Winchester Cathedral Appeal Celebration

July 3, 2017

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Preached by the Very Revd James Atwell, Dean Emeritus of Winchester at Evensong on Sunday 2nd July 2017, the 3rd Sunday after Trinity.

One of the characters I remember from my childhood was an old country lady. She spent her teenage years, her worldly possessions in a wooden chest, ‘in service’, training as a maid. She could do everything from skin a rabbit or pluck a hen to place them steaming and ready to eat on the table. She was full of folk wisdom. Totally politically incorrect according to contemporary standards, she often repeated her advice to young men contemplating matrimony: ‘First find the cage, and then catch the bird.’ The young man needed to find a home before he proposed. It was a country woman’s logic. If you want something, however desperately, prepare for it first.

I think her logic would approve of today’s celebration of the completion of the £20.5m Appeal as the necessary preliminary to the Cathedral spending the money on completing the development project. Congratulations to Dame Mary and her Trustees, and to Annabelle Boyes and Chapter, who have had to be scrupulously careful not to commit to expenditure of money not already raised, however exciting the temptation to forge ahead. They have achieved the Herculean target of £20.5 million which will enable the total ambition of the development project to go ahead.

When the Appeal was launched, the former Diocesan Bishop said: ‘There is something for everyone’. The areas of development identified came out of extended analysis and reflection, including a series of seminars hosted by the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment (now rebranded by Prince Charles as The Prince’s Foundation for Building Communities). I have used the analogy of a three-legged stool on many fundraising occasions. There are three ‘legs’ to the development.

First of all, it has sought to be our generation’s contribution to caring for this great building and its ‘world heritage’ significance. The scaffolding in the Presbytery achieved three hits – a new lead roof externally, the renovation of the magnificent 16th century vault and the careful conservation of the mediaeval glass and windows at clerestory level.

The second leg has already been achieved: the transformation and development of the ailing facilities of the Education Centre. It has re-emerged as a Learning Centre, with additional leadership, to strengthen and extend the Cathedral’s outreach to the schools of our County and beyond. The many children’s visits open for them hitherto unexplored vistas of history, music, science and faith. The Centre, including the new Wessex Learning Centre, is also a strength for further developing adult education.

The third leg will be the amazing opportunity to open the eyes of visitors to the birth of our nation from the womb of Wessex and the spiritual centre of Saxon Winchester (in its time the biggest ecclesiastical centre north of the Alps). There will be three levels of exhibitions served by a lift. This will enable the display of the immaculately restored Winchester Bible and the sharing of the fruits of a careful investigation of the mortuary chests and their contents. All this promises to renew interest in the Cathedral as a pilgrimage and visitor destination.

Alongside those three legs of the stool are renewed sound and lighting and a renovated Song School with enhanced associated facilities.

The drive to raise the money to achieve these ambitious goals was launched at the Appeal Service, in the context of Evensong, on Sunday 23 September 2012 – just under five years ago. Public support was given to the Appeal at the service by two speakers. One was Councillor Ken Thornber, then leader of the County Council, who committed £1m to the Appeal on the grounds that Winchester Cathedral contributed to the ‘well-being’ of Hampshire. The financial support was to be for education and Cathedral fabric. The other speaker was Alan Titchmarsh who took a lead in encouraging wide support from the County community.

We have been fortunate that Councillor Roy Perry, the current leader of the County Council, has continued to give his direct personal backing and encouragement to the Appeal. It has been important that the County’s Cathedral has had the wholehearted backing of the County Council. Similarly, the support of the City Council has been valued as part of a special relationship.

I was taken aside by a businessman soon after the launch of the Appeal, who earnestly explained to me that, still in the aftermath of the banking crisis, it was just not the time to launch such a massive appeal. Of course, Dame Mary is not so easily put off. With her on our side there was magnificent support from Trusts, many of them household names, who have been very generous. There have been two expeditions to New York, and on both occasions Dame Mary persuaded Sothebys of New York to come up trumps with a gala dinner. The coming together of a volume of the Winchester Bible with the Morgan Leaf in the Metropolitan Museum was a remarkable event – but did not quite overshadow the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to New York and the Met at the very same time.

The Cathedral community and the wider community have played their part. The Friends came to the rescue of the mediaeval glass. Events have included Open Gardens, Painting Sales, Concerts, Call my Bluff and even an ‘It’s your Funeral’ (a chance to think about leaving our affairs in order and wishes clear) which proved remarkably popular! The Winchester Dialogues in the Guildhall brought another dimension. They have since been published, and if you buy a copy from the Cathedral Gift Shop all the proceeds go to the Appeal. The Ball at the Grange brought a touch of glamour. The Cathedral building came to its own rescue with a memorable Gala Dinner in the nave attended by our Patron, the Earl of Wessex.

The success of the Appeal was enormously boosted when the Heritage Lottery Fund adopted substantial elements of the project in July 2013. Such support does not happen without very careful and painstaking preparation, careful presentation of the case and steely determination. For that, the Cathedral champion was Annabelle Boyes. She managed the ‘day job’ of Receiver General alongside the ‘night job’ as HLF champion. However, Annabelle was not beyond calling in spiritual resources, when she had Canon Roly pray outside the HLF office, on the pavement, before the application was submitted by hand. Is that evidence of a miracle when it comes to canonisation, we ask ourselves? I know Annabelle would want me to pay tribute to the care and interest of HLF personnel, and the fact that the hard questions often asked have in many cases led to improvements in project delivery.

My appreciation to Dean Catherine for inviting me to preach at this service, as she sees through the continuing responsibility for the project success. She and I both realize that the success of the Appeal has been a huge team effort. Heartfelt thanks are due to all who have put their shoulder to the wheel. That is, to Dame Mary and the Trustees, numbered among them the Lord Lieutenant, for their advice and stamina, the Appeal Office, Cathedral staff including patient virgers and musicians under disruption, as well as generous Trusts, donors and volunteers. That list includes all of you here today. Thank you so very much.

The responsibility now swings to the Cathedral Chapter and Cathedral community. There has been an investment in the Cathedral of £20.5 million in this phase of activity. It represents confidence in the future. It represents new opportunity. The crop is sown. How will you reap it?

My concluding thoughts are simply to reflect on the vital significance of cathedrals for today. Thank God they are still a strength of the Church. I would want to say that cathedrals are above all about the generosity of God and the fact that the kingdom of God is bigger than all our little projects. Cathedrals are straightforwardly a part of the identity and story of our nation and its spiritual journey. They remain ‘sacred space’ and ‘common ground’. People do not get frisked for their spiritual credentials before entering a cathedral.  Cathedrals are here for everybody.

To put it theologically, there is a tension to Christian faith. On the one hand, we believe that God has revealed his love in ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ’. That revelation requires commitment and determination to live its message and pass on its identity. There are real fears abroad for the Church’s survival in an increasingly secular, and even post-secular, age. Those fears are setting much of the current national agenda. The emphasis is on challenge to those who belong to be more committed and more missional. Those words from our Second Lesson resonate with that rallying call:

Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. (Luke 6:22-3)

On the other hand, the one whom Christ reveals is the Creator. The world, not just the Church, belongs to God. The world, not just the Church, is favoured by God. It is sometimes expressed by saying that we live in a ‘graced world’. We live in a world of people infinitely loved by God, a world where beauty is waiting to break through, a world where the gracious love of God is evidenced, according to Our Lord, by the ubiquity of the blessings of sunshine and rain. That other element of the quotation from the Second Lesson is important as well:

Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. (Luke 6:37)

Cathedrals are vitally important in reminding the Church that we live in a ‘graced world’, and in inviting their secular communities, without reservation, to explore that world. To my mind, that vision has never been better captured than by our own Queen. Her words have acquired additional significance in the light of recent tragedies. Speaking in an unusually frank way at Lambeth Palace in her Diamond Jubilee year she said:

(The Church of England) certainly provides an identity and spiritual dimension for its own many adherents. But also, gently and assuredly, the Church of England has created an environment for other faith communities and indeed people of no faith to live freely. Woven into the fabric of this country, the Church has helped to build a better society – more and more in active co-operation for the common good with those of other faiths.[1]

In the name of Christ, and under God, it is to a ministry for the whole community to which this Cathedral Church is called.    Amen.


[1] Speech at Lambeth Palace on Wednesday 15 February 2012.