A message from the Dean

Thursday 2 April

As we enter this second week of lock down I wanted to say a few words about our common life as a Cathedral community and how we are managing this crisis, and how we hope to go forward from here.

It seems incredible that as 2020 dawned just three months ago we had no inkling of where we would be at the beginning of April. As news of China’s struggles to contain the coronavirus emerged we reacted with our usual sang froid – a sense that it would be a distant problem, or at worst an inconvenience (we might have to use that gel at Communion as we did years back when swine flu threatened). Slowly it began to dawn on us that in our global village we were not immune but still, no need to panic,  our health service is geared up to handle such problems and, after all, it’s only a kind of flu, all will be well. It was probably when the virus took hold in Italy, a pretty near neighbour and a country many of us know and love, that we suddenly began to sit up and take notice; notice the extreme measures to contain it (it could be like that here) and above all the mounting death toll.

All of a sudden this was not a distant problem for ‘them’ but an imminent crisis for us. All of sudden the panic buying began and we started to take seriously the need for precautions. Within days rather than weeks the landscape was changing and we moving to what seemed like a war footing, clustering round the radio to hear the Prime Minister’s latest bulletin. For almost all of us this was something we had never experienced in our lifetime.

Alongside that the economic pressure on business and commerce, the threat to people’s livelihoods and the danger, especially to those most vulnerable among us, leaves us facing an uncertain future notwithstanding the unprecedented interventions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Even for those with memories of rationing and the privations of war this was (and is) new. The things we might normally do to strengthen our hearts and comfort our fears: shared meals, the cinema or a show, all kinds of gathering and of course especially for us coming together in worship – all gone.

Even a little over a week ago we thought that we could keep our churches open, that we could with some care and attention to “social distancing” (one of the new phrases that was emerging) let people come to pray in ones or twos, that we would maintain a pattern of worship albeit just a few of us and let others watch from a distance. But no, even our churches were to close and not even the clergy are permitted to pray within them.

So our wonderful Cathedral remains closed at the heart of a city which is quiet, if not empty.

I’m struck as we approach Holy Week at the way the words of the Book of Lamentations, a text which is read particularly at this season, take on a whole new resonance in this context:

How lonely sits the city that once was full of people. How like a widow she has become. (Lam 1:1)

The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan (Lam 1:4)

We’re not just recalling or re-enacting experience of exile and isolation that gave rise to those words – we are living them afresh.

At this point we have no idea how long this period of exile from our normal lives will be. Will it be weeks, months, a year? No one quite knows.

Nevertheless we are working very hard to respond to the challenges we face and to ensure that whenever this is over we shall still be a community and our Cathedral will still be a place for all people.

On a practical level we are endeavouring to secure the jobs of our staff and are exploring how the government scheme to “furlough” employees can work for us. We think the majority of our team will be able to be part of the scheme – it will mean that their jobs will still be there for them when this is over. Clearly our finance and management team will need to hold the fort, ensure the bills are paid and deal with any wider issues as they emerge. Last week was an extraordinarily busy and demanding one for them as we tried to adapt the new circumstances.

Of course with our Cathedral closed and no revenue from events or donations our already delicate financial position and our steps towards recovery will be further stretched, but we are not alone in that and will do all we can to mitigate our losses.

On a pastoral level we are endeavouring to keep in touch as best we can with as many of you as we can, especially those who are isolated or vulnerable. Unfortunately what we have found, now that we are not seeing people week by week, is just how inadequate our database and contact lists are. Anxieties over GDPR regulations has meant that we haven’t got up to date information for everyone so please do let us know if you would like a call or conversation or need any help.

One of the redeeming features of the situation is that we have lots of ways of communicating these days and social media, WhatsApp groups and the like are helping to bind some of us together. If you need advice or would value being part of an extended network, again do say.

At a spiritual level the sense of exile is very great. Not being able to take Communion is particularly hard and I confess that not being able to know the close presence of Christ in the bread and wine, his Body and Blood, which has nourished me spiritually for most of my life is very hard indeed. There are ways of engaging in “spiritual communion” and we should do all we can to make time and space for prayer. There are many resources on line.

Lent is traditionally a time of fasting and deprivation. Perhaps most years we pay lip service to that pattern – this year it has a painful reality and, of course, with no sign that Easter will mark the end of our exile as it usually would. Nevertheless, in all of this we are not alone. Christ never abandons His own.

In the Old Testament the people of Israel endured for forty years in the wilderness as they journeyed towards the Promised Land. They found the going tough, made plenty of mistakes, sometimes lost trust in God but in and through it all, exasperated as he might have been, he never gave up on them.

In some ways with all the usual landmarks gone we have an opportunity to re-connect with God to invite him to be with us in this time of dispersal and isolation. A passage of Scripture that has always been very important to me is the conclusion to Chapter 8 of Paul’s letter to the Romans:

I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers not things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38,39)

In all that we are going through and in this time of separation one from another, may we know and reclaim our shared identity in Christ Jesus as beloved children of the one heavenly Father.

Every blessing

Chris Dalliston signature




Very Revd Chris Dalliston
Dean of Peterborough

2nd April 2020

Photo © Codename Media

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