Our cathedrals are huge and glorious buildings, their history is the history of England and the English. Many of them pre-date the creation of the state. They often tower over the city and countryside that surrounds them. They are great landmarks, places of worship, focuses of pilgrimage, centres of learning, tourist destinations – and often huge economic burdens.
Many of our cathedrals started life as Catholic institutions, but the organisation that currently runs them, the Church of England, has recently published a draft report on their future. It has put this draft report out for consultation and published a series of questions it would like an answer to.
The report talks a great deal about governance and is, frankly, rather boring. It is perhaps unfortunate that there would seem to be two senior Labour politicians on the committee and no-one from any other political party. The Church of England needs to be there for everyone, not just those it feels comfortable with. The publication attracted no serious national media attention whatsoever. The publication of the report and the consultation brings into sharp focus, again, just how poor the Church’s leadership is in attracting the right kind of attention to it and stimulating public debate around it.
This cathedral report represents a huge opportunity to engage the nation on the future of one of the Church of England’s most important areas of work. Cathedrals are great centres of worship, and they are also huge and visible symbols of the Church’s presence in every part of the country.
These cathedrals are not the private possession of the Church of England and its bishops and deans, they belong – and they matter – to all of us. Everyone should be interested in what happens to them, how they are used, and how they work. Those responsible in the Church of England for this consultation need to work much harder and involving the country in this work. In 2014, at a time of tough and determined austerity, the then Chancellor, George Osborne, gave £20 million of taxpayers money to help restore the fabric of cathedrals. The Church will probably have to ask the government for more money to help. That alone is enough of a reason for it to shake off its complacency and reach out to hard pressed taxpayers – Christian or not.
This last week Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, pleaded with the Church of England to stop looking inwards and to focus more on the world around it. He is right, but too many of his senior colleagues regard questions as impertinence and suggestions on what might be done as impolite. This is unfortunate. This consultation is a great opportunity for the Archbishop and his team to reach out across England and to engage with the whole country.
The consultation can be found here