From The Very Revd Jonathan Greener, Dean of Exeter

Welcome to Cathedral Life.

I don’t know about you, but we’re finding this lockdown harder than first time round. The weather doesn’t help. The novelty’s worn off. We’re both increasingly fractious at home. Exercising together remains a bit tricky, with Pamela’s still recovering foot – though you may have gathered neither of us is exactly a fitness-fiend. And we’re missing going out: for a picnic or a meal, to a museum, to the cinema – pretty much anywhere would do for a change. Like the animals at Paignton Zoo (where we’re enthusiastic Friends but can’t visit at present), we feel caged in. And we long for the chance to meet up with and entertain friends and family. Like most people, we’ve grown used to lives full of activity and variety, and all that’s been taken away.

Now of course we appreciate we’re really fortunate: there are two of us to take care of each other, our cage has plenty of space, and so far we’re both keeping well. But how to cope with all these days of sameness stretching into the foreseeable, or indeed unforeseeable, future?

It’s easy to bury ourselves in work and Zoom meetings. They’re not the same as the real thing, but nevertheless so much better than no interaction with others. And yet maybe the secret is not to be too busy. Not to over-engage in activity. But to learn to live with the isolation, the boredom, the lack of things to do. There was a great Indian mystic, who described the mind as a mighty tree filled with monkeys, all swinging from branch to branch in an incessant riot of chatter and movement. The opportunity this lockdown offers is not to drown out that noise with different noise, but the time and space to bring all this mobility and distraction to stillness and silence. To sit quietly in God’s presence, and learn to live with ourselves. As we learn from the Psalms (46:10): “Be still and know that I am God.” 

Another thing we learn from the Psalms (133:1): “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” An important verse this week especially, for this is the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Tragically, much of the story of the Christian Church is the story of division. Fragmentation started with the early Church Councils, when some church bodies couldn’t stomach the efforts to reach a common mind over doctrines and creeds. The biggest split between Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodox Churches came in 1054. The Protestant Reformation began in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg. Here in England, Henry VIII declared himself to be head of the Church of England with the Act of Supremacy in 1531, repressing both Lutheran reformers and those loyal to the pope.  

But alongside these major structural break-ups and many others besides, there have rumbled on through the ages countless internal tensions over matters of theology, morality and spirituality. We’re all very aware within the contemporary Church of England of lingering division over women’s ordination and human sexuality. Hence the Living in Love and Faith conversations currently being offered as an attempt to broker greater mutual understanding, forbearance and acceptance. I have to admit to a certain personal bewilderment about the way Christians, who fundamentally have much in common, can be so quick to write off their brothers and sisters because they disagree about these matters. Jesus prays that we may all be one as he and the Father are one. So how dare we give greater credence to our own human beliefs, however sincerely held, than to our call to obey Jesus’ prayer for the unity of his followers?

I find this all particularly sad because I’ve never believed it’s my job or that of my clergy colleagues to tell other people what to believe. We each have to determine and articulate our faith for ourself. Whenever I see a row of people kneeling at the altar rail, I rejoice that here are fifteen or twenty people, each with their own particular beliefs, but all seeking God’s grace and a living relationship with God. Can we not move towards rejoicing at our diversity within the Church rather than rejecting those who see things differently from us? 

It is in this hope that each year we have this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. To my mind, this starts as a week of repentance, seeking forgiveness for our divisions, and for putting our personal creeds above the unity of the Body of Christ. And it evolves into a week of thanksgiving, for the Church worldwide, for Christians in so many lands and denominations, all seeking in diverse ways to walk in the footsteps of Christ and to usher in the Kingdom of God.

Maybe my initial comments about seeking stillness before God and this Week of Prayer for Unity are in fact two sides of the same coin. Learning quietly to accept and love ourselves in all our frailty as children of God will help us perhaps put even our own firm convictions into perspective, and foster greater acceptance and love for those with whom we are thrown together as children of God and disciples of Christ. We may not be big fans of some of their ideas, but what we share in Christ and his prayer for unity matter so much more.

From the archives…

16th century almanac lining

This item is something of a rarity. It is a round leather-covered container, about 17cm in diameter, which was once used as a box to protect a wax seal hanging from a document. Dark brown and unassuming on the outside, the inside is much more interesting. It has been lined with pages from a 16th century almanac. 
Almanacs were, like newspapers today, printed in large numbers, but not usually expected to survive for long periods. They were reference tools, generally containing all sorts of information likely to be useful for the forthcoming year, such as the best dates for planting and harvesting crops, calendars of key dates, and weather predictions. If you look closely, you might be able to make out part of an ‘Anatomy of Man’, marked up with the organs and their astrological influences (Gemini and the lungs for example). 
The pages from the almanac have been pasted inside the box, away from heat and light and movement, so they have lasted in excellent condition since 1571. This is the only known surviving copy of this particular edition of ‘An almanack and prognostication made for... 1572..’ by Thomas Buckmaster.

Chorister Voice Trials 2021

Do you know a talented 7-9 year old child with a passion for singing? Applications are now invited for the life-changing opportunity to become a Chorister with Exeter Cathedral and Exeter Cathedral School! The Chorister Voice Trials will take place on 27 February.

Find out more
Recreating the colourful West Front of the Middle Ages

Catch up on the amazing developments of the Vista-AR augmented reality project.
A new video on YouTube showcases
various immersive attractions planned for Exeter Cathedral, including a recreation of the painted West Front, a Cathedral Roof plank-walking experience, and animated Minstrels’ Gallery!


Travelling on a different road

By Revd Phil Wales
If we look back a year or so, who among us could have predicted what would have happened during 2020? Of course, we are all hoping that 2021 will be a much better year. This hope isn't only for ourselves or those around us, but for the whole world.

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Keeping in touch

Our online activities will continue through lockdown, and we’d love to invite you to join in, to support one another, to learn together, and keep in touch.


Discover more with Cathedral News

If you want to know more about life at Exeter Cathedral, why not try Cathedral News, our monthly journal from the heart of the Exeter Cathedral Community? Free to download from our website.

See this month’s Cathedral News
Tenor (and former Chorister) David Webb takes on 500-mile challenge for charity

Tenor and former Exeter Cathedral Chorister David Webb is cycling over 500 miles before joining friends and colleagues to perform Schubert's Song Cycle Winterreise, to raise money for the charities MIND and Music Minds Matter. The performance is set to take place on 29 January at 1pm from The Wigmore Hall and will be live streamed at 
Photo: Leo Holden


Tune into our live streaming services 

Although we’ve suspended services in the Cathedral, we are continuing our online worship, available both live and on-demand on our Facebook page.

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Helm points the finger at us in climate action plan

Dieter Helm
Net Zero – How We Stop Causing Climate Change

For thirty years we have been trying and failing to reduce carbon emissions. The ability of the planet to absorb carbon continues to be degraded. We look to governments and international conferences, such as in Glasgow later this year, to set targets but we continue on track for more than two, if not three, degrees of warming this century. Why? 
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Please think about leaving a gift in your will. A simple letter to your solicitor saying that you would like to give to the Dean and Chapter of Exeter, Exeter Cathedral Music Foundation Trust (charity no. 297365), or The Friends of Exeter Cathedral (charity no. 207096), will be enormously helpful to the Cathedral in the future. If you would like to discuss your thoughts or join our Legacy Circle, please get in touch with Jill Taylor, Director of Development at Thank you.
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