Comments: New ideas to secure England’s cathedrals for the future

A lot of management speak,but little mention worship or the glory of God. But what does one expect from the C of E?

Posted by Paul Waddington at Thursday, 18 January 2018 at 12:54pm GMT

I was expecting a cynical reaction from one of your commentators. Paul Waddington did not disappoint. Had he read the report instead of just the Press Release, he would have seen several references to neutralise his criticism. Here's one: "In the final analysis, the primary task of a cathedral is something that transcends regulation and scrutiny. It is the worship of Almighty God."

Posted by John Barton at Thursday, 18 January 2018 at 3:41pm GMT

John Barton's quotation from the report is interesting in itself, because of course "the worship of Almighty God" does not, in fact, "transcend…regulation and scrutiny." Every time a rubric occurs in a rite of the Established Church, it does so with some of the force of regulation. In relatively recent history, the Public Worship Regulation Act, the Lincoln Judgement, the advent of Series I, II and III and the liturgical changes which came about as a consequence, were all matters of legislation arising from scrutiny which had given rise to questions of good practice.

When a report such as this one claims that worship "transcends regulation and scrutiny", it does so because its authors do not want the bother of having to engage with liturgical evaluation. They are words which convey not respect, but deliberate indifference.

I know this is silly, but let's imagine what the report would have been like had someone like the late John Webster written it. Perhaps it would have begun with the God who reveals himself in cathedrals – in the daily office, in the preaching, in the music, in the celebration of the sacraments, by virtue of being communities of the redeemed, by virtue of simply being…. But that, of course, is because he was a theologian. Where are our theologians? It is not my place to say whether the Dean of Christ Church is right or wrong about anything, but if I may transgress my self-imposed reticence just for a moment, I aver he is right about the dearth of theology in the Church being her twenty-first century hamartia.

Posted by Liam Beadle at Thursday, 18 January 2018 at 4:57pm GMT

@Paul Waddington: I read the article with interest and was taken aback by your negative remark, which not only criticized the report, but took a swipe at the Church of England. Your issues may be deeper, but reading this report did not make me feel the absence of a spiritual emphasis. One wou;d just assume those things. This article re the report would be immense if it dealt with all matters spiritual, pastoral, and liturgical. Not everything needs an explicit mention when the overall issue assumes that the reader understands these things.

Posted by Richard Grand at Thursday, 18 January 2018 at 8:52pm GMT

Love Liam's use of the word "hamartia". I am now praying for the appointment of really distinguished theologians as our bishops, because I believe it's what the CofE could genuinely benefit from now. 30 years ago I might not have felt that because I might have felt frustrated by a lack of parochial experience in our bishops, but that academic discipline is now what we need.

Posted by Shamus at Thursday, 18 January 2018 at 9:49pm GMT

I think the Bishop of Stepney and his team have done an excellent job. There are tensions in some cathedrals and, as well as publishing a well-reasoned, positive draft report, I think they have steered as well they might between an episcopal Scylla and decanal Charybdis.

[decanal is a new word for me - I hope my usage is accurate]

Posted by Kate at Friday, 19 January 2018 at 4:44am GMT

Richard Grant's point about 'assuming' the spiritualities reminds me of a piece in the June 2003 issue of 'Evangelicals Now'. I am sure that august organ is daily reading for Thinking Anglicans readers, but in case anyone has forgotten the item in question, David Gibson wrote about 'Assumed Evangelicalism', and made the point that Evangelicalism would be asserted in the first generation, assumed by the second, and lost by the third. You don't need to assent to David Gibson's doctrinal commitments to see the sense in that.

I also remember a POT day in the diocese in which I served my title, in which a bishop who was neither my area bishop nor my diocesan bishop told us all about 'Leadership' and 'Management'. Some of us were concerned that this all came from a management textbook from fifteen years ago, and not from the Scriptures or the Tradition. When we said so, we were told that the bishop was 'assuming' the gospel. There were plenty of Reform clergy in the room, and predictably (and justly, in my view) the remark went down like a cup of cold sick.

The crux of the matter is that to sideline doctrine and enthrone management and leadership in its place is idolatry. This report explicitly says that "Residentiary canon rôles should be seen as a developmental opportunity". A crasser concession to a culture of careerism could hardly be imagined. I am not just irritated by this, I am genuinely upset.

Do cathedrals and their clergy exist for the worship of almighty God or not? That is the elephantine question the inhabitants of the proverbial room are dying to ask, and hear answered.

Posted by Liam Beadle at Friday, 19 January 2018 at 10:21am GMT

It would be easy to snipe at this, and it’s tempting given that one of my churches is about the size of a small cathedral, such as Derby, Birmingham, Carlisle, but is staffed not by several paid clergy, paid musicians, paid administrators, paid finance directors, paid fabric managers etc—none of these—but by one third of a Vicar (only a third of me because I have two other churches, one almost as big). It has a regular congregation of about 35 and is situated in an increasingly Islamic area.

But snipe I shall not. I don’t begrudge the cathedrals their worldly success. Not one iota. It’s important for the C of E to serve, as cathedrals undoubtedly do, the people who already have so much. Ministering to the middle classes is what the C of E is for, after all.

Instead I shall be positive. I have a cunning plan. In order that cathedrals might be even more successful, I propose that without further shilly-shallying at least half the parish churches in the country should be closed—I’m quite happy to make the decisions—so that even more funds can be directed to cathedrals to help them do even better. Furthermore, the clergy of the churches that will under my plan be closed can be redeployed in Diocesan offices thinking up more initiatives and demands to dump on the fewer and fewer parochial clergy that are left. This will result in an all-round increase in job satisfaction and wellbeing.

Posted by Stanley Monkhouse at Friday, 19 January 2018 at 2:06pm GMT

Not content with packing the bench of bishops with managers, to the exclusion of serious theologians and scholars, it seems deans must now go the same way. Robert Willis will be the last serious hymn writer to be Dean of Canterbury - or any other cathedral for that matter. It seems that residentiary canons are to be reduced to the status of glorified curates.

Posted by Marc S at Friday, 19 January 2018 at 3:10pm GMT

@Liam Beadle and others: the issue of "management" versus "spirituality" is the classic "secular and sacred" dichotomy that so much preoccupies those of a certain point of view. The question "Do Cathedrals exist for the worship of God or not?" Is certainly overwrought and unnecessary. It is, of course, rhetorical, since the answer is implied, so it is really a statement. The answer could not be "not". The need for theology and theologians is asserted, yet there is poor theology in this question. Our Incarnational faith does not set the world and our God who came into the world against each other. Yes, there is sin and Evelin. But seeking to be better stewards and managers for the good of the Kingdom is to take seriously the gifts God gives to humanity and to use them for God's glory. God is in the world and in the Church, despite what we often think. God is present in worship, but he is present when we offer the best of our gifts in every other way. If this is taking too much for granted, then we miss what the Gospel tells us: "Lo, I am with you always" and "where two or three are gathered, there am I in the midst of them", even in management and meetings.

Posted by Richard Grand at Friday, 19 January 2018 at 7:36pm GMT

If these recommendations are accepted en bloc (no risk of the Archbhishops doing a 'Carlile' on this report, I suspect!), there will be several inevitable outcomes.

First, we will have seen the last of the theologically adroit Deans (think of recent names like Michael Sadgrove, Wesley Carr, John Arnold, Michael Mayne, Nicholas Frayling and Frances Ward). Instead, we will be generally swamped by management junkies and, more particularly, HR gurus. That will be the death-knell, because what draws people to cathedrals is the quality of the spiritual leadership, the theological insightfulness - especially the preaching - and (to tweak Auden) a millieu of 'adventure, art and peace.' With the Dean as administrative and quasi-episcopal functionary, who is going to provide the effective, inspirational leadership? Interestingly, Wesley Carr managed to combine a grounded and imaginative theological mind with a deep understanding of managing institutions. A one-off, I fear - but a model worthy of exploration for the future.

Second, cathedrals are going to be so bogged-down in multiple reviews, and become so process-driven, that this will inevitably steer the creative and imaginative energy inwards. I can envisage that the internal machinery will become all-consuming to the detriment of external engagement with wider society and thee ncouragement of stakeholders, which is where cathedrals currently excel. Cathedrals are the last places that should become obsessed with their own institutional self-survival (like the rest of the CofE). This is bad for mission. It is bad ecclesiology.

Third, residentiary canonries are to become a mid-term stepping stone to... what? Caroline Boddington has already told the Precentors' Conference that their members can forget about becoming deans. Recent 'new' decanal appointments (i.e. not Peterborough, Winchester or Exeter) have resolutely not been from residents of cathedral closes. If there is no clear pathway for ministry development for residentiary canons, we can kiss goodbye to gifted and creative people taking on these posts (with all the procedural extras that will weigh them down), thus diminishing another factor that makes cathedrals attractive.

Finally, this review has been completed with startling haste. Little wonder that it lacks a clear and rigorous theological undertow (compare it to the O'Donovan report on episcopal appointments). It treats cathedrals like commercial commodities, rather than places of revelation, encounter, transformation, failure, healing, learning, discovery and so on. There is a serious risk that educational activity, hospitality, even liturgy and music, will become subject to commercial criteria.

I am old enough to remember that it was the evangelical George Carey who set about a round of cathedral reform in the 1990s in response to Lincoln and Ripon. Now, we see a repeat pattern as Justin Welby has a panic about Peterborough and Exeter. This is a barely veiled 'grab' on cathedrals, (cheered on by growing numbers of evangelical bishops who want a slice of the action) with its 'one size fits all' model of management. This could stifle the very things that draw people to cathedrals; and, unless it is subject to rigorous analysis, could fundamentally undo the growth we have seen over the past decade or so.

I await a response from Dr Percy with keen interest - and with relief for him and many of us that Christ Church, Oxford, will be untouched by any of these recommendations!

Posted by Michael Mulher at Monday, 22 January 2018 at 12:18pm GMT

Three comments:
Since it was problems with some Deans that triggered this report I am puzzled that the report proposes increasing the power of Deans.
The proposal for an annual MDR for Deans led by the bishop and lay person and requiring reports from the great and the good across city or county has surely not been time costed. Though it may be where concerns about Deans is still surfacing.
The insistence that Deans line manages residentiary canons who report to him ignores the fact that in many cathedrals the residential canons often have other jobs. In my diocese one residentiary is an archdeacon and another is the director of mission and ministry department. Their time given to the cathedral is an extra, unpaid and a very small part of their working week. The report seems unaware of this.

Posted by David Runcorn at Monday, 22 January 2018 at 7:16pm GMT

David Runcorn has hit the nail on the head. Like the drive for more ordinands, and the pressure for the CofE to blaze a trail on safeguarding, who is going to pay for all that this report recommends?

It surprises me that someone like Welby, supposed to be possessed of a business brain, is building a lot of houses on sand (or soundbites).

There needs to be a robust debate after detailed scrutiny of this report, otherwise we are going to see that good that cathedrals are contributing to the CofE going up in smoke.

Posted by Bill Broadhead at Tuesday, 23 January 2018 at 8:22am GMT
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