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Dean’s Report to the Annual Meeting 2014

This time last year I was just beginning my sabbatical. So can I start by thanking the Sub Dean for presenting my report last year.

Visitors and Events

It has been a good year for visitors and for new initiatives that have brought in new visitors. This has also helped make it a good year financially – in fact the best for a very long time, as we will hear later. The Magna Carta exhibition was excellent. It was a very good and interesting exhibition in itself. It explained the connection between the Abbey and the origins of Magna Carta, which I think were not very widely known, even here. And it brought in an extra 16,000 during August, many of them new to the cathedral, which increased revenue very nicely, especially through the shop and café and donations for candles.

The staging of Henry VI at the west end by the Globe Theatre Company was also a great success. I have described in the Annual Review what the Cathedral felt like one sunny Sunday in August when the Magna Carta exhibition and the play were going on, and at the same time the usual round of Sunday services, guided tours, people coming to pray, the choir practising, people just sitting and staring  – all that was happening as well. There was a huge variety of very happy activity going on around a still centre, and it seemed to me a kind of vision of the place at its best.

Last year’s Pilgrimage was different. We changed the route and went from St Peter’s through the Market, and though the weather was not particularly kind everyone agreed it was a good change and the numbers remained very strong. More importantly the fact of going down St Peter’s St makes a much bigger impact on the ordinary population, and in time that is bound to reap benefits and draw more people in. Last year the preachers were the Bishop of Salisbury and Fr Timothy Radcliffe. This year we are welcoming Katherine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States, and Jon Bell, the leader of the Iona Community. Can I ask you all to do your personal best to advertise the Pilgrimage? Take some of the cards and fliers and posters that are available and encourage people to come. It is such a fantastic experience, and so many people have no idea what a great thing they are missing. So please do your bit.

Something else that was new was the St Alban’s Fashion Show in the nave. It was good to see the place crowded with all sorts of people who do not usually come. Apart from a little problem with the drains it was another very successful event, and we hope to be repeating the experience (apart from the drains) later this year.

The other big visitor innovation was the Christmas Market. This is essentially the City Council’s initiative. It is reckoned to take four years to become established, and this year it certainly wouldn’t have been very profitable for the Council. It was however profitable for us, because again it helped bring in people to the building and the café. This year it will probably grow to extend along the North Churchyard. Ultimately we hope it will reach as far as the west end, with the possibility of an ice rink and other attractions, but that is for the future.

Along the way there are also smaller events and exhibitions which all help to bring in publicity and new audiences. Hayley and the kitchen staff have been beavering away to sort out the Alban bun publicity and sales again; and a couple of weeks ago we had the naming of a train ‘The City of St Albans’ on Blackfriars station, with another excellent plug for the Cathedral. (Best of all I have now got an invitation to go and drive the thing, which I am very much looking forward to.)

Alban, Britain’s First Saint

A lot of people have been working very hard to raise our profile and increase visitor numbers within our present potential. But we have long known that what we really need is enough investment to enable us to go up a gear in our presentation of the Abbey and our visitor welcome. Now at last we have that investment in the shape of an HLF grant. The grant is initially for £390,000, which will enable us to appoint the architect and other advisers we need to finalise our plans over the next two years, and then after the planning period we re-apply for a further £4 million or so to actually do it. The comfort is that once you’ve got the initial planning grant you’re 90 per cent likely to get the rest of the grant to complete. So this is going to happen.

The plan will enable us to do a number of things. Just to remind you - there will be a new entrance building on Sumpter Yard, containing a welcome area, the shop and the start of an orientation scheme to get visitors round the building. We envisage that the welcome area will open up into the Abbots Kitchen on the left. The Slype area will be redesigned, and there will be new toilet facilities in what is now the closed part of the shop. The Education Centre will move out of the Blundell Room into the Chapter House, and the mezzanine floor in the present library will be extended and the present offices moved out so that the total space can accommodate all the operations of the Education Centre, Adult Study Centre and Library. Inside the Cathedral the Amphibalus shrine will be reconstructed, I hope in its original form, and re-sited in the Four Tapers Chapel. The Exhibition Area will be totally redesigned with modern, interactive exhibits, including a recreation of the medieval scriptorium. There will be a whole new visitor layout throughout the Cathedral, with new installations, including laser projections of the wall paintings in their original form and colours.

That is the outline of the plan. The actual plans and designs will be firmed up over the next two years, and we will very shortly be interviewing for a project manager and architect.

At the same time of course we will have to raise the £3 million pounds which is our match funding - the Cathedral’s promised contribution to the Project. We already have an Appeal Council in place under Gerald Corbett. The three Trusts have agreed to make the Project their priority, and we have already appointed a fundraising adviser to work with the Council and the Development Office over this period. (And in that connection can I say how grateful we are to our Development Officers for all the work and expertise they have already put into this, not least in drawing up the successful application which got us the HLF money).

In preparation for the project we will also need to move all the administration offices from the Chapter House over to the Deanery. At the same time, and in order to get planning permission for the change of use, we may need to increase the amount of car parking around the Deanery and improve the access drive in from Sumpter Yard, probably demolishing the garages and re-landscaping the grounds. We hope to start that work on the car park and grounds well before the end of this year.

So we need to gird up our loins for a lot of change over the next five years or so. We are going to need to be careful that the changes do not alter the character of the place. We will not let it turn into a museum or Disneyland, and I hope that the repair of Amphibalus’ shrine and the illumination of wall paintings will actually enhance the spiritual impact of the Abbey and the sense of holy presence which make it unique. We will certainly be able to offer much better material facilities to visitors, and be much more effective in telling the story of Alban and all the rest of the Abbey’s story to a wider public.

It has been important that over the last few years the Abbey and the City Council have learned to work together much more closely than before, after quite a long history of standing apart. The fact that we were able to put in HLF bids that dovetail with each other is probably one of the reasons why both bids were successful. But not only the HLF project but many of the other events I have mentioned – Magna Carta, Christmas Market, the train naming – have all come out of co-operation with the Council. And this past year I specially want to pay tribute to the mayor, Annie Brewster, who has been a fantastically energetic and effective spokesman on behalf of the Cathedral as well as St Albans in general, and I am very pleased that she is keen to continue helping us in the future.

Fabric

Some of us went down recently to visit Rory Young’s workshop and see the statues of the seven martyrs which are now being sculpted in stone. During the summer the Nave Screen will need to be prepared for their arrival and there will be an experimental period while we try to get the colour right (because that is probably the most sensitive and contentious issue). Rory is convinced he will get everything finished by the end of the year. But whether we see them in place at the end of this year or early next year, we are starting to plan how they might be officially unveiled , as part of next year’s celebrations for  the 900th year of the Norman Abbey’s completion. We look forward to celebrating that and the statues together – hopefully with a royal visit.

Over the past year I hope you noticed the face lift to the walls of the nave. Actually it was not only the facelift – the more complicated and expensive stonework and plaster conservation on the west and south walls was largely invisible, but we were also able to limewash as part of the process and that has made the place look a lot cleaner. We are very grateful to the Garfield Weston Foundation and the Allchurches Trust for making that possible.

We have also received some funding from the Joint Cathedral Repair Fund and two smaller trusts to repair the north nave aisle roof. I hope this will enable us to go ahead this summer, ere the winter storms begin.

The crypt has been refurbished. We have a brand new kitchen, thanks to the generosity of Howdens Kitchens and Borras Construction. We have also re-painted, and are now extending the bench cupboard-seats. We, have also just installed an overhead projector and screen purchased by the Education Trust. Once the new bench cupboards are completed, we will clean the carpet. In all the crypt has been transformed, and is now a much pleasanter place to be.

You’ll have noticed that we are continuing to try and make all the parts of the Cathedral wheelchair-accessible. With grants from the Sylvia Adams Charitable Trust, the Childwick Trust and two private donations, we have installed better ramps in the north ambulatory aisle and  we have sound-proofed the one in the south ambulatory. We are also looking at options for permanent or mobile ramps to make it possible to go into the north transept both from the Quire and from the north ambulatory.

We have removed the old candle-holders from the choir-stalls in the quire, and you may have noticed there is also extra lighting at the clerestory level. This is in preparation for a bigger refurbishment which has been made possible by a legacy of John Birch, a former Music Trustee. We intend to lengthen the choir stalls by one bay so that all the choristers can be accommodated, and we want to supply new candleholders throughout the choir, with candles plus electric down-lighting, as in the nave choir stalls, plus hidden strip-lighting underneath the crenelated rim above the seats which will enhance the woodwork. When all that is in place we shall be able to remove the very ugly naked bulbs that hang over the quire at the moment.

Some of you have noticed that we are experimenting with gilding the halo on the figure of Christ on the High Altar screen, which someone has offered to pay for. What is there now is not permanent, it is a piece of gold-painted paper stuck on so that we can see the effect. Opinion is divided though I think it is fair to say the majority who have commented have not been keen. The idea was to leave it there until July 3rd when the next FAC meets so that we can get their view, but we shall discuss it again at the next Chapter.

Learning

This year we welcomed Clare Coombe as our new Adult Learning Officer with a brief to co-ordinate all our teaching activities in advance of integrating them into the new Chapter House space. We have  already made great advances, most visibly in the Library where we have opened up the space for meetings, added a projector and screen through a kind donation from the Fraternity of Friends, we have begun to rationalise update and digitise the library stock, and we have extended the opening hours to try and attract new users. We have also already considerably increased the number of courses and users offered by the Adult Study centre.

The Education Centre was yet again awarded a Sandford Prize for teaching excellence – the sixth year running. And to meet new needs it has enormously increased the intake of early years pupils from 80 to 1200, and is working hard to prepare new courses and trails for the introduction of the new national curriculum in September this year.

We have now also set up a new Congregational Learning Team to bring together different strands of congregational learning, with a view to co-ordinating all the different kinds of teaching and learning activity in the Cathedral into a ‘cradle to grave’ programme which can offer something to every age and stage of discipleship.

Music

For both the Cathedral Choir and the Abbey Girls’ Choir the highlight of the year was probably singing in the RPO’s Christmas Carol concert, conducted by John Rutter, at the Royal Albert Hall to two full houses numbering around 8000 people.  For the first time both choirs also took part in the IOF Three Choirs Concert. The Cathedral Choir made a very successful Italian tour in May, and the Abbey Girls Choir was invited to sing Mass at Westminster Cathedral in April. It is good to report that both choirs have experienced a surge in the number of applications to join, particularly from pupils at the Abbey Primary and at St Columba’s College.  

There has also been a steady increase of recruitment for the Parish Singers over the year. They and the Parish Juniors under Marie Price’s direction, and the parish Orchestra under Lucy Moriarty, enormously enhance worship at the parish Eucharist and we are extremely grateful for the time and skill that they very generously give us. The Abbey Singers continue to sing regularly at the Parish Eucharist, as well as Evensong in Holy Week and in Advent, and they also sang in a UK premiere performance of Telemann’s St Luke Passion in March.

We continue to hope that it will be possible to install a new section of the organ to support singing in the nave. Funding is largely in place, but official permission has yet to be secured.

We must also congratulate once again Tom Winpenny and Gemma, both indispensable pillars of music at the Cathedral, on their wedding in July.

Clergy; Youth and Children’s Work

Canon Tim Bull arrived gradually over last year between April and September, and is now fully on board. His proper job is being Director of Ministry in the Diocese, but we are very grateful for the way he’s put himself into the Cathedral as well and is happy to be so much part of the place.

Fr Austin Janes left us to be Team Vicar of Grovehill. We have so far not been able to find a replacement minor canon for young people. At the moment the Diocese is keen to increase the number of young curates, but cannot always find parishes with a house available for them, so we may well be asked to take on a curate for the first time, which would be interesting, but that would not be until next year. We will continue to look for extra help with youth and children’s work until then, but meanwhile we are very grateful indeed to Fr Paul Arbuthnot , to our excellent Root Group and to all the Youth and Children’s Team for stepping in to keep everything going.

In particular the Excite Group and Tea and Toasties group grew quite a lot in Fr Austin’s time and have stayed strong, and the young people’s confirmation group, which Fr Paul has taken over, is extraordinarily large, and I must say having visited them last week, almost frighteningly knowledgeable. One of them had just finished reading Dante (this is an eleven year old) and gave me a remarkable lecture about the interrelations of heaven, hell and judgment. Only in St Albans, I thought… But I really was impressed with all of them, and it is  a tribute no doubt to their schools and parents but also to our Sunday Club and everyone who gives so much time and energy to see that they are not just looked after but properly taught and shown what the Christian faith is about.

I should mention that we now have eight extra honorary canonries, located in the former family pews of the Dean and Bishop. Two of them have been filled already and four more go in on May 3rd. We made a change to the Constitution last year enabling the Bishop to appoint fixed term canons, including possibly a canon theologian whom we could get to teach or lecture, and ecumenical canons to strengthen our ecumenical links. So I hope they will become a reality soon.

Ecumenical Links

In the course of the past year we said goodbye to Almut Rüter, one of the Chaplains of the German Lutheran congregation, and have recently welcomed a new one, who is in fact Polish – Waldemar Radacz - and look forward to working with him. A group of delegates from St Albans attended the youth conference at Loreto in the summer, and the Cathedral choir visited our twin dioceses of Fano and Pesaro as part of their Italian tour. In December the Dean of Linköping came with a group from their cathedral to preach and to sign the renewal of our ecumenical partnership agreement for another five years; and a few weeks ago the Canon Chancellor, Stephen de Silva and I visited made a return visit and I preached at a similar ceremony over there. We also began to make arrangements for a visit of their youth choir to us next year. 

Personnel

In addition to some of the moves I have already mentioned there have been a lot of changes in personnel through the year. John Rowlands retired as Treasurer and Mel Fermor left as Assistant Treasurer, and in their place we have welcomed Tim Fleming and Claire Stephenson. Tom Britt and Dominic Holroyd finished their year as Roots, though of course Dominic has stayed on for a while working as verger until he starts training for ordination in the autumn. In their place we have Alice Jolly and Graham Kirk Spriggs (and very good they are). Cheryl Turner left us and has been replaced by Adam Msefti, who is doing very good things in the Refectory; and I am sorry to say we will soon be losing Sheila Abrahams who retires at the end of this month after many years of service here. Justin Miller moved on as Organ Scholar and we now have Michael Papadopoulos, who will be staying with us for a further year. We have welcomed Kerry Manning as our new Events Assistant, and in the cleaning Department we have welcomed Bill Holmes.

It has been good to welcome Bishop Stephen Venner who has moved to St Albans after retiring as Bishop of Dover, and who will shortly retire as Bishop for the Armed Forces and the Falkland Islands. We are particularly grateful to him for his preaching through this year’s Holy Week and Easter.

On the volunteer side, Liz Semple stepped down as Volunteers Coordinator a few months ago, and Ann Sawyer stops being Welcomers Coordinator at the end of this month. Liz Semple has so far proved to be literally impossible to follow, so if you know of a potential Volunteers Coordinator please let us know, and we are very grateful to Anita Phillips for taking over the Welcome job from Ann. I should also of course say that Liz is magnificently filling the chair of the Flower Festival Committee, which is probably the most dangerous job in the world, and we look forward to seeing the results of that huge undertaking in September.

Obituary

It has been a bad year for deaths. We have lost some really great servants of Christ and great friends of this Abbey who leave a very big gap and a real sense of loss: Frank Lane; Jean Clark, Bill Frost, John Earnshaw, Betty Webb, John Houghton, Betty Davies, Patience Purchas, Brenda Rowe, Bill Garrett, Geoff Dignum, Charles Lovejoy, Sarah Green, Mary Beerbohm, Gordon Myland, Richard Cooper, Miriam Slee, Michael De Ruyter Schat, David Bevan, Jean Pullinger, Lynette Warren, Richard Taylor, Elizabeth Gray, Clair Higgs, William Moores. I am always conscious how little justice you can do to a whole life when it comes to an end. Even in the best funeral service or eulogy imaginable, you cannot encompass a fraction of what these people mean, not just for those closest to them, but in the case of so many of the ones I have mentioned, for the whole Abbey. We cannot do justice to them, but we have a God who can, and in him they live. May they rest in peace and rise in glory.

Thanks

I cannot cover everything in this report. I have particularly tried to mention things which are not covered in the Annual Review, of which you all have a copy already; and I have left most of the congregational matters for the Sub Dean’s report. I am also conscious that I cannot thank everyone who ought to be thanked – because that is virtually everyone.

This place lives and grows because nearly everyone here gives to it sacrificially, especially in terms of time and energy. We could not survive without the hundreds of volunteers who keep us going, and I find their willingness to devote so much of their lives to the place amazing, and often moving. But the same is true of our paid staff too, who are very often over-stretched, and who constantly go the extra mile and more just to keep us on the road.

So I am painfully aware of not being able to say thank you enough to so many people who deserve more than just thanks for what they do. And if you ever wonder, I hope you will accept that what is done really is recognized not just by me and everyone else, but - immeasurably more importantly - by the one for whose sake we do it. Thank you all.

The Very Reverend Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans

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