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King accepts resignation of Dean of Wells

13 January 2023

Findings of visitation concerning cathedral culture to be published next week

Jason Bryant

In Wells Cathedral on Tuesday, cleared of chairs for a post-Christmas clean, a virger, George Clark, contemplates Basil the cat

In Wells Cathedral on Tuesday, cleared of chairs for a post-Christmas clean, a virger, George Clark, contemplates Basil the cat

THE Dean of Wells, the Very Revd John Davies, retired on 6 January, after the King’s acceptance of his deed of resignation: a procedure necessitated because the deanery is a Crown appointment.

Dean Davies is 65. Retirement is generally notified well in advance, but the acceptance had made it possible for the Dean to retire with immediate effect, the Bishop of Bath & Wells, Dr Michael Beasley, said in his announcement on the Wells Cathedral website.

He described the part played by the Dean — who has been in post since 2016 — as “central in developing the work of the cathedral and its outreach across the county of Somerset and beyond”, and went on to describe his stewardship during the pandemic, and fund-raising efforts during his tenure, as “innovative and sometimes personally perilous in equal measure”. Both, he said, had increased the profile of the cathedral and greatly supported its financial position.

Expressing thanks for the Dean’s work, and wishing him God speed, he described him as retiring “at a watershed moment in the life of the cathedral and the wider diocese”: an oblique reference to the special visitation last September, consequential on an audit by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE).

It was commissioned by the Chapter, in the expressed belief that “Wells Cathedral will benefit from external scrutiny by measuring ourselves against current best practice in this vital area: so we understand what we do well, and where we need to focus attention and resource to improve and develop what we do” (News, 25 March 2022).

The report described the culture for the 75 staff and 400 volunteers as one of unhappiness and fear, and, while the auditors judged safeguarding provision for visitors, vulnerable adults, and children to be good, a recurring thread in the report said: “Staff themselves appear unhappy and some have developed vulnerabilities which have not been recognised.”

Many written concerns had revealed “an underlying but very evident message” that things must be completed in a certain way. “Where standards fall short or different from that expected, staff and volunteers report they are made to feel fear and unhappiness; this takes the form of loss of temper, shouting and a reported embodiment of the very power imbalance reflected as potentially abusive in the leadership training undertaken.”

The auditors concluded: “Perhaps excellence has become tainted by perfectionism and standards that are too high to be maintained 100 per cent of the time, leaving too many people with a constant fear of failure.” The Dean himself had described the culture as one of “striving for happy excellence, with faith at the heart of everything the cathedral does”.

The Bishop will reflect on the visitation findings at an open meeting in the nave, after evensong on Sunday. It was commissioned by the Bishop of Taunton, the Rt Revd Ruth Worsley, to review the culture, governance, and leadership of the cathedral, and its effects on safeguarding and the well-being of staff and volunteers.

The visitation was led by the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, a former Bishop of Leicester and an hon. assistant bishop in the diocese of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich. Panel members were the Precentor of York Minster, Canon Vicky Johnson, and Dr Hilary Lines, a coach and leadership development consultant. The clerk was Prebendary Stephen Lynas, a former Bishops’ Chaplain in Bath & Wells.

The Dean will preside and preach at his last service at the cathedral, the festal eucharist for Candlemas (2 February), at 5.15 p.m.

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