From The Very Revd Jonathan Greener, Dean of Exeter

Pamela was hunting everywhere for her phone. She pretty much dismantled the little orange car, which is where she’d last seen it – but to no avail. We both tried calling it: it went straight to voicemail. I was about to redial one more time, though paused to answer a knock at the door. It was our friendly builder. He stretched out his hand: “This mobile keeps ringing in my pocket.”

It was truly astonishing: seeing the missing phone emerge from Bob’s anorak pocket. He’d been given it by a chum of his who works at the supermarket along the road, and noticed one of Bob’s texts pop up on Pamela’s screen. Since Pamela hadn’t been near the shops, she must have dropped it as she hauled herself out of the tiny car, and some kind passer-by picked it up and handed it in.

In biblical times the reappearing phone would have been deemed miraculous, whereas nowadays we more readily analyse a chain of events. It reminds me of a friend’s account of his time as a doctor in South Africa. Paul made all sorts of miracles happen. For instance, one of his patients could not speak properly: that little fold of skin under his tongue, his frenulum, was too tight, so he couldn’t articulate words. Quickly sorted with a pair of surgical scissors. You may remember St Mark’s Gospel telling us how Jesus healed a man who could hardly speak: “the string of his tongue was loosed.” Exactly what Paul had achieved with those scissors. What strikes me is that miracles continue to happen every day, even in the 21st century – many of them in the RD&E. 

While miracles can be more readily deconstructed in our scientific world, we rely as much as ever on ministering angels to make them happen. The passer-by who not only takes the trouble to pick up the phone, but is decent enough to hand it in at the supermarket. Paul who gives up a successful career as a surgeon in Liverpool to go to work in a missionary hospital in South Africa. Those who work with such dedication every day at the RD&E. The friend who gives us a call when we’re feeling a bit down, and raises our spirits and sense of purpose. Ministering angels come in all shapes and sizes, but are as vital today as the Good Samaritan was in his.

So what about you and me: what sort of ministering angel might we be? I am deeply attached to a challenge set out by Brother Roger, the founder of the Taizé Community in Burgundy: “It’s the job of any Christian to take that part of the Christian Gospel they understand and live it out.” The options are plentiful – whatever suits our temperament and lifestyle, and captures our imagination – as long as we do something. Perhaps in our prayer, we can use some words of the American priest, Fr Richard Rohr: “Help us to know what is ours to do.”

St Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth about the body of Christ: how everyone has a valued part to play. Many of you will have heard how my alarm clock let me down one morning and I woke up late for church. Running downstairs with no shoes on, I stubbed my little toe. The air was blue. For six weeks, I couldn’t kneel down, I couldn’t really walk properly. And until that fraught morning, I was hardly conscious I had a little toe. But all at once I understood what St Paul was writing about. Without my little toe playing its part, my whole body was below par. Without every one of us playing our part, the Christian community, and wider society as well, will fail to fulfil its potential.

Gratitude, then… For the daily miracles that are happening all around us; and for those angels who minister to us. And encouragement to each of us to go the extra mile. Indeed the one probably leads to the other. Recognising thankfully how much we benefit from the help of others might sharpen our resolve to do some good, and to make a difference – something we can all do in our own way, even during lockdown. Perhaps especially during lockdown, when so many people we know are feeling isolated and out of touch.

From the library…

Teeth, dentistry and the feast of St Apollonia

The feast of St Apollonia is on 9 February. Apollonia was a Christian martyr who died in 249. She refused to renounce her Christian faith, and one of her tortures was to have all her teeth knocked out. Apollonia is the patron of dentists, dental diseases, and toothache. In art she is often represented holding a tooth in a set of pincers, as she is on the screen to the Chapel of St Gabriel at Exeter Cathedral.
Keeping on the theme of teeth and dentistry, the Cathedral Library’s science and medical collections contain several books on related subjects. John Hurlock’s alarming-sounding ‘A practical treatise upon dentition: or, the breeding of teeth in children; wherein the causes of the acute symptoms arising in that dangerous period are enquired into, the remedies ... are examined ... and a right practice recommended ...; illustrated with proper cases and remarks’ (1742) is book about child mortality and teething. Charles Essig’s ‘Dental metallurgy: a manual for the use of dental students’ (1882), is one of the most modern books in the historic medical collections, and is heavily annotated, having clearly been used as a textbook. 
Perhaps the most significant book on the subject is John Hunter’s ‘The Natural History of the Human Teeth: explaining their structure, use, formation, growth, and diseases’ (1778), shown in the photo above. Hunter (1728-1793) was a Scottish surgeon and anatomist who trained primarily through a practical route in the dissecting theatres of London (including alongside his brother William, also a celebrated anatomist), as an army surgeon in France during the Seven Years War, and as a dental surgeon. The Treatise was his first major published scientific work. Criticised at the time for the sheer level of detail included, it has since been recognised as a turning point in the understanding of human teeth and of European dentistry.

A special opportunity for children with a love of music

Exeter Cathedral and Exeter Cathedral School are inviting applications from girls and boys who are currently in years three or four of school for a potentially life-changing opportunity to join the Choristers of Exeter Cathedral. Watch our short video and read more on the Exeter Cathedral website.

Find out more
Remarkable study of Exeter is the latest addition to Foyle’s cathedral series

Jonathan Foyle with Diane Walker
Exeter Cathedral: The Garden of Paradise

 This is the fifth and most recent book in Jonathan Foyle’s series of studies of English Cathedrals featuring Canterbury (the longest of the set at 208 pages), Lincoln, Lichfield, Peterborough and now, Exeter (128 pages). 

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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Foundational environmental work still going strong

Aldo Leopold
A Sand County Almanac

A classic book first published in 1949 and still going strong. A new edition in 2020 from Oxford University Press includes some wonderful sketches of the wildlife described. It is a work of outstanding literature and a foundational text in wildlife ecology and ethics. 

Canon James Mustard on Living in Love & Faith 

Watch Canon James Mustard’s sermon on Living in Love & Faith – part of Exeter Cathedral’s contribution to the Church of England discussion about sexuality and gender.

Watch the video

To be continued…

By Canon Mike Williams
Lectio Divina is a powerful way to engage with scripture. This week I joined others in reading Acts 13.44-14.7. This tells the story of Paul and Barnabas sharing the word of the Lord in Antioch and the Gentiles becoming believers. 


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.

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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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