THE deadline to respond to the Cathedral Working Group report arrived at the end of February, just over a month after its publication (News and Comment, 19 January). I was grateful for the many good things that the report had to say about cathedral life and mission, and somewhat overwhelmed by its 100-plus recommendations.
Given the weight of the document, and its profound implications for cathedrals, the window for responses seemed particularly short. But, like every other cathedral, here in Exeter we formulated our response, and await with interest the anonymised analysis that we have been promised.
In one area, at least, I suspect the report’s authors may be disappointed. For they asked for the recommendations to be adopted in full rather than cherry-picked. While there is much to be welcomed in their recommendations, there are some areas that we, in common with other cathedrals, are not keen to support as drafted.
Having been Dean of both Wakefield and now Exeter, I can recognise the concern of many that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. I can see already that what worked in Wakefield is unlikely to work 300 miles down south, and vice versa.
As cathedrals differ in size and in architecture, so they differ in their relationship with their city and county, in their financial resources, and in their staffing structures. And yet all are seeking to serve their dioceses faithfully, and to play their part in welcoming the huge number of visitors who come to our cathedrals each year. The working group needs to recognise more overtly the strength of this diversity and local variety, and allow this to flourish.
The report was, of course, largely prompted by difficulties in a few cathedrals. These difficulties were local in nature, although they shared the common theme of financial insecurity. Having been in Exeter for some months, I am now more able to understand where some of the difficulties arose — and I am happy to say that, thanks to the hard work of the Chapter before I arrived, the financial difficulties are, for the most part, resolved for now, although financial circumstances overall remain challenging.
I and many others, therefore, very much welcome the suggestion of a new national fund for cathedrals, and the strong symbolism that such a move would mean for the continued importance of cathedrals in our national life.
CATHEDRALS are, without exception, trying to up their game, and the recent troubles faced by some have helped to accelerate this process. But lack of finances often holds us back from employing the right calibre of people to deliver the level of services expected by the Church and the world.
The report sets out some of the expectations that cathedrals face, not just in terms of worship and mission, but also in serving the common good. Many smaller cathedrals do not have the resources for this, and the recommendations in the report will add to their workload. But, as they say, weighing the pig does not fatten the pig. More support is needed if cathedrals are to deliver what is being asked.
In some areas, we work in close partnership with our Bishop and diocese. Here in Exeter, we are, for instance, confident in our safeguarding advice because of the close relationship we have with the excellent diocesan team. Some cathedrals have led the way in this kind of joined-up working, and we can all learn from them.
Of course, some cathedrals, such as Exeter, charge visitors an entrance fee, and some, such as Wakefield, do not. Having seen both sides of this particular coin, I am clear that charging is no panacea. In Exeter, the wonderful Cathedral Green is thronged with people most of the year round — but many never come inside. In Wakefield, people come and go all day, lighting candles, and pausing to pray, or be still, or simply admire.
IF CHAPTERS are truly to look after cathedrals on behalf of the Church and the nation, then people need ready access. For many, a visit to a cathedral will be the principal, or only, way in which they encounter the Church of England.
This, together with the consistent growth in attendance which cathedrals have enjoyed in recent years, surely suggests that more funding from the Church is the right way forward. It is reasonable to ask the Government to make a contribution towards maintaining our heritage; but we cannot expect the Government to fund our worship and mission.
If cathedrals were properly financed, how many of the difficulties that this report is trying to address would be swept away? If the financial burden were removed, even in part, then Chapters could lift their eyes away from the balance sheet to focus outward, doing what they do best: appealing to the millions who say that they find in cathedrals a space, and a silence, and a connection to God which are unrivalled in Britain today.
The Very Revd Jonathan Greener is the Dean of Exeter.