Comments: Exeter Cathedral

According to the BBC report: 'In September the dean was described as "remote and disinterested" in a report by his bishop.'

I'm not sure how remote the Deanery is at Exeter, but I am very glad to learn that the former-Dean was thoroughly disinterested. We expect nothing less. The bishop, on the other hand, was apparently a former lecturer in patristics at Cambridge, so one would hope he might know the difference between 'disinterested' and 'detached.'

Posted by rjb at Monday, 13 March 2017 at 12:21pm GMT

This has got 'Peterborough Mark II' written all over it. The only body not mentioned in the BBC report or the Cathedral's statement, of course, is the Church Commissioners! Is this another case of 'we will bail you out but we want the Dean's scalp'? I wonder if the Precentor has copped for it because her department is the one spending most of the money?

We really do know how to treat people with dignity and respect in the C of E, don't we? Peterborough, Sheffield, Exeter... Where next?

Posted by Tom Marshall at Monday, 13 March 2017 at 2:01pm GMT

The Dean is remote, apparently. That means we would never have had Michael Stancliffe at Winchester, or Sidney Evans at Salisbury, let alone John Drury at Christ Church and King's; nor John Moses at St Paul's, or Eric Abbot at Westminster. Really!

When I go to a cathedral, I don't want the Dean to be all over me like a rash, inviting me to Alpha courses or to join the tea rota. I want someone of gravitas who can preach well and enable me to glimpse the glory God in the beauty of holiness. This, allegedly, is what Jonathan Draper was doing. I wonder if this is another case of a Dean paying the price for not being on message? Martyn Percy watch out!

Posted by Will Richards at Monday, 13 March 2017 at 5:44pm GMT

RJB: one Dictionary definition of 'disinterested' is 'not having the mind or feelings engaged' or 'no longer interested'. These seem to be an accurate reflection of the content of the visitation - whether you agree with that or not.

Tom Marshall: I am pretty certain that Exeter actually predates Peterborough in its origins and, given that the Bishop's Visitation followed issues arising between Chapter members it is more shades of 'Lincoln of past decades Mark II' rather than 'Peterborough Mark II'. The visitation points more to interpersonal problems within the cathedral than financial problems (which can be taken for granted as part of the day-to-day worries of most cathedrals!)

It seems a shame that the instinct on this website seems to have become 'knock the bishop', and 'knock the church' rather than to reflect thoughtfully on what might actually be going on. All the signs are we need more thought and prayer at the moment. Surely we should be seeking to build up the Church through thoughtful reflection on facts rather than fighting within based on assumptions.

Posted by NJW at Monday, 13 March 2017 at 5:48pm GMT

Curious. Makes me wonder, following Peterborough, whether the Bishops are trying to get their hands on the cathedrals.

Here in Chichester the clergy attending a service are always there to greet the congregation afterwards. In other places we know that they make a b-line for the exit immediately the service ends. Will Richards can be assured that no one will be asking him to join the tea rota here and we don't do Alpha courses.

Posted by Richard Ashby at Monday, 13 March 2017 at 6:15pm GMT

Does the Wash House appoint Deans? If so, maybe it needs a power clean. Nevertheless, the bishop's demands seem like no more than good practice that would be found in most work environments in the real world. Both my sons were cathedral choristers. I never saw any evidence that the cathedral clergy were much concerned about talking to occasional visitors like us chorister parents. They either scurried off or were surrounded by groupies.

Posted by Fr William at Monday, 13 March 2017 at 9:40pm GMT

The Wash House doesn't appoint Deans, but it does provide the secretariat to each appointment. Caroline Boddington attends meetings of each appointment committee, but my recollection is that she does not have a vote.

Posted by Simon Kershaw at Monday, 13 March 2017 at 11:06pm GMT

Oh dear, for some time now our English cathedrals have been portrayed as jewels in the crown of the Church of England bucking the general trend of decline and shewing real signs of growth. So, it is very sad to see three cathedrals (York, Peterborough and now Exeter) hitting the headlines in an adverse way. Sadly accusations of bullying have been bandied about not only regarding the ill-fated appointment at Sheffield but now with regard towards certain deans of English cathedrals. Surely, the independence of Deans and Chapters is something to be cherished? Perhaps we need a few more dragons among the deans, like the fearsome Dean of St. Ogg's - the Very Reverend Lionel Pugh-Critchley - who made the bishop of the diocese quake, rather than the other way round.
Dean Pugh Critchley once famously said that he didn't approve of Park benches in the Cathedral Close, as it "might encourage people to sit down". As Dean of St. Ogg's he feared no man, except his dear wife whom he often deferred to as "Grace, my love". Mrs. Pugh-Critchley was, of course, played by the inimitable Joan Sanderson who played the role of battle-axe to perfection.

Posted by Father David at Tuesday, 14 March 2017 at 5:58am GMT

The nomination of a Dean to either a Crown or Parish Church Cathedral is made by a panel convened for this purpose. The panel is led by a Chair, who is nominated by the Archbishop of the Province. Historically there was a significant difference in process between appointments to Crown deaneries (the historic ones) and the newer cathedrals (the ones that had a provost until the Cathedrals Measure). The Prime Minister's Secretary for Appointments led the former whereas the Archbishops' Secretary supported the diocesan bishop wth the latter. The first Pilling Report Talent and Calling recommended a more joined up approach. With the longstanding convention that the Crown accepts the name submitted by the provincial archbishop, the patronage of the diocesan bishop is now a strong one, both for Crown deaneries and Parish Church Cathedrals, and there ought to be regular reviews of how the bishop is using his or her appointments group and how nominations are made. I am not sufficiently familiar with the new processes, but it seems to me that the Chair of the panel nominated by the Archbishop should be required to make a declaration that the process has been a sound one, in full accordance with best practice. I am sorry about the Exeter and Peterborough experiences, but the reality is that as long as you can pay your bills without calling on the Commissioners as lenders of last resort, Deans can get away with most things, and I for one like the fact that there is a healthy measure of independence from the diocesan bishop and diocesan bureaucracy. But when the coffers run dry there is no place to hide.

Posted by Anthony Archer at Tuesday, 14 March 2017 at 9:39am GMT

I am a regular worshipper at Exeter Cathedral. Most of the comments here display the worst sort of ill-informed speculation, though NJW has it right. The Dean and Precentor departed after a Chapter meeting last week. The Bishop acted perfectly properly under the Constitution & Statutes of the Cathedral to resolve a dysfunctional situation. He would have been negligent in his duty had he not done so. This is more 1990s Lincoln than Peterborough. Maybe this website should be called 'Thinking the worst Anglicans'.

Posted by MHC at Tuesday, 14 March 2017 at 10:00am GMT

You need to understand something of the local politics here in Exeter. There are elements at Exeter Cathedral that don’t want it to be a cathedral; but they do want it to be a big parish church. Picture the scenario: Major and Mrs Thrumpington-Mange retire (in their 50s) to a glorious village in Devon, within striking distance of Exeter, only to discover to their horror that the architectural gem of an ancient parish church at the heart of their village idyll has a vicar called Jed or Rick or Si or some other monosyllabic name, who is in to pop groups, Alpha courses and everything else that is not done ‘decently and in order.’ More to the point, he has never heard of the Book of Common Prayer. Or, it has a single, biretta-wearing, incense-loving, Anglo Catholic who is a ‘bit too spiritual for us’ and uses the Roman rite. Or, the vicar is someone who spent most of her professional life as a primary school teacher, and whose public discourse is aimed no higher than the level of a little poppet of eight-and-three-quarters. What do you do? You drive in to Exeter. You not only get imaginative and rigorous preaching from the Dean, there is excellent music, and lots of people ‘like us’ who cannot bear to worship at their local parish churches.
The problem is that many of these people (and they are largely retired professionals) want to be on a PCC, or organise a summer fete, or be part of a fabric working group, or even be on a worship committee. They don’t get it that The Chapter and Cathedral Council has a different level of accountability, and that the Precentor isn’t required to do a survey every other month to ascertain what everyone’s favourite hymns are. More to the point, the Dean doesn’t drive around the County visiting his ‘parishioners’ (which he doesn’t have anyway, unless they live within a very small patch of land around the Cathedral Close.). The idea that cathedrals offer excellence in liturgy, scholarship, spatial difference and an emphasis on the transcendent nature of God is not always obvious – to which the din of gossip before the 10.00am Eucharist on Sundays testifies superbly.

Yes, there are complicating personality factors here; but to single-out the Dean (as also happened at Peterborough) is unjust and indicates a lack of understanding of his role, and that of the other Canons in relation to the Dean. The other factor is that Exeter has been stable and happy over the past couple of decades, with two popular Deans, and one or two able long-serving canons, having gone to other posts, and the successors to the canons not always being of the same calibre. So, we must sit tight and await the arrival of someone who has been on the Leadership Programme. What if it turns out to be Jed or Si? Now that would be interesting…

Posted by Oliver Seward at Tuesday, 14 March 2017 at 10:05am GMT

To add to Anthony Archer's summary, the process is described in some detail here

The appointment of the chair of the selection panel is significant and obviously depends on who is available. The panel of which I was a member had the former head of the civil service (and cabinet secretary) as its chair, so very considerable experience. But not every diocese will have that kind of local expertise available.

Posted by Simon Kershaw at Tuesday, 14 March 2017 at 10:47am GMT

I'm a student at Exeter University and attend the Sunday morning Eucharist at Exeter Cathedral, as well as Evensong on an occasional basis. I'm so glad to have read Oliver Seward's comment, because that's exactly what it feels like all the time. I'm so glad it's possible to worship and not to be more involved because I'm not sure I could put up with the constant back-biting.

I have always found Jonathan Draper to be kind and supportive. Sure, he's not 'hail fellow well met' and doesn't stand at the door ambushing everyone with clichéd platitudes as they leave - thank God - but if you speak with him you know he is giving you his total attention, which is a rare quality. Several friends of mine have asked to see him on pastoral matters and have said how very good he is at the one-to-one stuff. I think any suggestion that he is pastorally inept is very wide of the mark.

As one or two people have intimated, money seems to be the issue here. It might be worth reflecting on the fact that a rock-bottom interest rate is having a regressive impact on the levels of giving from those who have made up the majority of the congregation for the best part of a decade. That's bound to be an issue.

Who was it who said 'cathedrals provide excellence on the cheap'? I just wonder how long cathedrals in largely rural areas can go on providing musical and liturgical excellence when levels of giving (from students as well as the retired) are unrealistic as to be unable to support it?

Posted by Tim Newns at Tuesday, 14 March 2017 at 1:02pm GMT

I have attended services at a number of churches in Devon – mostly east Devon - and am much taken by the perceptive comments made by Oliver Seward and Tim Newns. Even if you know a cathedral (or, indeed, any church) well it may take many years of regular attendance before understanding who hates whom or how bad/dire the finances might be. Many attendees will have little idea what is really going on; one is often an ‘in’ person or an ‘out’ person, but regularity of attendance sometimes counts for less than social standing.

Parish churches do not have a monopoly on trite and vapid preaching, or on tedious liturgies: some of our noblest cathedrals are distinguished by these attributes. However, it is true that local churches in Exeter do cater to radically different tastes: St Mary Steps (ultra-high) or St David’s are very unlike St Mary Arches (youth orientated, with sofas) and St Leonard’s (a successful evangelical church with band). I am simply glad that these churches manage to keep going in their own ways, but in the case of St Mary Arches, St Pancras or St Petrock’s (for instance) it has arguably been a near run thing.

Snobs like Maj. and Mrs Thrumpington-Mange might not appreciate that is very hard for parish churches to subsist within the lee of cathedrals – who often hinder (albeit inadvertently) rather than help local parishes. They (the snobs) would do better to support their own parishes; if they did it is just possible they might get the worship they want (I might markedly prefer the BCP offices but, ultimately, worship is worship, and that should be enough). However, complaints about the style of parochial worship are often just an excuse: not infrequently snobs really want to mix with other snobs (at cathedrals), whilst some of the grandest people I have encountered are willing to contribute at parish level (viz. Field Marshal Viscount Slim: “those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter”).

Tim Newns makes an excellent point about the malign effect of long-term zero interest rates. This might prove to have a major, even fatal, impact upon the Church as a whole, which has become ever more dependent upon increased giving by attendees. Indeed, it puts the Church in a double bind: it will depress giving even as it magnifies the burden of financing escalating pension liabilities.

Posted by Froghole at Tuesday, 14 March 2017 at 6:29pm GMT

It's good to read the comments from worshippers at Exeter Cathedral. And especially the delightful comment from Oliver Seward. I look forward to hearing from them again.

Posted by Pam at Tuesday, 14 March 2017 at 8:31pm GMT

I only heard Jonathan Draper preach once when I called in at York Minster on the way to a pilgrimage on Iona when he was a Canon Residentiary prior to his move to Devon. I can only affirm that it was an excellent sermon with a good message and a touch of humour. Others have also confirmed what a fine preacher he is. Good preaching is not so common nowadays that we can dispense with those who are gifted with the art of preaching. Another Dean - Michael Stancliffe of Winchester also possessed the art of giving well crafted inspiring sermons.
Nor indeed are we so well-endowed that we can dispense with the services and ministry of bishops with evangelistic talent. The sermons I have heard by Philip North never failed to inspire and enthuse me. We are, indeed in the season of sackcloth and ashes.

Posted by Father David at Wednesday, 15 March 2017 at 7:17am GMT

Thank you Oliver for nailing the problem on the head. Rural ministry in our little parishes involves catering for everyone's spiritual need, which is a big ask for any clergy. If the blow ins don't like it that we don't do things the way they want they are welcome to join a more exclusive club of like minded people. We are not an Agatha Christie theme park in Devon and the PCCs generally don't need another middle class professional with no practical skills telling the 'staff' how to do it and neither does the Cathedral which is where the problem arises.

Jonathon Draper is an excellent preacher and I have gone to hear him to take notes so I can learn how to preach not to social climb. There seems to be a problem in recognizing that we all have very different spiritual gifts and the Dean in my opinion doesn't need the social animal one.

Posted by Lavinia Nelder at Wednesday, 15 March 2017 at 9:40am GMT

I don't know the situation at Exeter, but long ago I was a cathedral chaplain. It was my job to be pastoral and approachable, though of course congregants and others were welcome to talk with any clergy they wished to.

Even longer ago I was at college with Jonathan in Massachusetts and his sister was a good friend of mine. Jonathan didn't seem particularly remote then, but neither was he very extrovert.

People go to cathedrals for all sorts of reasons - some because they can find no other congenial place to worship, some wounded seeking refuge in a church setting where little is demanded of them, some drawn to the music or, yes, for snobbish reasons. The dynamics between cathedral clergy, officials, volunteers, choir, musicians and congregation can be notoriously difficult and have been written about often enough.

Please, let's go easy on criticising the various parties involved, it must be very difficult for all of them.

Posted by Janet at Thursday, 16 March 2017 at 3:48pm GMT

In moving with the times, witness the BBC's "Songs of Praise" 'programme', we risk losing valuable traditions exemplified by my personal experience at Exeter Cathedral (albeit from only occasional visits) over many years: the services conducted with beauty and dignity both in the spoken parts and the superb music. But it takes some effort to understand the meaning of words of the BCP and the Authorised Version. At Chester Cathedral the hymn "Teach me, my God and King" is regularly sung, but most of the words must be meaningless in a 21st century context to many people without some thought on their part or explanation. In general, my experience in recent travels has been that the Cathedrals are moving with the times and maintaining their special traditional roles - not an easy balance as 'Janet' has said. I fervently hope that matters will be happily resolved at Exeter.

Posted by Rowland Wateridge at Saturday, 2 September 2017 at 9:29am BST
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