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How to make cathedrals fitter for the future  

18 January 2018

If they are to flourish in the long term, they need changes in management and governance, says Adrian Newman

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.

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