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Archbishops set up group to probe cathedrals

13 April 2017


Moneymakers: a wedding scene from the Netflix series The Crown is filmed in Ely Cathedral, areas of which were transformed into the interior and exterior of Westminster Abbey, last year, as it was during filming for The King’s Speech in 2009

Moneymakers: a wedding scene from the Netflix series The Crown is filmed in Ely Cathedral, areas of which were transformed into the interior and exter...

THE Archbishops of Canterbury and York have launched an investigation into the management and governance of cathedrals, after a cash-flow crisis at Peterborough Cathedral last year led to the resignation of the Dean and several redundancies.

A Cathedrals Working Group of 12 members, announced on Monday, is to be chaired by the Bishop of Stepney, the Rt Revd Adrian Newman (a former Dean of Rochester Cathedral), and a report is to be delivered to the Archbishops’ Council, Church Commissioners, and House of Bishops, in December.

The group was set up at the request of the Bishop of Peterborough, the Rt Revd Donald Allister, who conducted a Visitation of the cathedral in January, after he found that its staff were in imminent danger of not being paid (News, 29 July 2016). A handful of the C of E’s 42 cathedrals are known to be running on deficits of up to half a million pounds.

Bishop Allister reported a lack of financial controls at the cathedral, and proposed a series of measures to remedy them and increase diocesan involvement in its management (News, 13 January). He argued that the safeguards and regulations in the Cathedrals Measure 1999, which determines the governance of cathedrals by a Dean and Chapter independently of the diocese were “clearly insufficient”, and could cause “serious risks to the reputation” of the Church of England.

In his final sermon, the Dean, the Very Revd Charles Taylor, hinted that he had been forced to resign, and criticised those who, he said, were envious people at the centre of the C of E and resented “uppity” cathedrals and wished to impose a “mono­chrome blandness” on the Church (News, 7 October 2016).

But the vice-chair of the new working group, the Dean of York, the Very Revd Vivienne Faull, said this week that “stand-offs” between Bishop and Chapter were rare.

“Every cathedral has its own culture and ecology; so it is nearly always the case that particular stresses emerge from very specific local situations,” she said on Monday. “It may be to do with a source of money; Chapters not having the skills or awareness that they should have; or it may be one or two particular individuals.”

She pointed to the report of a Visitation ordered by the Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Robert Atwell, and completed in January last year, which called for a culture change at the cathedral, and which stated that it was “worrying” that the Dean, the Very Revd Dr Jonathan Draper, had not played a greater part in the pastoral care of the community since his appointment in 2011 (News, 23 September 2016). Dr Draper is to retire in August, after a sabbatical (News, 17 March).

“The situation has got so difficult that the Dean is to retire; so there are some underlying concerns, but they not nearly as severe as Peterborough,” Dean Faull said. “My hunch is that these are all to do with cathedrals seizing opportunities to grow, and evangelise; but that the funding that they have relied on in the past has not been as reliable and sufficient for the task, and the skills of the governing body may not have developed as much as they should have.”

A change to the Cathedral Measure was possible, she said, but would involve a lengthy process. “It may be that there are other ways of handling this through regulation of codes of practice, or investment, both financially and in terms of training and development.”

Deans are currently offered a one-week intensive “mini MBA” course at the Judge Business School, Cambridge, on governance and financial management. Its success has led the Association of English Cathedrals to bid for funding from the Church Commissioners to extend this training, Dean Faull said, but this had yet to have taken effect.

“We may be dealing with a time lag — I am sad that it has taken us this long to support Deans and Chapters with training. We have had to work hard to find that money; but at least some of it is in place now. We just need to make sure our successors get similar support, because cathedrals are going to carry on developing and changing over the next five to ten years.”

Other areas of cathedral governance to be included in the report are the contribution of cathedrals to evangelism; the procedure for Visitations; and buildings and heritage.

Millions of pounds were spent on cathedral buildings, Dean Faull said, much of which was offered through grants. “No one knows how much cathedrals are going to have to pay in the next ten or 20 years. We have never done those sums because it costs money to do them.”

Safeguarding is also to be investigated by the cathedrals group, in line with the latest C of E policies. C of E statistics from September suggest that midweek cathedral attendance grew from 12,700 in 2005 to 18,900 in 2015. About 1.04 million people attended Westminster Abbey that year (News, 23 September 2016).

“Cathedrals are large complex organisations with open doors and hundreds of volunteers, many of whom were involved in business or professional life some years ago, and are not aware of safeguarding changes,” Dean Faull said. “I am glad that we are going to hold a mirror to ourselves.”

Other members include the former Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens; Jack Straw MP; a former director of the Heritage Lottery Fund, Dr Fiona Spiers; a Lay Canon of Liverpool Cathedral, Andrew Holroyd; and Julie Dziegel, who is a member of the Archbishops’ Council Finance Committee.

Bishop Newman said that this was an opportunity to look at “how cathedrals work, and to ensure that the legislation and procedures they use are fit for . . . the 21st century”.

A former Dean of Wells, the Very Revd Richard Lewis, who is a former member of the Archbishops’ Commission on Cathedrals, wrote in a letter to The Times on Tuesday, however, that the “time-consuming inquiry is but a cloak for another agenda which is more to do with command and control”.

The Church and the UK, he said, must cherish cathedrals. “Sometimes things will go wrong; but then that is the human condition.”

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