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General Synod digest: Shake-up in cathedrals wins final approval

04 December 2020
YouTube/Church of England

Robert Hammond (Chelmsford), a member of the steering committee for the Draft Cathedrals Measure, moves the take-note motion

Robert Hammond (Chelmsford), a member of the steering committee for the Draft Cathedrals Measure, moves the take-note motion

A SWEEPING reform of cathedral governance was given its final approval by the General Synod on Tuesday morning.

Before the debate, the Secretary-General, William Nye, warned members of a potential problem with the software used for taking votes during the online debate. Synod staff had contacted the company that was running the software to find out more information, although they had not yet any reason to believe that the votes on Monday had been incorrectly tallied.

Introducing a debate to take note of the report on the Draft Cathedrals Measure, which completed its revision stage in February, Robert Hammond (Chelmsford), who is on the steering committee, said that the new special amendments being proposed were mostly technical. Other amendments extended the timeline for cathedrals to adopt their new constitutions, because of the delay caused by the pandemic.

The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, recapped the context of the Measure, which came from a series of financial crises after decades of change and growing missional impact since the last wave of governance reforms in the 1990s. “The cathedrals which provoked this report because of their then dysfunctionality are now in a much better place,” she said.

Anne Foreman (Exeter) praised the steering committee for its refinement of the Measure. She explained how Exeter Cathedral had been working hard to combine its response to the Covid pandemic while also pursuing a major building project. The additional flexibility brought by the Measure and its governance reform would be welcome.

Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) noted that this was the first legislation that the synod had received since the publication of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) report, last month (News, 9 October). He recalled the inquiry’s criticism of the phrase “due regard” in safeguarding guidelines, which, he said, “still crops up” in the Measure. He suggested that it should be retired in favour of something clearer. He would be voting for the Measure and the drafting amendments, regardless.

The Revd Neil Patterson (Hereford) responded to Canon Butler by pointing out that there was provision embedded in the Measure to swap the language of “due regard” in the future, along with other safeguarding legislation.

The Synod took note of the report.

YouTube/Church of EnglandThe Third Church Estates Commissioner, Dr Eve Poole, speaks in the final-approval debate

Technical amendments proposed by the steering committee were then taken as a block by the Synod. Mr Hammond explained that some amendments were added to avoid complex pensions legislation requirements for a handful of cathedrals which did not use the central C of E pensions provision.

In September, a memorandum of understanding had been reached with the Charity Commission and the Church Commissioners over how they would co-regulate cathedrals, Mr Hammond said. The next special amendment would enable the Commissioners to agree how the Bishops could exercise their visitation powers with regard for statutory regulation by the Commission.

This amendment was carried, as was another to ensure that the power of investment could not be used to improve non-endowment properties. A further amendment moved by Mr Hammond extended the date for cathedrals to finish registering with the Charity Commission, given the delay introduced by the pandemic.

Amendments relating specifically to Ripon Cathedral were taken en bloc. Mr Hammond explained that it was not a parish-church cathedral for historical reasons; so it had both a Chapter and a PCC, which itself was a registered charity. This administrative quirk was “onerous and costly”, and this amendment would resolve it by making it a normal parish-church cathedral.

Joyce Hill (Leeds), a member of the Ripon Cathedral Chapter, thanked the Synod for allowing them to deal with this “historical awkwardness” in the main cathedrals reform. It had the full support of the wider cathedral community, she said.

The amendments were carried.

Special amendments relating to Newcastle Cathedral’s endowment fund were moved by Mr Hammond en bloc, and were carried.

Mr Hammond resolved another historic quirk over the legal title to Southwark Cathedral, by moving the following amendment, which was carried.


INTRODUCING the final-approval debate, Mr Hammond said that he had had no idea how diverse and complex cathedrals were before beginning work on the Measure. Endless hours of work by committees, lawyers, and on the floor of the Synod had brought the Measure to this stage. “It puts cathedrals on a firm governance footing which is fit for the 21st century,” he said. It would more clearly delineate governance and management, and introduced more professional control of finance and risk. “And, most importantly, it has safeguarding at its heart.”

The Third Church Estates Commissioner, Dr Eve Poole, said that the Measure married Church and State in a partnership that would “watch over” cathedrals and encourage them in their mission. The most culturally significant part of the reform was introducing formal accountability to the Charity Commission, she explained. She urged the Synod to give the Measure final approval.

The Revd Paul Benfield (Blackburn) said that it was “unquestionably true” that many cathedrals needed better financial governance, but questioned the lessening of the traditional part played by a cathedral Chapter: from being a worshipping community to a board of trustees. Blackburn Cathedral had been using a section of the previous legislation, carried over into the new Measure, to evict a residentiary canon from his house inside the cathedral precincts, and Canon Benfield asked whether this could be looked at again before approving the Measure. “Every officeholder in a cathedral needs to be aware that they can be moved from their home at the whim of the Chapter.”

The Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Revd Dr David Ison (Southern Deans), reassured the Synod that the deans were supportive of the reforms, despite the additional stresses from coronavirus. The legislation was even more timely given that it simplified things and allowed cathedrals to act more imaginatively. “Do support us going forward, and vote enthusiastically for this Measure,” he said.

Julie Dziegiel (Oxford) said that she had hugely enjoyed the experience of pushing the Measure through the Synod. Key to the process had been the extensive amount of consultation taken throughout, which had come up with a solution that worked for all cathedrals, despite their diversity. As a “subterranean” low churchwoman, she had previously been ambivalent towards cathedrals — but no longer, she said, now that she understood what a gift they were to the Church.

Peter Bruinvels (Guildford), a lay canon of Guildford Cathedral, said that the Measure was desperately needed to secure better governance and proper financial management. Cathedrals were “beacons on the hill” for the Church and the nation.

Final approval was given in a vote by Houses: Bishops 32 nem. con.; Clergy 125 nem. con. with two recorded abstentions; Clergy: 151 nem. con., with three recorded abstentions.


Click here for more reports from the November General Synod, held via Zoom last week

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