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Review proposes law change to improve governance of English Cathedrals

Posted on: January 18, 2018 12:46 PM
Lichfield Cathedral in Staffordshire: the Dean of Lichfield, Adrian Dorber, has welcomed the report of the Church of England’s Cathedrals Working Group, saying: “Our cathedrals have been here for hundreds of years, vibrant seats of mission, of learning, of heritage and of love, let’s ensure they are here for hundreds more.”
Photo Credit: David Iliff / Wikimedia

A major review of the governance of the 42 cathedrals in England has recommended a change in the law to improve their governance. The review was commissioned by the Church of England’s Archbishops’ Council following a recommendation by the Bishop of Peterborough, Donald Allister, after an official visitation to his cathedral after it got into financial difficulties in 2016. Following the visitation, Bishop Donald issued a charge to the cathedral, saying that the visitation “wasn’t about attributing blame” but “to help the Cathedral get things onto a better footing for the future.”

In his charge, Bishop Donald said: “I urge the Archbishops’ Council, the Church Commissioners, and the House of Bishops, to look at whether the current [1999] Cathedrals Measure is adequate, and to consider revising it. The Peterborough situation has convinced me that the high degree of independence currently enjoyed by Cathedrals poses serious risks to the reputation of the whole Church, and thus to our effectiveness in mission. A closer working relationship of Cathedrals with their Bishop and Diocese would be of benefit to all, both practically and spiritually.”

Following the visitation and charge, and discussions by the Church Commissioners and House of Bishops, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Justin Welby and John Sentamu, established a Cathedrals Working Group to carry out a review. It was chaired by the Bishop of Stepney, Adrian Newman, a former Dean of Rochester. In a foreword to the draft report, published today, he explains that his view of the role of cathedrals was changed when he was appointed to Rochester: “As a parish priest for 20 years I had always been something of a sceptic about cathedrals,” he wrote. “So, it was one of God’s little jokes when I was asked to become a dean.

“I quickly discovered, of course, just how wrong I had been. These amazing places incorporate everything the Church of England aspires to be in its best moments: congregations are growing and visitor numbers are remarkable; people on the edge of faith experience them as safe spaces to explore Christianity; they have become a focus for enquiry and activity in the public square, gathering places for communities at times of national crisis or celebration, and a crucial source of ‘bridging’ social capital at a time when darker forces threaten to fracture the social landscape.”

The Working Group has today published its 100-page draft report and opened a consultation on its proposals, which will remain open until 28 February. “After this all the responses will be collected and analysed,” the C of E said in a statement. “The Cathedrals Working Group will then meet to discuss what refinements and changes that might be made to the draft. The final version will then be submitted to the Archbishops’ Council in March, and once amended and approved by them will be published.”

The review recommends the retention of Chapter as the governing body of a cathedral, but with a clearer emphasis on its governance role. It says that the Dean should chair the chapter alongside an independent lay vice-chair nominated by the diocesan bishop. The rest of the membership – which should be a minimum of eight members and a maximum of 12 – should be the residentiary canons and a group of non-executive members appointed by the Chapter itself, with the approval of the diocesan bishop. The report recommends that at least two-thirds of the non-executive members would be laity.

If the recommendations are approved, there would be a separate management function provided by a senior executive team who will oversee day- to-day cathedral operations. It also recommends that each cathedral should have a finance, audit and risk committee, with an appropriately qualified independent chair, which would, ideally, operate separately to the cathedral’s finance committee.

The Working Group did not explore the ecclesiology of cathedrals, saying that this was outside their terms of reference. But they have recommended that the Church should “encourage and commission further work on the ecclesiology of cathedrals and their relation to bishop, cathedral, diocese and the National Church Institutions”.

Flickr -Michael -D-Beckwith _Peterborough -Cathedral _460x 307

The Cathedrals Working Group was established in response to an official episcopal visitation to Peterborough Cathedral which had got into financial difficulties.
Photo: Michael D Beckwith / Flickr

It also calls for closer integration between the cathedral’s safeguarding work and diocesan safeguarding teams, and for a change in the law so that cathedral Chapters are subject to the same statutory requirements with regards to Safeguarding as Parochial Church Councils and other church bodies.

It also recommends a dialogue with the Government about state funding for cathedrals.

“Cathedrals do not just belong to the Church, although it is the Church which runs them, bears most of the financial burden for them, staffs them and ensures their ministry of prayer, worship and mission,” the report says. “They do this for the wider public benefit. “Cathedrals do not just pray for and support the spiritual life of their communities. They are often also venues for public occasions, mark the various stages in the life of the community throughout the year and have an iconic local status, attracting tourism and businesses to the area.

“Given this importance in the secular sphere and civil society, we think it is time to re-visit the complex but important issue of whether there should be some kind of state funding for cathedrals. Their liabilities are very considerable, their running costs huge and yet the loss to the community were they to fail would be incalculable.”

Bishop Adrian Commented: “Cathedrals buck the trends of numerical decline, exert a growing influence in civil society, and demonstrate an effective way of engaging with contemporary culture. They are inspirational in their impact on our national life and on the lives of millions of worshippers and visitors each year.

“We hope that the recommendations in our report will encourage a much closer collaboration between cathedral and diocese, dean and bishop and point towards good practice in a cathedral’s wider relationships with the diocese and the national church. The mutuality of these relationships is vital.

“In proposing changes to governance structures and aspects of cathedral operations, we do not wish to inhibit the entrepreneurial flair that has characterised so much that is good about the world of cathedrals nor impose unnecessary red tape.

“However, we are committed to ensure that cathedrals do not get into situations which prevent them from thriving in their role as pioneers in mission and ministry.

“England’s cathedrals are an immense gift to Church and nation, and we hope that our report can help to form a better understanding of how this gift can be nurtured and protected, celebrated and safeguarded long in to the future.”

The Dean of Lichfield, Adrian Dorber, chairs the Association of English Cathedrals. Commenting on the report, he said: “cathedrals are the nation’s treasures – from protecting invaluable heritage such as Magna Carta and ancient shrines to supporting social enterprises helping the homeless and the vulnerable and offering inspirational daily worship to lift the spirits and providing a place for the nation to come to be healed at times of mourning or national crisis.

“Surely no-one would argue with a fresh look at the way we are run and financed, so we are excited about where this report may take us and look forward to the responses the consultation may bring and the final report.

“Our cathedrals have been here for hundreds of years, vibrant seats of mission, of learning, of heritage and of love, let’s ensure they are here for hundreds more.”

  • Click here to download and read the draft report (pdf)

  • Click here for details of the consultation (to 28 February 2018)