The Dean's Advent message

Tuesday 1 December

Advent Sunday is the first day of the Church’s year and a year ago, we were certainly not alert to the possibility of being struck by a pandemic and all that that would entail.

Dear Friends

The Gospel reading from St Mark set for Advent Sunday includes the following injunction:

Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come

Advent Sunday is the first day of the Church’s year and a year ago, we were certainly not alert to the possibility of being struck by a pandemic and all that that would entail. Perhaps we should have been? Well we are certainly very aware now of the impact such an event can have although, despite almost nine months of lockdowns, social distancing, and debilitating uncertainty we are still a long from knowing just how the events of these past months will affect us in the long term. What is becoming clearer by the day is that we shall be living with the consequences, economically and socially for a very long time and that the impact on many institutions – including the Church will be significant.

For the Cathedral, the picture is mixed. Financially, thanks to the Government’s furlough scheme, some significant grants, and the temporary courts in the Visitor Centre and Knight’s Chamber, we are in a better position than we feared back in March. We have also learnt some new skills and enhanced our online presence – reaching out to many of our community who have been prevented from attending worship even when we re-opened, and gathering quite a following of people from far and wide. A highly detailed digital survey of the Cathedral’s fabric has also given us an extraordinary tool that we can use to develop virtual tours and a whole range of other opportunities that would not have been possible six months ago. We have shown ourselves to be spiritually resilient and staff and residents of the Precinct have played their part in supporting work with the homeless, baking cakes, making soup and contributing in other ways.

At the same time we have found it hard to keep in contact with some of our community; we have realised that our records aren’t as good as they could be; there are many who are weary with all the changes and constant uncertainty; some of our staff who have been furloughed have found it hard not to be with colleagues and felt fed up with being off-work. Others are exhausted with keeping the show on the road. Perhaps worst of all we have been unable to get together to support one another in the ways we usually would; to hug or even share the peace; we have not been able to sing hymns, and even carols are off the agenda this Christmas; and of course, most sadly, we have lost some dear friends along the way.

Possibly very little could have prepared us for all this and yet, for all the challenges, we are not abandoned nor should we be downcast. The word Advent means Coming – and Christ is coming – coming this Christmas as he always does in the cry of a child born for us all; coming at a time when he will return to renew all creation – a new heaven and a new earth - and indeed coming alongside us now (in reality a place he has never left). He is with us on the journey wherever it takes us, whether the going is smooth (when we sometimes forget he is there) or the going tough (when we wonder where he has gone, only to find he is carrying us all the while).

So, what does the coming year hold for us? The Archbishops have spoken of the emergence of a “simpler, humbler, bolder and more diverse church” in which success will be measured “by the number of feet we wash, not the numbers attending our services, though we hope by faith both will grow”. What that might mean for us we don’t know but perhaps this coming year will give us some pointers. Certainly, endless activity may not be so fruitful as doing fewer things better.

Of course, the Church faces many challenges and not just the impact of Covid. We have still much ground to make up with regard to safeguarding. General Synod has endorsed all the recommendations of the recent IICSA report and in the coming year we at the Cathedral will be audited for our safeguarding procedures. We are doing all we can to make ready for that, not to tick a box but because a child or a vulnerable adult, or indeed anyone should know that a Cathedral is a place where they will be protected and kept safe. All our staff and volunteers are now expected to do appropriate training as we seek to be the best we can be.

A further challenge is in our attitudes to issues around gender and sexuality. The Church has recently published Living in Faith and Love – an exploration of Christian teaching and learning about identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage. For some inside the Church this is apparently an issue on which to draw up battle plans – or an exit strategy. Sadly many, especially young people, now outside the church, have already left, seeing us as an institution that is homophobic and irredeemably irrelevant. This is a major missional challenge for the Church. Well, we are urged to use this book as a way to think more deeply about what it means to be human and to listen attentively and with humility to one another. As a Cathedral community, pledged to the principle of inclusivity, this is something we shall endeavour to do at some point in the coming year.

At the heart of it all: in our response to the pandemic, in our attitudes to difference, in our approach to the most vulnerable in our society; is our longing, as Christians, to shape our lives according to the way of Christ – and to put love at the centre of everything.

The poet Christina Rosetti is famous for the carol In the Bleak Midwinter. Slightly less well known is her poem Love came down at Christmas but perhaps as we look forward to a Christmas like no other, we might want to take to heart the final stanza of that particular piece:

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

May God bless you this Advent – and may Christ’s love shine in and through you, this Christmas and always.




Christopher Dalliston
Dean of Peterborough

Advent Sunday 2020

Photo: Paul Marriott


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