THE VERY REVD DR EDWARD HENRY PATEY

by
02 November 2006

DEAN EDWARD Patey, who died on 5 September, aged 90, was one of the Church of England’s most effective communicators, and a person of both charm and challenge.

He was born the son of a GP in Newton Abbot. In a sense, the whole of his early ministry in the Church, after his ordination in 1939, might be seen as a preparation for his most exciting and demanding post — as Dean of Liverpool from 1964 until his retirement in 1982.

He served a first curacy in Colchester, and then spent important and informative years as youth chaplain in the Durham diocese, and with the Youth Department of the British Council of Churches. He thus honed his skills as an ecumenist, and as a champion and friend of young people, particularly the disadvantaged.

In 1958, Cuthbert Bardsley wisely included Edward as a Canon Residentiary in the exciting team that formed the first chapter of the new Coventry Cathedral. There he made his mark, not only on the national ecumenical scene, but also in Germany (East and West), as well as in the United States of America. Then, in 1964, he left the finished 20th-century cathedral of Coventry to be the third Dean of the unfinished 20th-century cathedral of Liverpool.

Three problems faced him as he arrived in Liverpool. Should the cathedral be finished, and, if so, how? What sort of setting should the cathedral have when the surrounding area, made derelict by slum clearance, was redeveloped? Where was the money to come from to complete the work, which had been in hand now for more than 60 years?

For a time, he seriously wondered whether it was his task to halt the building process altogether; and maybe those doubts were always at the back of his mind, for Edward was a "people person" rather than a "buildings person". Nevertheless, he came to appreciate what the completion of the cathedral would mean to the community of Liverpool (of all faiths and none); and so a "Finish the Cathedral Appeal" was launched in 1968, followed by a "Finish the Cathedral Appeal (Mark 2)" in 1976.

On 25 October 1978, the Queen led the great congregation in a service of dedication and thanksgiving to mark the virtual completion of a task that had occupied the minds, the skills, and the generosity of thousands of men and women on Merseyside, and the world over, for three-quarters of a century.

Edward, however, was not consumed by the cathedral. He never allowed the building to overpower him or to become the sole reason for his being there as Dean.

In a speech to launch the final appeal, he said, "A cathedral must, above all things, be a workshop for the Kingdom of God in which worship is offered, and the Gospel proclaimed, through the greatest possible number of media, and within a wide variety of cultural patterns. Indeed, I believe that our cathedrals will only survive into the future if they become dynamic centres of experiment. Not all experiments will succeed; not all will meet with universal approval. But without experiment we die. For in a world of rapid change there is still so much more yet to be discovered about the worship of Eternal God, and about the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Cathedrals are the places, above all else, where such discoveries can and must be made."

Edward always believed that deans (as distinct from bishops) had the freedom and the responsibility to be prophets; and those prophetic words of his were worked out in practice within Liverpool Cathedral as it developed, under his leadership, as a dynamic centre for experiment.

Certainly, not all the experiments met with universal approval. The "How on Earth" Christmas spectacular starring the Bee Gees, Kenny Everett, the Crofters, the Everyman Theatre Group, and 3000 young people, who had the audacity to dance to the carols, met some disapproval when it went out on national television on Christmas Eve in 1967. But the youngsters enjoyed themselves, and found a new and vital meaning to the Christmas story.

Not everyone was pleased that the students of I. M. Marsh College of Physical Education danced their annual carol service in the cathedral. Some people disliked the thought of dance of any kind in the building. But for those students who performed, and the people who watched, those dances were something to be remembered and treasured.

One of the events that drew the greatest criticism was the "Festival of Peace", in which we used the music and words of John Lennon shortly after he had been murdered. Protests came thick and fast, but the Dean and the Canon Precentor held their nerve, and the festival attracted an enormous crowd of young Lennon fans, who felt that the cathedral was as much their place as anyone else’s.

The same was true of the memorial service for the great Bill Shankly, at which Jerry Marsden sang "You’ll Never Walk Alone", and Ian St John gave the address. The football world past and present, together with the Anfield Kop, was there within that great space, and it felt right that it should be so.

However, alongside the special events and experiments for young people, Edward Patey made sure that the traditional features of cathedral life and worship were never diminished; in fact, they were enhanced. The annual "Battle of the Atlantic" service, the judges’ service, the many civic services, and special services of all kinds were given sensitive new shape and meaning.

The already great musical tradition of the cathedral was enhanced and developed under Edward’s enthusiastic leadership, and performers as famous as Yehudi Menuhin, and the orchestras such as the Liverpool Philharmonic, enjoyed (and battled with) the acoustics of the building.

The multitude of local and national organisations coming to the cathedral for special acts of worship were encouraged to take part in their planning and execution. Under Edward’s leadership, and supported by his willing colleagues, Liverpool Cathedral became one of the most open of places, where all sorts and conditions of people felt welcomed.

Edward, however, had a mission outside the cathedral, as well. He was the author of many books on the Christian faith and its application to modern life. He was the first chairman of the Merseyside Council of Churches. He was deeply involved in race relations in Liverpool, and was the prime mover in youth-work projects in the inner city.

Sometimes it seemed that Edward was everywhere except in the cathedral; but he had great trust in his colleagues, and his colleagues never wavered in their trust in, and love for, him. Perhaps the crowning moment of his time at Liverpool came on the Feast of Pentecost 1982, when Pope John Paul II entered the cathedral through its great west doors. The run-up to this visit had been far from easy, with protest of all kinds; but on the day itself the Pope entered the cathedral to the cheers and applause of more than 3000 people from the non-Roman Catholic churches of Merseyside. Among many other things, it seemed that day that Edward’s hope for the cathedral was fulfilled: it really was a "workshop for the Kingdom of God in which worship is offered, and the Gospel proclaimed through the greatest number of media, and within a wide variety of cultural patterns".

Those of us who worked closely with him will remember him with enormous affection. Such was the warmth of his personality, his availability, and his impish sense of humour that no one felt awkward or awed in his presence.

He is survived by his wife Margaret, who, together with his three daughters and his son, provided a marvellous family home, in which there was always a ready and enjoyable welcome. Edward was the most delightful of people, whose physical presence we will miss, and whose memory we will always treasure.

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Dedicating the cathedral in 1978

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