Thinking Anglicans

Dean of Canterbury to retire

News from the Diocese of Canterbury

The Dean of Canterbury, The Very Revd Dr Robert Willis, has announced that he will cease to be Dean at midnight on 16 May 2022, the eve of his 75th birthday…

The Church Times covers this story here.

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Father David
Father David
3 months ago

We all owe Dean Willis an enormous debt of gratitude for the exemplary way in which he has governed the Mother Church of the Anglican Communion and Hereford cathedral prior to that. He will be a hard act to follow and big shoes to fill. I wish him a long, healthy and happy retirement.

Bob Baird
Bob Baird
Reply to  Father David
3 months ago

I agree. I shall miss his Morning prayers

Father David
Father David
Reply to  Bob Baird
3 months ago

Not only the Dean’s preamble and prayers but also the menagerie, particularly the cat who had the cream and disappeared into the voluminous Dean’s cassock.

Fr Keith
Fr Keith
Reply to  Father David
3 months ago

‘The voluminous Dean’?!

Father David
Father David
Reply to  Fr Keith
3 months ago

I wondered who would be the first to spot that one – well done Fr. Keith. My apologies to Dean Willis but that has set me thinking as to the identity of the most voluminous Dean in the history of the Church of England who sported the most voluminous cassock? Answers on a postcard to …

Clifford Jones
Clifford Jones
Reply to  Father David
3 months ago

‘Some Day I’ll Find You’, the autobiography of H.A. Williams, has featured once or twice in TA recently. Williams was Dean of Trinity College Cambridge before becoming a monk at Mirfield. In the autobiography Williams says ‘I don’t look exactly underfed’.

Father David
Father David
Reply to  Father David
3 months ago

In an attempt to answer my own question I have resorted to Trevor Beeson’s book – “The Deans” chapter 16 of which presents us with Dean James Welldon of Durham. Beeson writes of Welldon that he was “a dean who stood six foot five inches tall, had a 63 inch waist, weighed over 20 stone and, although credited with a distinguished academic record, tended to favour emotion rather than intellect, in his overlong utterances.” He must have looked magnificent when placed next to his bishop, the diminutive Herbert Hensley Henson.

Noel Keller
Noel Keller
Reply to  Bob Baird
2 months ago

Let’s find a creative way in which Dean Robert and Fletcher can continue Morning Prayers in another venue!

Mary
Mary
Reply to  Noel Keller
1 month ago

Yes, please . This program helped so many of us get through the epidemic

Carol Hewson
Carol Hewson
Reply to  Mary
17 days ago

…and beyond the epidemic! Now that I have spent these last years listening to the beauty of his mind I so dread the emptiness we will experience. He has that which the world cannot give. USA

Pauline Thomas
Pauline Thomas
Reply to  Noel Keller
1 month ago

That would be amazing

PatrickT
PatrickT
3 months ago

Does the Dean of Canterbury not retire at age 70? Is there an exemption for this post? Not that I’m saying Dean Willis should have done so – his lockdown garden prayers and short addresses were so valuable – but I am curious all the same.

Simon Kershaw
Reply to  PatrickT
3 months ago

There is no exemption for this post. Bishops are able to extend someone’s service beyond the age of 70, upto the age of 75. As the dean is about to reach that age he is retiring on the last possible day, the eve of his 75th birthday.

Clifford Jones
Clifford Jones
Reply to  Simon Kershaw
3 months ago

A point which will surely have arisen in the minds of readers is that Hewlett Johnson retired as Dean of Canterbury at 89.

Simon Kershaw
Reply to  Clifford Jones
3 months ago

It was in 1975 that legislation terminated freehold at the age of 70, with possible one-year extension beyond that. Before that, freehold was for life. And since 31 January 2011, new appointments are made under “common tenure”, so no freehold at all. Not sure when the one-year extension became five years — perhaps under the common tenure rules.

PatrickT
PatrickT
Reply to  Simon Kershaw
3 months ago

I am aware of a couple of clergy who have been in place long enough to have freehold for life, Canon David Wyatt (Salford since 1968) and Preb. Roy Pearson (Tottenham since 1970). Any others?

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  PatrickT
3 months ago

Fr. Philip Gray, vicar of Mendlesham (Eds & Ips) since 1974. He is about the only pre-1975 freeholder I can now think of between the Humber and the Channel, absent the example you cite. Of course there may be others.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Simon Kershaw
3 months ago

Yes, that is the reason permitted by regulation 29A (10) of the Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service) Regulations 2009, but the extension to retirement at age 75 is expressly restricted to a diocesan or suffragan bishop, dean, archdeacon or residentiary canon who holds office under Common Tenure and not to other clergy who are subject to the usual retirement requirements.

PatrickT
PatrickT
Reply to  Simon Kershaw
3 months ago

Thank you for the information. I also seem to remember that clergy (presumably now very few in number) who have been in post since 1975 or before do not have to retire at any age!

Clifford Jones
Clifford Jones
Reply to  PatrickT
3 months ago

It was because of that that Eric Kemp, appointed Bishop of Chichester in 1974, was able to stay in that post until he was (in the words of the Guardian obituary) ‘well into his eighties’. His father-in-law Kenneth Kirk died in office as Bishop of Oxford at 68.

peter kettle
peter kettle
Reply to  Clifford Jones
3 months ago

I remember someone asking ‘The question is not whether Eric Kemp will retire, but will he would ever die ….’

David Lamming
David Lamming
3 months ago

In his personal statement on 17 November 2021, retracting and apologising for the ‘significant cloud’ remark he made about Bishop George Bell when the Carlile Review was published in December 2017, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: “I am delighted that the statue to him that was planned will be erected on the west front of Canterbury Cathedral, where he served as a Canon, as soon as the extensive repair and maintenance works are complete.” (Church Times, 19 November 2021, page 3)
Will these works be complete and Bell’s statue erected before Dean Willis retires, I wonder.

Malcolm Gray
Malcolm Gray
3 months ago

interested to know if this 75 rule applies to the Dean of Windsor?

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Malcolm Gray
3 months ago

We covered this point some time ago. The legislation specifically does not apply to the Deans of Windsor (a wholly Royal appointment) or of Christ Church, Oxford. This cropped up in the endless (and still unending) debate about Christ Church.

Froghole
Froghole
3 months ago

Dr Willis has led three great churches (four, if you count Tisbury, which is the grandest church in the Nadder). He was much admired at Sherborne, and I recall seeing him in action there in 1987 and 1988. He has also been something of a healer. The scars of the Mappa Mundi ‘scandal’ were still raw when he arrived at Hereford. Not only did he add balm, but he did a number of useful things and, from my own perspective, the best was to commission Gerald Aylmer and John Tiller to edit a history of the cathedral (2000). Aylmer was… Read more »

John Wallace
John Wallace
Reply to  Froghole
3 months ago

I agree (as a Herefordian) about the History of Hereford Cathedral that the Dean commissioned – an excellent piece of work

Ian
Ian
Reply to  Froghole
3 months ago

Lots of years ago as a student at Salisbury and Wells, i did my Sunday placements at Tisbury. I preached my first sermon there on the theme My house is a house of prayer and you have made it a den of thieves. In it i am afraid I accused the C of E of being a bit like an ecclesiastical version of Bertie Woosters Drones club. In Tisbury of all places! I have to say Fr Willis was kind, encouraging but most of all amused by it. I shaĺl always be grateful to him for that and wish him… Read more »

Anthony Archer
Anthony Archer
3 months ago

Unless I have missed something, aren’t the lawyers being rather pedantic? Robert Willis (whose ministry has been highly significant) simply becomes Dean Emeritus on 17 May. Unless there are plans to fill the deanery in a hurry, can’t he still have a role in the Lambeth Conference and hosting at the Cathedral? Surely it’s not rocket science.

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Anthony Archer
3 months ago

A very good idea. John Simpson became dean emeritus in 2000. However, Victor de Waal (father of Edmund, Alex and Tom) is still alive and although the circumstances of his ‘abrupt departure’ in 1986 are now a matter of public record (he drove across the Green Court), I would query whether it is fair that he should still be disregarded. Indeed, it was under de Waal’s watch that many of the current workings of the cathedral were updated, and his two successors built on what he and his capitular colleagues accomplished during 1975-86 (including the 1978 Lambeth Conference, which was… Read more »

Bill Broadhead
Bill Broadhead
Reply to  Anthony Archer
3 months ago

Thank you, Anthony. My thoughts exactly. Surely, the whole point of Robert Willis staying until now is that he is in post to be a characteristically hospitable host during the ever-shifting Lambeth Conference. Once again, the lawyers are calling the shots and the episcopal hierarchy, with their increasing unfamiliarity with the institutional contours, are allowing themselves to be shoved around. Perhaps we should change the mantra to ‘Synodically Governed but Led by Lawyers’!

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Bill Broadhead
3 months ago

As you will see from my final sentence below, ‘led by lawyers’ is more true than you intended! It’s very convenient for clerics (and others) to lay all blame on the legal profession, whilst forgetting that civilisation and religious freedom are dependent on the rule of law!

Jeri Rank
Jeri Rank
Reply to  Anthony Archer
1 month ago

I fervently hope and pray this is indeed possible!!! As an American non-Anglican member of his so-called Garden Congregation, it seems a worthy idea to give this wonderful man and eminent representative of Canterbury Cathedral a continued role and presence there.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
3 months ago

Froghole will correct me if I am mistaken, but I understand his point to be that there is already a Dean Emeritus (albeit elderly and unlikely to be involved), and that it is not possible to have a second one.  For those sufficiently interested, I append the Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service) (Amendment) Regulations 2017 which contain the complex details of extended retirement dates. (Incidentally the principal regulations on HMG Legislation website have yet to be updated to add regulation 29A.) These regulations were made by the Archbishops’ Council and approved by General Synod. Doubtless they were drafted by lawyers on instructions, but as… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
3 months ago

Many thanks. If I recall, neither Dick Sheppard, Hewlett Johnson nor Ian White-Thomson were referred to as ‘dean emeritus’ following their respective resignations. As far as I am aware, the first instance of its usage was that of John Simpson, following his retirement in 2000. He died in 2019. Making Simpson dean emeritus was problematic, since his predecessor, Victor de Waal, was (and is) still alive in Islington. I think that the decision was made as it was because de Waal had left the deanery in ‘difficult’ circumstances in 1986, and it was not thought appropriate to give him the… Read more »

Last edited 3 months ago by Froghole
Clifford Jones
Clifford Jones
Reply to  Froghole
3 months ago

When Hewlett Johnson was asked by a group of boys at the King’s School Canterbury where he would go when he retired as Dean he replied ‘To heaven, I hope’. In the event he moved from the Deanery to a privately owned house in Canterbury.

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Clifford Jones
3 months ago

Indeed, to the aptly named Red House, New Street, St Dunstan’s (incidentally, St Dunstan’s – unlike the other suburban parishes of St Martin’s and St Paul’s – was long said to be ‘in Kent’, as it was not in the county corporate of Canterbury). Johnson changed the name from Orchard Villa. That Red House is not to be confused with the Red House nursing home around the corner (next to the former vicarage of St Dunstan’s), which has long catered to senior clergy. Johnson’s nemesis, Fred Shirley, remained as treasurer in 15 The Precincts (the Oaks) until his death, nine… Read more »

Clifford Jones
Clifford Jones
Reply to  Froghole
3 months ago

Hewlett Johnson also had a house in Harlech.

Simon Kershaw
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
3 months ago

Why do you suggest that there may not be more than one “dean emeritus” of a cathedral at any one time? Is there some basis in law, or the statutes of a particular cathedral?

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Simon Kershaw
3 months ago

My comment could hardly have been clearer that I thought that to be Froghole’s point – not mine! I know absolutely nothing about the Statutes of Canterbury Cathedral. Froghole has offered some further suggestions above which deserve attention.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Simon Kershaw
3 months ago

As a postscript, there is specific provision for diocesan bishops to confer emeritus status to retired archdeacons, but I don’t know what the powers are to create a dean emeritus. They seem to have been used sparingly but, e.g., George Nairn-Briggs is Dean Emeritus of Wakefield and the late James Atwell was Dean Emeritus of Winchester.

Ian
Ian
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
3 months ago

George Nairn – Briggs is indeed Dean Emeritus , but it must be galling to be an ex dean of an ex cathedral of an ex diocese!

Simon Sarmiento
Reply to  Ian
3 months ago

There’s nothing Ex about Wakefield Cathedral.

Father David
Father David
Reply to  Simon Sarmiento
3 months ago

But there is something Ex about Wakefield diocese. As I recall Wakefield was the only one of the three dioceses to vote against the scheme to amalgamate Ripon, Bradford and Wakefield into the mega diocese of what came to be called Leeds thus reducing the Northern Province from 14 to 12 dioceses.

Irene Boocock
Irene Boocock
2 months ago

I have been following Dean Robert and his garden Congregation since the beginning of lock-down, as a partially disabled person I find it difficult getting around, Dean Robert’s knowledge and warmth have sustained me through difficult times and look forward to his Sermons, I also feel a calmness attending Services online. I recently spent some time in Hospital and missed his announcement, I have only just found it. Surely Dean Robert should be able to stay in his post as long as his health and fitness allows him to do so, I will miss him greatly, he has become one… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Irene Boocock
Beth Ann Waltz
Beth Ann Waltz
Reply to  Irene Boocock
2 months ago

I, too, have found peace and a restored Faith in Dean Robert’s Garden Congregation. I’d gladly follow Dr. Willis, Fletcher and the cats (and the rest of the menagerie) into whatever new garden they make their home. I’d gladly pay Patreon fees to support it in another setting.

Mary
Mary
Reply to  Irene Boocock
2 months ago

It’s pure age discrimination, which would not be tolerated elsewhere. Dean Robert is a beacon of light and has brought such joy and comfort, especially during the pandemic. His online Morning Prayers for the Garden Congregation are an inspiration to so many and indeed are now viewed by an estimated 40,000 people every day. Who else reaches such a huge audience with their ministry across the world? His compassion, erudition, wisdom and teaching are needed more than ever, as are his experience and leadership. It seems unbelievable that the CofE can be so inflexible. Hewlett Johnson was 89 when he… Read more »

marie
marie
24 days ago

I can’t imagine a day now without Dean Robert. Not only his prayers but insights into so many other subjects.

Keith Thompson
Keith Thompson
22 days ago

Ultimately the CofE doesn’t care what the populous feels–or our needs. They wring their collective hands about the future of the CofE and the possibility that within 50 years Anglicanism will no longer be practiced at the current rate of freefall. The church has been handed an unexpected opportunity, and on a silver platter, a whole new congregation. But the garden congregation, rather than being cultivated, is being thrown away. Having sent notes to offices/officers within the hierarchical structure the replies are polite but nothing more. Our needs and desires don’t seem to matter and leaves the succinct impression that… Read more »

mark
mark
Reply to  Keith Thompson
22 days ago

Whats interesting and disheartening is very few adverts/parish profiles mention online worship in whatever form it could be a service or a prayer like dean robert i think churches in general are in danger of missing the boat in terms of online stuff

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