ENGLAND’s Anglican cathedrals are “in very safe hands”, and “continue to play a crucial role” at the heart of local communities, the Faith Minister, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, has said. After making a tour of the 42 Church of England cathedrals, Lord Bourne has written a report, Cathedrals and their Communities, that praises the way they are managed and engage with society.
He admits that, before his tour, he expected the message to be one of despondency, with “declining congregations, financial problems, and fading relevance”. However, “I couldn’t have been more mistaken,” Lord Bourne writes. “I was struck by the vibrancy and creativity of the teams running England’s cathedrals. . . I feel. at the tour’s close. that our cathedrals are in very safe hands.”
He particularly praises the innovative ways by which many cathedrals have sought to fight for social justice, build interfaith relations, and engage with their communities, all the while maintaining their primary function as places of public worship.
The report highlights projects delivered by cathedrals in aid of community and interfaith engagement, including the response of Manchester and Southwark Cathedrals to the terrorist attacks near them. It notes Southwark Cathedral’s Service of Hope after the London Bridge attack (News, 16 June), Westminster Abbey’s opening its doors to those evacuated from the Houses of Parliament during the Westminster Bridge attack (News, 22 March), and “the strength and unity of the community response at Manchester Cathedral” after the Manchester Arena bombing in May (News, 25 May).
Lord Bourne said: “On every visit, I found excellent examples of their commitment to social justice, interfaith relations and pastoral care.”
The Dean of Lichfield, the Very Revd Adrian Dorber, who chairs the Association of English Cathedrals, said that he was “delighted” that Lord Bourne had found “so much to praise and endorse” during his year-long tour. “We want to continue as places of welcome, and be able to offer spiritual hospitality and friendship to all,” he said. “We play an iconic part in many cityscapes, and we are glad to have the trust, respect, and support of a large cross-section of our fellow citizens.”
Lord Bourne writes: “The tour highlighted many great examples of how cathedrals can be hubs for community life – from helping the homeless to promoting interfaith dialogue.” Examples of this included Blackburn’s interfaith flower show, Norwich’s interfaith choir, and the cricket match held between Chelmsford’s cathedral and mosque.
But the report also notes the ongoing financial pressures under wich almost all cathedrals struggle. “Church of England leaders have been transparent with both the public and Government about the issues they face. While our cathedrals are guardians of Britain’s architectural and religious tradition, maintaining these beautiful buildings does not come cheap, and the running costs of many cathedrals run into the thousands of pounds a day.” No new government money, however, was promised in response.
Instead, Lord Bourne highlights the existing funding streams, including £40 million granted to 57 Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals to mark the centenary of the First World War. He also urges cathedrals to share the many innovative ways in which they use their buildings and communities to raise money, noting how the Chapter at Chester saw its income rise when it abolished entrance fees. “We found endless examples of heroic efforts on the nave floor to maximise resources while keeping Christian worship at the heart of what cathedrals do. There is a real need for cathedrals to share their bright ideas with others, and we would encourage cathedrals, particularly those that are successful, to continue to do so,” the report concludes.
Lord Bourne’s tour finished shortly before a major report is due to be delivered by the C of E’s Cathedrals Working Group, set up by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York last year after the cash-flow crisis at Peterborough Cathedral and the resignation of its Dean (News, 13 April).
A Visitation by the Bishop of Exeter, which criticised the Dean of Exeter’s role, has also raised concerns, and led ultimately to the Dean’s retirement in August (News, 23 September 2016, 17 March).
The Working Group — which includes bishops, deans, an MP, lay canons and a member of the Archbishop’s Council finance committee — is due to report back to the Council, Church Commissioners, and House of Bishops later this month.