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Ministering to all comers

by
22 April 2016

An encouraging look at the particular work of cathedrals, says Robert Jeffery

Long service: in his “The Pride of Place”: The Cathedral Church of St Philip, Birmingham, 1715-2015, Terry Slater, a historical geographer, and a lay canon of the cathedral, marks its tercentenary with a history that is both architectural and social. No previous book, he says, has done this. He considers stories of prominent clerics and congregations in the context of the rapid development of Birmingham as an industrial city; and also the musical activities, which have been important in the city’s cultural milieu. the book is published by Dr Slater at £25; email T.R.SLATER@bham.ac.uk

Long service: in his “The Pride of Place”: The Cathedral Church of St Philip, Birmingham, 1715-2015, Terry Slater, a historical geographer, and a lay canon of the cathedral, marks its tercentenary with a history that is both architectural and social. No previous book, he says, has done this. He considers stories of prominent clerics and congregations in the context of the rapid development of Birmingham as an industrial city; and also the musical activities, which have been important in the city’s cultural milieu. the book is published by Dr Slater at £25; email T.R.SLATER@bham.ac.uk

Anglican Cathedrals in Modern Life: The science of cathedral studies

Leslie J. Francis, editor

Palgrave Macmillan £57.50

(978-1-137-55301-0)

Church Times Bookshop £51.75

 

IN RECENT months two rather contradictory statements have been made about Anglican cathedrals. One declares that they are the success story of the Church of England, and the other that the financing of cathedrals is reaching a crisis point. None of this is new. The massive asset-stripping of cathedrals in the 19th century to pay for churches in new urban areas created considerable difficulties, and lay behind the great expense of restoring cathedrals since the 1960s. This book brings together some very interesting studies of various aspects of cathedral life.

The first chapter attempts to summarise writings about cathedrals since the publication of the report Heritage and Renewal in 1994, which led to new legislation concerning cathedral governance. This chapter, however, lacks perspective. The revived interest in cathedrals in post-war Britain began with the debate around the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral, and its consecration in 1963. This greatly motivated the deans and provosts, and led to a remarkable lecture given to them by Dr Albert Van den Heuval of the World Council of Churches. This seminal document set out several possible models for cathedral life, and still deserves consideration. A lack of reference to this document weakens the opening chapter, though it summarises well the subsequent writings.

The following chapters deal with work with young people; the nature of cathedral congregations; an analysis of prayer-boards and requests; and the entries in visitors’ books. All these reveal the attitudes of those who are cathedral visitors. I found the reliance on the nature of the psychological types of people somewhat unhelpful. More analysis of social-class structures would have helped. The book makes clear that parochial and cathedral congregations are very different. There is a very helpful survey comparing the congregations of the Woolwich episcopal area and the congregation of Southwark Cathedral, which reveals the need for very different pastoral approaches.

The chapter “The Gospel of Inclusivity” opens up an important issue. British cathedrals have, by their nature, to be open to the wider society, and accepting of all, in a way that parish churches often are not. There is no place for a very limited theological perspective, and that is part of their success. I always used tell the congregation at Worcester that, if they were looking for local pastoral support, they should go to a local church, and that what the cathedral needed was a congregation that would share in the ministry to visitors. The congregation of Worcester was made up of one-third regulars and two-thirds a mixture of people from parishes and people passing through; and all had to be cared for. Not all cathedrals are the same in this respect

I found that the tables, summarising surveys incorporated in the text, were intrusive, and would have preferred them at the end of each chapter. Similarly, there was no need to give each chapter a bibliography: a full bibliography at the end of the book would have been better, especially as quite a few of books are referred to several times. Several chapters look at the sociological work of Linda Woodhead, and the nature of the present spiritual revolution. This would have been greatly improved by reference to the writings of the Australian David Tacey, who does not get a mention.

The open and accepting nature of cathedrals is made very clear in the essay by the Bishop of Manchester. He surveyed those attending carol services at Lichfield and Worcester Cathedrals. This profound analysis reveals the varieties of people’s beliefs. He summarises it with the words: “What is most likely to appeal to these attendees is an inclusive and liberal Christian faith. This is a faith that engages them in their daily lives, invites them on to a mystical journey, is visible in the public realm, accepts the general sense of faith and belonging rather than requires them to hold fast to details of dogma, is comfortable with the present dominant view of human sexuality in British society, and is irenical in its relationships with other religious traditions and world faiths.” This reveals most strongly what cathedrals are trying to do, and ll churches could learn from it.

Cathedral chapters and councils should be grateful for this book, which, in spite of its price, deserves study, and will encourage new ideas.

The Very Robert Jeffery is Dean Emeritus of Worcester Cathedral.

 

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