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General Synod, cathedrals: Synod supports governance changes

Amendment carried to give time to ‘measure disquiet’


The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, presents the cathedrals report to the Synod

The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, presents the cathedrals report to the Synod

THE report of the Cathedrals Working Group was presented to the Synod on Tuesday morning before the Synod went on to debate it.

Its vice-chair, the Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, who had been Dean of York at the time of her appointment to the group, said that she felt like “something of a relic” from the “cathedral world”, because she had started as a chaplain at Gloucester Cathedral in 1990. Since then, cathedrals had changed profoundly.

In the 1990s, the framework of accountability for Chapters and deans, created through various Measures, had been regarded with “a mixture of fear and disdain”; many of the issues raised during the current working group’s report were “somewhat familiar”.

“We did not rush. . . Intensive work was done by colleagues and by staff. . . No solution was simply taken off the shelf or copied across from other sorts of organisations.” The chair of the group, the Bishop of Stepney, the Rt Revd Adrian Newman, had offered a “consultative style”, and had an hour’s conversation with every diocesan bishop and every dean.

“What you have before you today is the product of an extensive listening process,” she said. There would now follow a “collaborative process between Synod and the cathedrals constituency”. Many of the non-legislative recommendations had already been adopted, including a new Cathedrals Support Group made up of NCI staff and other representatives.

Setting out the report, she described the catalyst of the Peterborough Cathedral visitation. It had begun with a “lengthy chapter on the ecclesiology of cathedrals” and recommended further work on this. The “biggest challenge has been to strike a balance in the report between those who contend that cathedrals are too separate from the bishop and diocese, and those who argue that cathedrals should have an ‘arm’s-length’ status”.

The group favoured a “model of co-operation, and emphasising scrutiny, good governance, and oversight”. Not all recent problems had been due to unsuitable legislation: there were “complex issues around relationship breakdown, confusions over accountability and responsibility, and the frustration of some stakeholders who wanted to intervene and help with problems”. They urged all cathedrals to improve people management.

The group was clear that there was “a confusion in cathedral governance structures between the different functions of governance and management”. It was “impossible” to split governance and executive bodies; a “hybrid model” had been recommended, with the majority of members of Chapter non-executive members.

Meanwhile, the Senior Executive Team would do operational work, with a vice-chair drawn from outside the cathedral. Another recommendation was that all cathedrals come under Charity Commission regulation and a quinquennial assurance review commissioned by the bishop. Episcopal visitations were not to be abolished, but were regarded as “heavy-handed” for more routine discussions.


Other recommendations included new finance committees and audit committees, the abolition of cathedral councils, and an increase in national church funding for cathedrals.

Turning to the consultation on the draft report, she said that most responses had supported most of the recommendations. But there had been rewriting, and the recommendations on the composition of the Chapter and role of the vice-chair had been set out “more clearly”, she said. More work needed to be done on the status of parish-church cathedrals and the part that they played. More work had been done on residentiary canons, and some “infelicitous language” had been corrected.

Looking back to the mid-1990s’ Howe report, she suggested that, if more of the recommendations had been implemented, “there would probably have been no need for a further report, and a number of subsequent high-profile issues within the cathedral world would have been avoided”.

Cathedrals bore “symbolic and spiritual weight far beyond the immediate community of their clergy and congregation”, she said. The context had changed, but cathedrals remained relevant.

Angela Scott (Rochester) noted the question of state funding. When and how would dialogue with government take place, and would other Churches be brought into this dialogue?

Bishop Faull said that there had been ongoing dialogue over some years. It had continued through Lord Cormack: deans had been meeting informally with Parliamentarians, and there had been a conversation with the Chancellor some months ago. She hoped that they would be put on more formal basis.

The Archdeacon of Tonbridge, the Ven. Julie Conalty (Rochester), asked about the accountability of residentiary canons: how would this sit with them being fellow trustees alongside the dean? It felt “muddled”.

Bishop Faull did not see a problem in the relationship. The whole of the body of Chapter had to have trustee responsibility. Conflict would arise in any working body, but deliberate work was now being done with external facilitators to help them to avoid conflicts’ becoming “extreme”.

Martin Sewell (Rochester) asked whether the Charity Commission was willing to take on this responsibility.

Bishop Faull said that “considerable negotiation” with the Commission was necessary.

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, said that he still did not understand why some cathedrals were cathedrals and others were parish-church cathedrals; it created an ecclesiological problem.

Bishop Faull replied that some parish-church cathedrals, such as Southwell, were “resistant” to transition; so more work needed to be done.

Gavin Oldham (Oxford) asked why there was not mutual support among cathedrals; so that the richer supported the poorer.

Bishop Faull said that this was happening, partly on an informal basis and partly formally, as the richest five received no additional funding from Commissioners. Removing endowment would be “long and cumbersome”.

Mark Russell (Sheffield) asked why residentiary canons were paid more than incumbents, and what this message sent to incumbents.

Bishop Faull said that she did not know the answers; perhaps it should be clarified by the committee that looked at remuneration.

The Revd Chris Newlands (Blackburn) was the acting chair of the Greater Churches Network. Many of these churches were larger than some cathedrals, and could be a great resource to dioceses. Was there a way to work more closely with cathedrals?

Bishop Faull said that, yes, the project panel was looking at extending its work to greater churches.


THE Synod then went on to debate the motion from the House of Bishops.

Introducing it, the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, said that, as lead bishop for cathedrals and churches, he was delighted to propose this motion. The Howe report had been only “half-heartedly” introduced, and problems could have been avoided if it had been fully implemented.

Enabling and growing mission was what the report was all about, Dr Inge said. It was essential to get governance issues right for everything else about cathedrals to “flourish and benefit the rapidly changing community context”.

He agreed strongly that a good working relationship between a bishop and a cathedral was essential. Chapters corporately, rather than deans or bishops, would hold responsibility for cathedrals, he said. The report balanced best practice in the secular world with the historical precedence of cathedral management. The introduction of lay canons after the Howe report had been a success, and extending the power of non-executive Chapter members was a good thing.


The vice-chair would not be the Bishop’s mole on Chapter, Dr Inge argued, and the Dean would continue to lead the “praying heart” of the cathedral, and communicate with the bishop, but with the vice-chair in support. Implementation should leave “as much individual flexibility as possible” for cathedrals, he said. He welcomed co-ordination by the national church institutions over cathedrals, and the introduction of a new working group staffed by Dr Eve Poole.

The bulk of the recommendations, Dr Inge said, would be implemented not by legislation, but by cathedrals and the Association of English Cathedrals.

Muriel Robinson (Lincoln), in a maiden speech, spoke as a lay canon and a member of Lincoln Cathedral’s council. She argued that the praying community needed to be fully explored when looking at cathedrals. Many periods of worship — sometimes up to four times a day — would be seen by visitors, even if they did not join in. Lincoln Cathedral was a place of prayer from the minute you walked in, and it was up to the Chapter to continue that prayer. Alongside visitors with little experience of prayer, Mrs Robinson said, she found herself imbued by the Holy Spirit when at prayer in the cathedral. The report needed to create a framework of a “rich and diverse community of prayer”.

The Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Revd Dr David Ison (Southern Deans), urged the Synod not to forget how different cathedrals were from ordinary parishes. Deans supported the motion and wanted the Synod to support this. He said that cathedrals worked under extreme pressures, and the report helped with those.

He had five things for Synod to bear in mind; first, the deans welcomed the emphasis on accountability for deans and the Chapter, but had concerns over the part played by the vice-chair, which would muddle with the position of the vice-dean when the dean was absent. This could engender conflict. Second, he welcomed Chapters’ having regulatory oversight over them from a body, but they were concerned about where this regulation would come from. Third, he urged that the regulation should be as flexible as possible, so that cathedrals could operate in a way suitable for their particular circumstances. Fourth, what concerned deans most was what came after the report: they should be included in a consultation before legislation. Fifth, Chapters should continue with a spiritual heart, and this should be reflected in any future legislation.

The Third Church Estates Commissioner, Dr Eve Poole, welcomed the report and the motion. She would be keeping in close contact with deans, the Association of English Cathedrals, and Cathedrals Administration and Finance Association as the work progressed, as she oversees the activity in ensuring that the recommendations of the report were taken forward. She would chair an internal staff group of NCI officers responsible for implementing the recommendations, and would be communicating to cathedrals and the Church’s governance bodies.

Dr Poole was aware of the “untold story about the extraordinary mission that our cathedrals provide to the nation”, and argued that a theological exploration should be commissioned to find out “what we really mean by governance and risk in a cathedral context”. There could be a symposium with deans, bishops, and theologians, possible by means of a “St George’s House consultation in the spring”, and she would report back to the Synod. She supported the motion and the amendment.

Moving his amendment, the Revd Neil Patterson (Hereford), a member of the cathedral council in Hereford, said that it would slow down the pace of action. It offered the Synod a chance to measure among itself a degree of disquiet over method and proposal. He wondered whether he should have made it stronger, since it had been accepted by the Bishops. The report acknowledged that it had begun with the crisis in Exeter and Peterborough, and the financial precariousness that cathedrals were in today, which was another reason to slow the pace, he argued.

“The governing heart is the same as the praying heart of the cathedral,” he said, “but the report suggests that the Chapter is not at the praying heart, but external.” The life of the cathedrals was in a secular world, and he hoped that the praying heart would remain at the centre.

Dr Inge was grateful for the amendment, which was carried.

The Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn, was also grateful. Yes, it was an interesting consultative process, he said, but it was not a fantastic one, because residentiary canons had been left out. He wanted a better process following on from the debate. When he had received the draft report, it was all or nothing, and Southwark had decided against the report for strong reasons, including the governance and vice-chair, and the “creative distance” between the deans and bishops.

He enjoyed doing risky things, he said. He had marched in the Pride parades on Saturday, and flown the flag from the cathedral. He was sure that would not have happened if the Bishop had been in the Chapter meeting. He would be reluctantly voting for the motion as amended.

Debrah McIsaac (Salisbury) said that about 3500 people had gathered outside the cathedral for a screening of the recent royal wedding, and had flocked inside afterwards. It was a very different experience from the cathedral in which she married, she said. The report contained anxiety about the financial situation of cathedrals. She hoped that a timeline would be imposed to ensure that too much change was not imposed too rapidly. “A lot of thought needs to be given as to how the relationships are going to work.” She also asked the Synod to watch the communication of the recommendations carefully.

Mary Durlacher (Chelmsford) supported the amendment. It did not matter how much time it took for the cherries to be fit for eating, she said. The amendment focused on the theology of the place of the cathedrals in the UK, which was what the country needed.

The Archdeacon of Southwark, the Ven. Dr Jane Steen (Southwark), who had been a canon residentiary of Southwark Cathedral for eight years, rejoiced at the connection between governance and prayer, dean and bishop, in the amendment. She was puzzled that the majority of the governing body would not be part of the praying community. The bishop already appointed the dean and canons. Legislation required detailed drafting and careful scrutiny, and must not be hasty.

The amendment was carried.

In his maiden speech, the Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Revd Pete Wilcox, said that for the past 12 months he had visited Sheffield Cathedral, but he had also been a residentiary canon at Lichfield and Liverpool Cathedrals. His experience of the two cathedrals was very different, he said: old and new, small and large. The most successful governance of both cathedrals came when the Chapters demonstrated a “healthy appetite for risk”, and to push boundaries for worship, enterprise, visitors, and welcome. “Cathedrals can be safe places to do risky things in Christ’s service.”

Carl Hughes (Southwark) spoke as a member of the working group, and having undertaken a review of the financial condition of Peterborough Cathedral in 2016. Cathedrals needed “good governance and management frameworks with appropriate checks and balances in which people can place their trust and have confidence”, he said. Quinquennial assurance reviews and finance, risk, and audit committees were also needed; Chapters “need to know the risks they are facing”. He rebutted a recent report in the Daily Mail which had suggested that the Church might be forced to sell its cathedrals. None the less, the Church did need to “start talking boldly to government” about start funding.

Canon Paul Rattigan (Liverpool) spoke as a residentiary canon of Liverpool, who had studied cathedral growth. Cathedrals offered “overhearing and adjacency” to people. He supported the report, and understood the desire for a “clear bishop’s representation” that could aid communication between Chapter and bishop, but did not see the need for that person to be vice-chair or to chair the Chapter in the absence of the dean. But, he continued, “overall, the direction is very workable and much needed.” His two requests were that any groups going forward have a “generous representation” from all aspects and people of cathedrals, and that training be offered to all lay Chapter members, canons, and deans

Canon Priscilla White (Birmingham) spoke as an honorary canon of Birmingham Cathedral, a parish-church cathedral which, she said, was not rich, and in a diocese with limited financial resources. She supported the motion, but urged that the “distinctive nature” of parish-church cathedrals not be lost. The costs of good management — for example, the funding of extra posts such as a chief financial officer — could place a burden on overstretched finances. She also expressed concern that the relationship between bishops and cathedrals be considered carefully to ensure that it was “collaborative and not adversarial”. They needed to be “singing from the same hymn-sheet. . . Let each line of the tune contribute to the anthem.”

The Vicar General of York, the Rt Worshipful Peter Collier, who chairs the Cathedral Council for York Minster, said that the report proposed the abolition of these councils, citing confusion about their role. The Council was sometimes described as that of “critical friend of the Chapter”, and it was so at York. He predicted that members of abolished councils who joined Chapters would become “part of the inner circle, and could well be party to unwise decisions or proposals”.

Tim Fleming (St Albans) worked as head of finance and development at St Albans Cathedral. He welcomed the report, but emphasised that it had to implemented with care. He cautioned against a “tick-box approach” to the make-up of Chapters, and suggested going further: having a majority of lay members, as at St Albans. He also hoped that the conversation about funding could be “accelerated”.

The Archdeacon of Halifax, the Ven. Dr Anne Dawtry (Leeds), spoke as an honorary canon, drawing on consultation with the Deans of Bradford and Ripon. Overall, the proposals were a “quantum leap forward”, and she was “not only content with it, but enthusiastic about much of it”. Some cathedrals, however, were already struggling with the financial capacity to do what they were already doing: investment would be needed to implement the recommendations.

Many smaller cathedrals did not have directors of operations or CFOs, so appoint a Senior Executive Team. She also had a concern about the respective parts played by the dean and vice-chair: she assumed that the latter proposal was an attempt, in the light of dioceses where things had gone wrong, to hold the dean to account. “That is understandable, but, in my view, the dean must continue to be both the CEO and the chair of Chapter. A cathedral is a praying church community led by a dean: nothing else looks or feels right.” Both the Deans she had consulted would welcome working with an “able” vice-chair, but that this person should not become a barrier to communication with the bishop.

Jamie Harrison (Durham), a lay canon, welcomed the increased involvement of the laity in cathedrals; they could be “supportive and prayerful”.

The Bishop of Lynn, the Rt Revd Jonathan Meyrick, who had been both a canon and a dean, emphasised the importance of the E. M. Forster epigraph “Only connect.” He described how, at Exeter Cathedral, a funeral had been held for a council litter collector, which had been attended by 300 Harley-Davidson riders. “Connections of that kind are enabled by flexibility and the willingness to be open to embrace the new possibilities of relationship.”

Canon Simon Taylor (Derby), Chancellor of Derby Cathedral, welcomed the report as “a comprehensive and really well-thought-through piece of work”. Derby Cathedral had welcomed it “broadly”, and it had occasioned some “very good conversations”. There was a danger that “we prioritise leadership at the expense of governance, but good governance does not come from the gifts of one individual but a systematic approach.” The clarity offered in the report “could and should enable cathedrals to be models for the whole Church of how to hold those in authority to account, without disabling them as leaders and managers of the Church”. In the wider Church, “collegiality can be something we find difficult to embody in the way we live and work.”

The Bishop of Peterborough, the Rt Revd Donald Allister, was “closely involved” with Peterborough Cathedral, “a place I love very much”. He had attended the early-morning office and eucharist every day that he was in the city. The daily praying community was “absolutely vital”, and did not just comprise the Chapter. He also wanted to quash the rumour that the Archbishop had Peterborough Cathedral “up for sale. It’s not true; he may have wished to, but I don’t think he did.”

This rumour had arisen because of a “great misunderstanding” among the public. “People just don’t get and understand cathedrals, and that is a shame: we all need to do more of an educational job.” He continued: “I encourage and support the relative independence of cathedrals from bishops, as I do the relative independence of parishes. We are not a franchise Church. . . It’s best that we are different.”

He expressed thanks for the people they had been able to turn to at the national Church “when things went a bit wrong at Peterborough”. He concluded: “If something like the working-group proposals had been in place, the problems at Peterborough would not have arisen.”

In his response, Dr Inge emphasised that a “fuller apology” had been offered by Bishop Newman for the omission of consultation with residentiary canons, and that there had followed consultation with them. It was “good to have heard canons speaking in favour of the motion”. Cathedrals should be “laboratories” and places where “risk is enabled to be taken”.

He offered assurance that “appropriate distance between cathedral and bishops would not be threatened. . . but it would be good for some bishops who would like to be able to take more of an interest be able to do so.” He concluded with quotations from the future Pope Paul VI, who, after visiting nine English cathedrals, had described them as “very ships of the spirit”.


The motion was carried as amended. It read: 

That this Synod:

a) welcome the recommendations in the Report of the Cathedrals Working Group (GS 2101A);

b) request the Archbishops’ Council to bring forward a draft measure for First Consideration at the July 2019 group of sessions to give effect to the recommendations that involve legislative change; and

c) call on all concerned, including bishops, cathedrals and the National Church Institutions, to give effect to the recommendations that do not involve legislative change as soon as practically possible.

Read a report of every General Synod presentation and debate from York 2018, here

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