Honour and a Privilege – Adrian Reflects

09th June 2022

It’s been an honour and a privilege – Adrian reflects on his seven years as Chair of the Association of English Cathedrals

Adrian cites the report from the Christian think tank Theos, Spiritual Capital published in 2012, as a milestone for cathedrals. It provided evidence that 20 percent of all English adults visit a cathedral; that cathedrals were not peripheral to people’s lives, that their impact extended far beyond their role as tourist destinations, and that they were accessible.

He said:

“We were most pleased with Spiritual Capital – it showed cathedrals’ convening power and how we were well regarded by the public, not only to hold difficult things like lament and bereavement but how we might be an honest voice, a place of discovery in a rather bewildering world.

“There had been economic and social impact reports before, but what none of us had done was gone out and surveyed people’s experiences of cathedrals, how cathedrals responded to the unique mission opportunities by being these big centres of spirituality, worship, and mission, how cathedrals held the nation’s story and how accessible they were to those of faith, no faith and those who are simply curious.

“And it did provide us with an evidential base to say to Government and Church, please take this seriously, and it gave us momentum to move forward,’ he added.

It was always Adrian’s ambition to bring the cathedrals together to learn and spend time with one another, build up networks and trust, and face up to tricky questions like governance, finance, regulation, the new Cathedrals Measure and what is the context of nation and church. He did this by initiating the National Cathedrals Conferences. The first one Sacred Space Common Ground, was held in Manchester in 2018 and the second one, Different Country Different Churchin Newcastle last month.

“They were a good and honest attempt to give cathedral chapters and staff a real opportunity to be together and see our way through being a cathedral to serve Church and nation,’ he said.

Jo Kelly-Moore, the Dean of St Albans, is its new chair of the Association of English Cathedrals. Read more here.

Last month’s conference explored racial, social and climate justice and how cathedrals could speak into those narratives.  It opened with a keynote speech by the former Prime Minister, Sir John Major KG, and saw over 50 cathedrals and some major churches from England, Wales, Scotland and beyond, represented.

And while Adrian points to the Cathedrals Conferences as one of the high points of his time with the AEC, he is in no doubt that the pandemic has been the lowest moment in his tenure, if not, the lowest point in his 42 years of ministry.

“Cathedral lockdown was perceived by some as a withdrawal of ministry at a time when it was most needed.  We were obeying the law by shutting our doors, but it was a deep sadness.

“There was a man wandering round and round Lichfield cathedral for a whole week during the first lockdown just shouting the word betrayal.

“That hurt,’ he added.

 “The pandemic stopped us in our tracks, it has made us a lot weaker financially and from a human resource point of view. There are many amongst our friends and supporters who are not coming back to church, some because they think it’s too risky, and others because they’ve used the last two years to rethink their lives and bow out really.

“We’re struggling with the financial pressures, the church, like every household in England, is struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.

“Cathedrals are fabulously expensive places to run, the choral tradition is very expensive, yet, unless we can share these cultural and spiritual treasures broadly and encourage wide participation, we are not doing our job well and not being as good disciples as we might be.

“We’ve had success with the comms project, getting our story out there, we’ve had success as a lobby group, we’ve made the best of the Cathedrals Measure to be better run and well-governed, and we’ve been banging the drum for better public funding.

“My prayer is that the more we are outward facing and meet the needs of those who visit us and those who turn to us and the more we are seen to be edgy and prophetic, the more we have a good story to tell; a visible, actively Christian story.”

The Very Revd Adrian Dorber is the Dean of Lichfield