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Winchester Cathedral row: Bishop steps in

18 June 2024

Bishop Mounstephen commissions independent review after weeks of allegations about the conduct of the cathedral music department


THE Bishop of Winchester has commissioned an independent review of Winchester Cathedral, it was announced late on Tuesday.

The review comes after weeks of allegations about the conduct of the cathedral’s music department, and the resignation of the senior non-executive member of Winchester Cathedral Chapter, Mark Byford, a former head of the BBC World Service and its former deputy director-general.

A brief statement by the Bishop, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, refers to this resignation, saying: “In the light of that significant development in the cathedral’s governance, the Bishop has decided to commission an independent review, under the terms of the Cathedral’s Measure 2021, into the events that have led to this.”

The Dean of Winchester, the Very Revd Catherine Ogle, said this week that the cathedral’s music was “fundamental to our worship”.

Last week, Winchester Cathedral appointed an interim director of music, Andrew Lucas, who retires from St Albans Cathedral this summer, to succeed Andrew Lumsden, whose unexpected resignation on 2 May triggered allegations about the management of the cathedral’s music department.

A call for an independent review of the department came from Toshi Ogita, a chorister and professional singer who deputises for the lay clerks of Winchester Cathedral Choir. Last week, he wrote to Bishop Mounstephen, as questions around the circumstances of Mr Lumsden’s departure and the behaviour of the Precentor, Canon Andy Trenier, continued to surface on choral social-media sites and in sections of the press.

In his letter, Mr Ogita wrote: “It is heartbreaking that members of the congregation at Winchester are increasingly staying away from the place they want to come to worship in, due to what they perceive as hypocrisy and gross mismanagement at the top.

“The credibility of the Church as an institution that offers protection from bullying and safeguards the welfare of those in its care is rapidly being destroyed.”

The disquiet was said to have begun when the post of assistant director of music, held by George Castle, was made redundant in 2021. The complement of lay clerks is now down from 12 to seven. 

The sub-organist, Claudia Grinnell, who has been at Winchester since 2017, has been appointed Director of Music at St Edmundsbury Cathedral from September. 

Mr Ogita contended: “Lack of swift action is turning people away from the Church. The longer it continues, the more it reinforces the appearance that any and all clergy related to the Cathedral and the Diocese are complicit in this.” He suggested that “Many staff feel threatened into silence for fear of job security.”

The Bishop of Winchester’s office confirmed last week that the Bishop had received Mr Ogita’s letter and would be responding. His chaplain said that, as with all correspondence, the response would be private.

The press has been largely reluctant to report hearsay, though the Hampshire Chronicle has kept abreast of developments. The Mail on Sunday, four weeks ago, said that Canon Trenier had been “accused of a dictatorial management style”. A report in Private Eye two weeks ago spoke of a “festering” conflict with lay clerks over payment rights and the Precentor’s refusal to follow Musicians’ Union guidance.

In a YouTube video looking forward to key summer musical events, Dean Ogle addressed concerns about the future of choral music at Winchester, giving the assurance: “The music of worship is always at the heart of the Cathedral. It’s part of our daily rhythm.”

She continued: “I recognise that with some significant staff changes at this time, there is some anxiety among some people about the future direction of music at Winchester Cathedral. I want to say, really clearly, as Dean, that choral music is and will continue to be at the heart of all that we do. It is precious.”

The chair of the Winchester Cathedral Old Choristers Association, Edward Bagnall, in a letter to the Hampshire Chronicle published on 6 June, expressed his “deep concern” about the departure of Andrew Lumsden, writing: “We find it difficult to accept that he is leaving voluntarily.”

Mr Bagnall also mentioned the decline in the number of lay clerks. His letter asked whether the Cathedral had used non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) with staff in the past six months. Their use has been called “unacceptable” by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has previously said that they should be banned (News, 23 April 2021). Mr Lumsden has been silent about the reason for his departure.

A series of meetings was held last week with the boys’ and girls’ choirs, and with the lay clerks. The nature and outcome of these has not been reported, but a full complement of boy and girl choristers is confirmed to have signed up for September.

The Church Times asked to speak to Canon Trenier this week. Instead, Winchester Cathedral sent a statement to the Church Times on Tuesday. It said that it was continuing to invest in the development of the choirs over the next 12 months. “The Chapter is already committed to some practical steps in terms of investment and resourcing, to answer some of the concerns, with a focus on building a positive future for choral music at Winchester Cathedral,” a statement said.

“Investment in music at the Cathedral will rise to as much as £850,000 this year — a 36-per-cent increase since 2019/20 (before Covid) — with the bulk of the budget increase invested in the main cathedral choir.”

The cathedral has pledged to fill all vacant posts as soon as possible, though “not at the expense of rigour and excellence”.

A recruitment process will now begin for a permanent Director of Music, a second sub-organist, and all vacant lay clerk posts, to bring up the full complement of 12 adult singers. Consultation with the current lay clerks on the terms surrounding their contributions to choral excellence will be finalised by 1 July. The cathedral statement said: “This investment is on top of recently enhanced bursaries, training, music, and activities for the girl choristers.”

On Tuesday, Dean Ogle said: “The great Anglican choral tradition is fundamental to our worship. We want that tradition to flourish, to grow in scale, and to be the means of engaging and reaching more people.”

She spoke of appointing a youth choir director and expanding the cathedral’s schools outreach programme, Cathedral Crescendo.

As for the allegations of bullying and mismanagement, the cathedral statement said: “We want people to know we’re listening to the concerns expressed around the management of cathedral music, including concerns about the culture. We are actively working on addressing these, and will communicate more in the near future.”

Mr Lumsden, who has at Winchester for 22 years, will leave on 31 July. He gave his last organ recital on Sunday afternoon. His final events are to include the Southern Cathedrals Festival.

His interim successor is Andrew Lucas, who retires as Master of the Music at St Albans Cathedral this summer. He has been in post since 1998, during which time the cathedral choir has maintained its reputation, including through recordings and regular radio and television broadcasts.

Dean Ogle described him as “ideally suited to the role . . . His work founding and working with a range of choirs, including a youth choir and the St Albans Bach Choir, indicate his commitment to sharing choral music more widely.

“We are fortunate that, at this stage in his career, Andrew has made himself available to us. We look forward to his steady and experienced hand guiding us in this time of change, and to welcoming him warmly into the Winchester Cathedral community.”

Mr Lucas, she said, would also “help build strong bonds with the adult musicians, our chorister parents and their families”.

On Thursday, Winchester Cathedral responded to the announcement of the Bishop’s review. A statement said: “We are committed to fully engaging in the process, which will be conducted for the Bishop by an independent third party.

“We appreciate the Bishop’s support and share a desire to quickly understand and address any concerns related to our culture, management, or governance — particularly in light of the recent concerns around the management of the much-loved choral tradition. We recognise that trust in the Cathedral’s leadership is essential for a healthy and flourishing church and see a review as an opportunity to work towards that end goal.”

The statement concluded by thanking Mr Byford for his service.

Mr Byford confirmed his resignation in a statement to the Hampshire Chronicle on Wednesday. He described his decision “as a matter of both deep reluctance and deep disappointment”.

He continued: “Unfortunately, and with great sadness, I have come to the conclusion that it is in the best interests of the Cathedral, myself and associated relationships within Chapter, that I take this course of action.

“I will not be making any further comment at this time and I would be grateful if this can be respected at such a challenging period both for the Cathedral and myself.”

This article was updated on Friday 21 June to include further statements from the cathedral and Mark Byford

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