sermon on Saturday, Dean Taylor, who is 63, dropped a strong hint that the decision to leave had been forced upon him. Despite hundreds of letters of support, he said, he had not made any public remark about “the circumstances surrounding my ‘retirement’ — although some have alleged that the manner in which it was effected was legally dubious, morally reprehensible, and pastorally disgraceful. Well, they might care to think that. I could not possibly comment.”

And the article continues:

He detected a wider agenda: “Such an inclusive theology of mission as motivates this and other cathedrals . . . is not always welcome to those who resent the independence of cathedrals, who envy their freedom — indeed, their obligation — to take the risks that accompany that independence, and perceived that they’re getting a bit uppity.

“It certainly does not conform to the ecclesiology, if one can call it that, of those who would like to see power concentrated at the centre, in order to impose a bland, uniform theology, if one can call it that, which runs counter to the very essence of Anglican diversity.”

The recent death of Bishop David Jenkins had led him to wonder where, today, were the Anglican leaders who excite the public imagination? “Where among the leaders of today are the colourful clerics and turbulent priests, the prickly prophets, the rebels and reformers?” All he saw was “monochrome blandness”.

”It is surely of salutary significance that newly appointed deans and bishops these days are sent on an induction course — not as you might think, to hone their skills in theology, or liturgy, community outreach, or pastoral care, but to take a mini-MBA.

“The pattern of the Good Shepherd has been hijacked by the model of the Chief Executive Officer.”

This was fair enough to some extent, Dean Taylor said. “Sustaining the increasingly diverse and complex operations of an active cathedral or diocese is a costly exercise, which does need to be managed carefully and corporately. . .

“But I suggest it’s also true, that the cathedral, or the church, or the parish which sits comfortably without financial risk or worry, probably is not following the vocation of disciples to spend and be spent in the service of the gospel and for the love of God.

“Besides, if the ultimate purpose and success of mission is to be measured by the bottom line, by prosperous posteriors on pews and money in the bank, with every member and minster toeing the party line, then one can’t help wondering how the earthly mission and ministry of Jesus would be judged, dying as he did alone and in disgrace — no congregation, no cash in the bank, but betrayed, forsaken and denied, even by his chosen disciples.”

The cathedral website has this: Tributes paid to Dean at farewell service.

There is a complete audio recording of the sermon available here. Alas no transcript is provided but it is well worth the time to listen to in full.

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Michael SklirosStuartJamesFrogholeAnthony Archer Recent comment authors
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Simon Butler
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Simon Butler

Am I the only person who finds settling scores from the pulpit an unbecoming approach?

David Beadle
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David Beadle

The video’s now “removed by user.”

RevPeterM
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RevPeterM

It is good to hear a senior colleague speaking about the problem of wealth, the root of many ills in our society and in our church. So many dioceses shame poor parishes (and it seems poor cathedrals) while commending the rich. The Letter of James warns us against such behaviour, but we never learn. The rich, of course, police the public space by defining ‘good manners’ and ‘good practice’, so it is welcome that Dean Taylor has rejected such hypocrisy and used his farewell sermon to such effect, though it will be no surprise to veterans of teacher’s retirement parties.… Read more »

Jeremy
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Jeremy

“Am I the only person who finds settling scores from the pulpit an unbecoming approach?”

Depends on the “score” to be “settled,” don’t you think?

Generally speaking, it would be unbecoming of the Church to act illegally or unpastorally.

And for the Church to expect its victims in return to observe a “Christ-like” silence would be hypocritical, if not pathological.

How many times has that expectation gotten the Church into serious trouble?

Mark Hart
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Simon, Is it becoming to read the motive for a challenge from the pulpit in less than the most charitable way, as “settling scores”?

Simon Butler
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Simon Butler

Jeremy, plenty of truth in your points as generalisations, but as we do not know both sides of the story I think some care should be taken in assuming this is the whole picture.

David Runcorn
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David Runcorn

No you are not Simon.

Laurence Cunnington
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Laurence Cunnington

Whilst knowing nothing of the circumstances at Peterborough Cathedral, it seems somewhat harsh for the Dean to have to fall on his sword over financial mismanagement when, I assume, the Cathedral has a Chapter Clerk/Chief Exec., a Finance Manager, and a Chapter with overarching responsibility for finance. Unless the Dean personally overrode the financial decisions of these other people, why is he being made the scapegoat? Would incompetence by the Finance Director of a Diocese result in the early retirement of the Diocesan Bishop? I doubt it, somehow.

Daniel Berry, NYC
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Daniel Berry, NYC

I can’t say my sensibilities are 100% comfortable with such use of the pulpit. But it’s preferable to what he has to say going unsaid or unheard.

And when it comes to the gross abuses of the Gospel that church leadership has been inflicting on segments of church membership in recent years, objecting to this use of the pulpit is straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel.

Anyway that’s my opinion. No one need agree with me.

Mark Bennet
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Mark Bennet

Simon and David – on settling scores from the pulpit – I think this is implicit in much preaching even today. In the history of the church it has at some times and in some places been normal. My preference is for what is done “at all times and in all places” – but the fact that this is exceptionable and reportable in the way it is illustrates in some way the condition of the church as reported in the text of the sermon. I know I am a pretty average boring parish priest, but I do aspire for my… Read more »

Jeremy
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Jeremy

“as we do not know both sides of the story I think some care should be taken in assuming this is the whole picture.”

If that is so, then perhaps we should also hesitate to describe the sermon as unbecoming.

Anthony Archer
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Anthony Archer

Valedictory comments are always important, even if they are partial. They need to be recorded. Removing the YouTube file was crass. Clearly the cathedral authorities have been got at. The sermon will reappear in full somewhere, perhaps directly from the preacher’s server.

Froghole
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Froghole

Perhaps part of the problem with Peterborough is that it is a large and costly church to maintain in a city that is not really much of a tourist destination – if denizens of the city and soke will forgive me for putting it that way. I attended a ‘high sheriff’s justice service’ (in lieu of evensong) there last Sunday afternoon (2 October).The acting dean, Canon Jonathan Baker, preached a creditable and ‘inclusive’ sermon, and there was a reading from the Koran given by children from the Faiazan-e-Madina mosque in the city: north Peterborough has acquired a substantial Muslim population… Read more »

James
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James

The Dean asks “Where among the leaders of today are the colourful clerics and turbulent priests, the prickly prophets, the rebels and reformers?”

A good question. I was thinking whom, from the past I’d put in that category in the C of E.

David Jenkins, Ken Leech…

Who else? And what about women?

Stuart
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Stuart

If the information in the article is correct, that the cathedral finances were so mismanaged that its staff were at risk of not being paid, then enforced ‘retirement’ seems entirely appropriate.

Michael Skliros
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Michael Skliros

To the names James suggested could be added many other disturbers of the peace: John Robinson, Alec Vidler, Edward Carpenter, Harry Williams, Paul Oestreicher, Geoffrey Lampe, Don Cupitt, Sherwin Bailey, Alisteir Hardy, Elaine Pagels, John Habgood, Howard Root, Henry Chadwick, Keith Ward, Alister McGrath and nearly all English winners of the Templeton prize, which awards $1m annually to the author who best bridges the gap between modern science and a contemporary understanding of the Christian faith.