"Music is an international language," said the new Dean of Canterbury at a press conference in the precincts on February 16, at the hour 10 Downing Street announced that the Very Revd Robert Andrew Willis had been appointed the new Dean of Canterbury by HM the Queen. The new dean, 53, told of his recent pastoral visit to the Anglican Church of Tanzania as well as his love and appreciation of music of all styles that were offered "with integrity".
The new dean comes from Hereford Cathedral, one of the Three Choirs Festival cathedrals, a festival renowned in the Anglican Communion, drawing hundreds of musicians to England each year. Hereford also maintains the ancient Boy Bishop ceremony for St Nicholas Day, and the choir has made many recordings.
Dean Willis is expected to be installed in his new post as Dean in the Cathedral mid-year by the Archbishop George Carey, assisted by the Vice Dean, Canon Michael Chandler. Dean Willis is highly experienced in cathedral matters and has been the Chairman of the Deans' and Provosts' Conference since 1999. He has also served on the Cathedrals' Fabric Commission and the Church of England's Liturgical Commission.
Dean Willis studied at Warwick and Oxford Universities and was ordained Deacon in 1972, becoming a Priest the following year. He was a curate at St Chad's Church in Shrewsbury (1972-75), Vicar Choral at Salisbury Cathedral (1975-78), Team Rector at Tisbury (1978-87) and Chaplain at Cranbourne Chase School (1978-92). In 1987 he became Vicar of Sherborne and a Prebendary of Salisbury Cathedral the following year. He was made Rural Dean of Sherborne in 1991. In 1992 he was appointed Dean of Hereford, a post which he has held whilst also serving as Priest-in-Charge of St John's Church in Hereford. He has been a member of the General Synod of the Church of England for 14 years.
He is an accomplished pianist and a lover of opera. He has also written hymns, including "The Kingdom is upon you" and "Let us light a candle". Dean Willis is a keen tennis player and traveller. He was a strong advocate for the Salisbury-Sudan Diocesan link and has played a leading role in promoting links between the Hereford Diocese and four dioceses in Tanzania. Indeed, he arrived back from Tanzania only a day or so ago. He answered questions readily on his recent visit with great enthusiasm. He is also Sub-Dean of the Order of St John of Jerusalem.
"I do not know the South East of England very well and I am much looking forward to becoming more familiar with it" said the new Dean to a local radio station. The Bishop in Canterbury, the Rt. Rev Stephen Venner, commented, "I am delighted to hear of Robert's appointment. It is very good news for the Cathedral and this Diocese. The new Dean will bring a wealth of expertise - both in the ministry and mission of a cathedral and from a wide and long experience of church life and witness at home and abroad. On a personal, as well as a professional, level I am greatly looking forward to working with Robert."
Canon Michael Chandler, the Vice Dean of the Cathedral , said "I very much echo the Bishop's remarks and welcome the appointment of Robert Willis as the next Dean. He is an experienced pastor and has a broad experience of the ministry of cathedrals within the diocese and beyond. Everyone here is delighted with the announcement and will give him a warm welcome. We very much look forward to developing the mission and ministry of the Cathedral under his leadership."
Speaking of the appointment the Archbishop of Canterbury said in a press statement, "Robert Willis is an excellent and experienced Dean and his strong pastoral and teaching gifts will be great assets in this demanding role. He comes to the post at a time when the ministry of the Cathedral is growing, including with the establishment of the Canterbury Cathedral Education Centre. Robert's sense of the role of the Anglican Communion will be invaluable in the development of an internationally important place of Christian worship and witness as the Cathedral's ministry extends into its 15th century."
The former dean, the Very Revd John Simpson, retired late last year and the Revd Canon Peter Brett, the senior priest, retired in February. The Revd Canon Richard Marsh, on the Lambeth Palace staff, has recently been appointed residentiary canon at Canterbury.
(From a report by Canon Alan Duke, Bishop's Press and Media Link Officer, with ACNS editor contributing to the report.)