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Good Things Among the Challenges

A New Year message from The Very Revd Jonathan Greener, Dean of Exeter

It’s been a pretty constant refrain: “I won’t be sorry when this year comes to an end.”  Hardly surprising given the relentless restrictions imposed by Covid, rapidly rising fuel bills, shortage of stock in our supermarkets, and the death of the Duke of Edinburgh along with too many of our faithful and much loved congregations. And on top of all that, I’ve had to cope with turning 60 last March. As we begin a New Year, there’s a great deal we shall be glad to put behind us. Though we have managed to find some solace in laughter this year. This morning for instance I was amused by a Facebook post: “Having now lived through a plague, I understand why Renaissance paintings are full of fat naked people lying on couches.” Touché!

But regret is only part of the picture. If I consider life here at the Cathedral, we’ve had some spectacular highlights as well. A fantastic Christmas for instance, with the choir on top form. Our “Messiah” was universally acclaimed to be the best yet, and had the remarkable bonus of four top-notch soloists, all of them parents of choristers. Our Christmas Market delighted the traders, along with the many who visited if we are to judge by emails received. It has been so uplifting in recent months to welcome back goodly numbers for our services and concerts: a big advantage of our huge space is that we can accommodate pretty large audiences while still keeping people safe and healthy. The splendid South West Sculptors’ Density & Lightness exhibition in the summer helped ensure a stream of visitors to the Cathedral in what for many visitor attractions was a challengingly quiet season.

We were the first public visit in the country for Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, and the same was true for the Archbishop of Canterbury, when he came to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the martyrdom of Bishop John Patteson. Both occasions were full of joy for everyone present.

We launched our new Ten Fifty café, in our environmentally-friendly electric van, which has managed both to keep the crowds on the Cathedral Green fed and watered, and to turn a pretty profit for the Cathedral. One of the best groups of clients was the film crew for Nick Knowles’ Heritage Rescue; and the delicious coffee and cakes clearly spurred them on to produce a great programme telling the story of our restored stained glass windows and monuments, as well as the refurb of the Chapter House. That and the North Porch have been particularly cheering for me: both with an over-lengthy period of gestation, but the finished product has been well worth the wait.

Of course building works have taken up a lot of time and energy this year – not least the investigations and trials funded by our Round 1 National Lottery Heritage Fund Grant. The public consultation proved fruitful, and helped ensure that the activities we have planned really are scratching where our visitors and potential visitors itch. We were pleased in November to submit our Round 2 application, and hope that this will follow in the footsteps of a number of successful funding applications during the past 12 months. We’re already battering heaven with fervent prayer as we await the decision in March. In the meantime, we were very pleased to feature in the National Lottery Heritage Fund Christmas video.  And we were delighted and relieved in December to receive full planning permission for all the proposed works – from the Local Authority and from the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England.

Clearly this is no time to be self-satisfied or over-confident, and it has all been possible only thanks to the extraordinary efforts of our volunteers and staff. 2022 is already confronting us with new challenges: having booked a number of events in the early part of the year intended to attract new audiences, we’re wondering whether Omicron might thwart our carefully laid plans. But if 2021 is anything to go by, we know that in spite of the daily cares and challenges, plenty of good things can still happen. That’s certainly been true for us as a Cathedral over the past year, and I hope that it has been true for you at home as well. Our prayer is that 2022 will follow suit.

May I take this opportunity therefore of wishing you a happy, healthy and peaceful 2022.