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Dean of Canterbury to retire before his 75th birthday

16 February 2022

Canterbury Cathedral

THE Dean of Canterbury, the Very Revd Dr Robert Willis, is to retire on 16 May — the eve of his 75th birthday — after more than two decades in post, it was announced on Wednesday.

Dr Willis was installed in July 2001, having been Dean of Hereford for nine years, before which he had spent 17 years in parish ministry in the diocese of Salisbury. He was ordained deacon in 1972 and priest the following year, serving his title curacy in Lichfield diocese.

The standard retirement age for clergy is 70, but Dr Willis was granted special permission by the Archbishop of Canterbury to continue in office until 75, which is the maximum age permitted by canon law. Dr Willis had hoped to extend his tenure beyond this to cover the Lambeth Conference this summer (News, 25 January), but this was ruled legally impossible, he said on Wednesday.

“These 21 years have been exceptionally happy and fulfilling, and I shall miss Canterbury greatly,” he said.

During the pandemic, Dr Willis became an unexpected YouTube hit; his daily Morning Prayer videos filmed within the grounds of the Deanery at Canterbury Cathedral gathered millions of views from worldwide audiences, with impromptu appearances from the cats Leo and Tiger (News, 29 May 2020).

Dr Willis said: “I’m hoping until Easter that the normal course of cathedral life can resume here and that all farewells can be left until after that time. Until Easter, we will still keep our commitment day by day to the Garden Congregation across the world, which has been a feature of ministry during the pandemic. I am sorry that we will not be here to see the full opening up of cathedral life as the months of Covid restrictions come to an end.”

Canterbury CathedralCanterbury Cathedral

He continued: “There will be time to express heartfelt affection and gratitude to all who have been part of our life here and across the world during these happy years, but that will be for later as we prepare to say goodbye.”

Archbishop Welby, who, at his installation, was placed in the Chair of St Augustine by Dr Willis in Canterbury Cathedral in 2013, said: “Dean Robert has been one of the most exceptional deans of the post-war period — overseeing Canterbury Cathedral’s life of worship, prayer and witness with creativity and imagination. He is deeply loved not just at the Cathedral but across the diocese of Canterbury, the Church of England, the Anglican Communion and far beyond.

“Over the course of the pandemic, he has brought the comfort and hope of Jesus Christ to many thousands of people around the world through his daily Morning Prayer videos. Dean Robert has been a faithful, prayerful friend to our whole family, and we will miss him greatly. In turn, we will be praying for him and all those who have supported him over many years, as he prepares for retirement and the next stage of his ministry.”

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