ON ALMOST any ecclesiastical or missional measure, cathedrals are leading the way for the rest of the Church. Cathedrals buck the trends of numerical decline, exert a growing influence in civil society, and demonstrate an effective way of engaging with contemporary culture. They are an inspiration in their impact on the national life, and on the lives of millions of worshippers and visitors each year.
These remarkable achievements do not, however, tell the whole story. Recent episcopal visitations at Peterborough and Exeter raised important questions about the structures by which cathedrals are governed (News, 23 September 2016, 7 October 2016). The Archbishops established the Cathedrals Working Group against this backdrop (News, 13 April), to address the question whether the governance structure of cathedrals exposes them to particular vulnerabilities, and places their gift and inheritance at risk.
Over the course of seven months, and consulting with people from all parts of the cathedral sector and elsewhere, including the charity sector and civil society, the group developed proposals for patterns of governance and management which will enable cathedrals to flourish long in to the future.
THE central message in our report is this: there is something remarkable to celebrate in the life of cathedrals, and something serious to be addressed. We want to hold these two things in counterpoint.
In proposing changes to governance structures and aspects of cathedral operations, we do not wish to inhibit the entrepreneurial flair that has characterised so much that is good about the world of cathedrals; nor do we wish to impose unnecessary red tape. We are committed, however, to ensuring that cathedrals do not get into situations that prevent their thriving as pioneers in mission and ministry.
At the heart of our proposals is the retention of the Chapter as the governing body of a cathedral (a cathedral’s praying heart is also its governing heart), but with a clearer emphasis on the part that it plays in governance. There will be a separate management function provided by a senior executive team, which will oversee day-to-day cathedral operations.
With increased capacity in lay membership, as well as enhanced training, the ability of the Chapter to govern will be strengthened. Our report underlines the dean’s authority as chair, and proposes that all cathedral staff and clergy come under her or his authority.
While respecting the historic ecclesiological pattern of the Chapter as a praying community led by the dean, we hope that the recommendations in our report will encourage a much closer collaboration between cathedral and diocese, dean and bishop. We have attempted to clarify the part played by the bishop in relation to the cathedral, and to point towards good practice in a cathedral’s wider relationships with the diocese and the National Church Institutions (NCIs). The mutuality of these relationships is vital, and requires a less defensive approach than has sometimes been the case.
A KEY recommendation of the group is that cathedrals should come under the Charities Act, and be regulated by the Charity Commission in line with other parts of the Church of England. Alongside this, we propose a quinquennial assurance review of processes and controls to ensure that cathedrals are operating effectively, and are receiving the support that they need to flourish.
We have proposed a range of changes to the funding streams from the Church Commissioners in the interests of flexibility, simplification, fairness, and innovation. We also propose that a central support service for cathedrals is established for them to gain access to skills that they may not have in-house.
Cutting across our report at various points is the question of state funding. We are of the view that the unique nature of cathedrals, and their contribution to the life of the nation, justifies the use of public funds to support them. A dialogue with the Government should be opened up about this as a matter of urgency.
We offer this report not as a final word, but as a set of proposals to stimulate and provoke further wisdom.
England’s cathedrals are an immense gift to the Church and the nation. We hope that our report can help to form a better understanding of how this gift can be nurtured and protected, celebrated, and safeguarded long into the future.
The Rt Revd Adrian Newman is the Bishop of Stepney and chairman of the Cathedrals Working Group. He is a former Dean of Rochester.