The Cathedral’s annual meeting was scheduled for yesterday – but didn’t take place because of the current lockdown. So the Dean took the opportunity of a Coffee Zoom meeting after the morning service to share a few thoughts:

Welcome! This is an experiment – and we will need to work it out as we go along! If you have something you would like to contribute, if i can see you, please would you raise your hand and I can invite you to speak. What doesn’t work so well is if everyone tries to talk at once – just like in an ordinary gathering.

Not the annual meeting! I’m going to give an update on where we are, and offer the chance to raise questions. Today would have been our annual meeting. This isn’t in place of that, but I will want to say some of the same things we would usually say on those occasions. We will be having an annual meeting once we emerge from lockdown. In the meantime, all officers will continue in post.

Thank you! Thank you for the support and encouragement not only during the last year, but also for the last few weeks – the growth of community, and caring for one another, has been a real blessing of these times we are in. There has been a flowering of ministry and mission through phone calls and streamed services which has reached places we have not reached before, and that is immensely encouraging.

The last year: finance. We circulated the draft annual report before Easter. Please do note that this is not the final agreed version from the auditors, and there are a couple of tweaks needed. However, the meat of it is entirely correct and reliable – and you will see from that that we had secured our progress made over the previous two years and actually made a tiny profit on the year of about £10,000. That’s a really fantastic result and needs celebrating. It rebuilt our reserves to four months of operating expenditure – the rainy day fund. It’s just unfortunate tat we have hit the rainy day quite so soon! The strength of income has come through continued generous stewardship from the community – you – a little down on previous years, but we recognise the sad departure of a number of dear friends from the congregation, which of course has a significant impact. It’s also come through the continued strength of our arts and events programme, and I want to pay a huge credit to Asha, our arts and events manager, who has brought so much of that in and managed our outreach through events in a way that also supports our finances so effectively. And of course our tourism – donations from visitors, and booking tour groups, marvellously promoted by Carla our Tourism and Visits manager, who also does so much to support our social media presence. And fundraising: the Investors in Hope programme and business partners bring in around the same amount as stewardship, and Matt works very hard to maintain and develop that network and of course our new adopt a day programme (that’s still open – and thanks to Pam Goodwin for just taking a day!) I can’t run through everything that’s been done, but it has been an outstanding team effort, wonderfully supported by the admin team lead by Isabel Merrifield and those in finance ….

Most recentlyworshipDavid Stone’s creative abilities in digital media have enabled us to surf the wave of closing the building and continue to offer engagement through prayer and worship, and Kathryn of course has supported the pastoral care of the Cathedral. It’s been an amazing team effort.

What’s happening now? The cathedral of course, is closed. It’s being looked after by Dan, our head verger, and Andrew from the maintenance team. I passed the building on Thursday and Dan was polishing the floor. And services and finance continue. We now have over 30 staff on furlough, with only the bare minimum still working, from home. Those of us who are working are quite busy in phone call and zoom meetings, and the usual plethora of emails. Julie Bellamy, our Director of Finance, is working on a variety of financial models to help us navigate the coming months. At the moment, we are accumulating an ongoing debt of around £30-40,000 per month. We are not about to run out of cash to pay our staff and our bills, but there is going to be a long term impact which will cast a long shadow. We are really grateful for some generous donations which have come from within and beyond the community in recent weeks, and it would be wonderful to see those continue. For those of you fortunate enough to be able to consider increasing your stewardship, you can now join the Parish Giving Scheme over the phone (see here for details), and we would really encourage you to take that forward. Several of you have been kind enough to suggest that the Cathedral will feature in your will, in your legacy plans – and if you are able to anticipate in some degree whatever gift you might have been hoping to bequeath to us that could be really significant.

As you know, building our endowment features strongly in my ambitions for the next few years, and our immediate needs may have an impact on our longer terms plans – but relatively speaking, that’s not something to be overly concerned about. I am wanting to achieve at least £10m as an additional endowment, and the £250,000 or so that we may need to recover from the impact of the virus is a fairly small sum compared to the longer term aim, so should not distract us from it too much.

What will happen next? We don’t know! And this has become a time of waiting. We don’t know when the travel restrictions will be lifted, and when people will be able to come back into the Cathedral. We know people, including you of course, will want to come into the ruins or the new Cathedral as soon as they can: some research about what people will want to do as soon as they are allowed out suggests that 2% of people want to visit Coventry Cathedral – the same number as Buckingham palace!

City of Culture? We don’t know – we are waiting to find out. The building work at the Cathedral is on hold, but design work is continuing, including some exciting projects based around the lawns by the tower and the Chapel of unity, and up and down St Michael’s Avenue. All this is fully funded, so it will happen – we just don’t know exactly when! There is an important message following my address and any questions from Peter Weitzel on behalf of his family who have chosen to mark their long association with the Cathedral by making a significant contribution to the cost of the project.

So what’s going on? We’ve been thinking about some theology. Maybe we should say we have had seven years. like Joseph in Egypt, to prepare ourselves for this time, filling our barns to keep us going through the famine. I think it may be more useful to think about the Exile, when the children of Israel and to learn to sing the songs of Zion in a strange land – by the rivers of Babylon. We are having to learn new ways of maintaining our faith, and our community, which will strengthen us for the future, when we begin to learn how to live more normally again. Then I hope and pray we will maintain these close bonds, this dependancy on one another, and the generosity of Spirit that seems to have typified these times we’re in. As we know, resurrection took place for Jesus in a different place and to a different life from crucifixion: nothing will be quite the same after this – we will have all the challenges and opportunities of re-imagining what faith and Christian life looks like, which will be unsettling, but also full of wonder. There will be loss, of course – all of us, I know, will have been touched by loss of some sort over these past weeks – but there will also be the joy of walking again with one another and with Christ into whatever future he is calling us to.

John Witcombe
Dean of Coventry

Not the Annual Meeting…!

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