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Dean delivers harsh rebuke to C of E's ‘blandness’ in final sermon

07 October 2016

Terry Harris

Bowing out, but not bowed: the Dean of Peterborough, the Very Revd Charles Taylor

Bowing out, but not bowed: the Dean of Peterborough, the Very Revd Charles Taylor

THE Dean of Peterborough, the Very Revd Charles Taylor, has bowed out of office with a stinging attack on envious people at the centre of the Church of England who resent “uppity” cathedrals and who wish to impose a “monochrome blandness” on the Church.

In late July, it was revealed that a cashflow crisis at Peterborough Cathedral meant that staff were in danger of not being paid. A loan was secured from the Church Commissioners. At the same time, it was announced that Dean Taylor was planning to retire.

In his farewell sermon on Saturday, Dean Taylor, who is 63, dropped a strong hint that the decision to leave had been forced upon him. Despite hundreds of letters of support, he said, he had not made any public remark about “the circumstances surrounding my ‘retirement’ — although some have alleged that the manner in which it was effected was legally dubious, morally reprehensible, and pastorally disgraceful. Well, they might care to think that. I could not possibly comment.”

Although temporarily embarrassed, the cathedral is believed to be solvent in the long term, and has attracted 100 corporate partners. An ambitious outreach programme leading up to the cathedral’s 900th anniversary in 2018 continues, with a new visitor centre, significant work on the organ and choral foundation, and greater access and learning programmes.

In his sermon, the Dean admitted that the cathedral had “very serious” cashflow problems, and apologised that “financial expertise and business management” had not been the principal hallmarks of his ministry: “neither what I was trained for, not specifically called here to do”.

The cashflow issues were being addressed, he told the congregation, “with new internal structures and financial controls already in the process of implementation”.

And yet, he had observed “power games played out in the wake of it all . . . a faint Michaelmas sound of war in heaven”.

He detected a wider agenda: “Such an inclusive theology of mission as motivates this and other cathedrals . . . is not always welcome to those who resent the independence of cathedrals, who envy their freedom — indeed, their obligation — to take the risks that accompany that independence, and perceived that they’re getting a bit uppity.

“It certainly does not conform to the ecclesiology, if one can call it that, of those who would like to see power concentrated at the centre, in order to impose a bland, uniform theology, if one can call it that, which runs counter to the very essence of Anglican diversity.”

The recent death of Bishop David Jenkins had led him to wonder where, today, were the Anglican leaders who excite the public imagination? “Where among the leaders of today are the colourful clerics and turbulent priests, the prickly prophets, the rebels and reformers?” All he saw was “monochrome blandness”.

”It is surely of salutary significance that newly appointed deans and bishops these days are sent on an induction course — not as you might think, to hone their skills in theology, or liturgy, community outreach, or pastoral care, but to take a mini-MBA.

“The pattern of the Good Shepherd has been hijacked by the model of the Chief Executive Officer.”

This was fair enough to some extent, Dean Taylor said. “Sustaining the increasingly diverse and complex operations of an active cathedral or diocese is a costly exercise, which does need to be managed carefully and corporately. . .

“But I suggest it’s also true, that the cathedral, or the church, or the parish which sits comfortably without financial risk or worry, probably is not following the vocation of disciples to spend and be spent in the service of the gospel and for the love of God.

“Besides, if the ultimate purpose and success of mission is to be measured by the bottom line, by prosperous posteriors on pews and money in the bank, with every member and minster toeing the party line, then one can’t help wondering how the earthly mission and ministry of Jesus would be judged, dying as he did alone and in disgrace — no congregation, no cash in the bank, but betrayed, forsaken and denied, even by his chosen disciples.”

Dean Taylor ended his sermon on a positive note. “And yet, God will be loved, whatever it will cost. . . Surely, the Lord is in this place, this is the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” The sermon was given a long, standing ovation.

The Bishop of Peterborough, the Rt Revd Donald Allister, has described Dean Taylor as “an excellent priest” and “a man of the highest integrity and probity”. He said Wednesday: “Charles Taylor has been a good friend and a strong support to me since I came to Peterborough six years ago. He has played, and ensured that the cathedral has played, a full part in diocesan life as well as in the city and our many communities.

“He is an excellent priest, strongly supported by his wife, Catherine. He is a man of deep faith, great humanity, and wonderful humour. I am sorry that he is going, and he will be missed by the cathedral congregation, the diocese and the wider community.”

Bishop Allister, who has initiated a formal visitation to look at the running of the cathedral, said that he was grateful for the Commissioners’ financial help. He was also encouraged by the way the cathedral was holding together under the Acting Dean, Canon Jonathan Baker.

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