Cathedrals Plus: Working Together: Sustainable Partnerships
January 17th, 18th and 19th 2024 held at Worcester Cathedral

This conference aimed to explore new approaches to developing fruitful partnerships between our members’ sacred spaces and other organisations, communities, and faiths.

There were 49 delegates in total, including the organizing team and Council, based at either the Premier Inn or the Travel Lodge. The start time was relatively late, to enable people to travel on the Wednesday morning. Check-in at the hotels was from 4pm, so this meant a delay for some, but luggage was stored securely until the evening. Cathedral volunteers supported the conference by offering guided tours, and by ‘manning’ the reception area throughout the three days. The organizing team (Daniel Parnell, Joanne Wilson, Sarah Page, Jackie Holderness) met on Tuesday afternoon, to put up signage, check workshop venues and set out the delegate welcome packs and lanyards. Delegates very generously supplied the contents for these bags and each one included a Pilgrim Passport.

The Worcester team and the interim Dean, Stephen Edwards made us all very welcome. They had ensured that the Old Palace and the Undercroft Learning Centre, plus several other breakout spaces were warm, comfortable and available to us for the conference.

Bishop John Inge opened the Conference with a profound and inspiring examination of the value and significance of our sacred spaces. Day One continued with interesting volunteer-led tours of the Cathedral, before we enjoyed a very powerful and moving dramatic performance of The Passion by a touring Christian drama group, the LAMPS collective (LAMPS is an acronym which stands for Love, Action, Music, Poetry and Stories).

The Cathedral kindly prepared a special order of service to celebrate the conference, at Thursday’s patronal evensong for St Wulfstan of Worcester. The catering team were helpful, meals were tasty and specific food preferences catered for very well. Thursday evening’s Gala dinner, which was generously subsidised by Ecclesiastical, was held in the old Chapter House and followed -for the energetic few- by exploring local hostelries!

Anthony Cane, Dean of Portsmouth and our incoming Chair, was able to be with us for the Wednesday but had to leave on the Thursday, so Jane Brooke, the outgoing Chair, chaired the Council meeting and then the AGM on his behalf. Minutes of the AGM can be downloaded here. The finances of the organization are in relatively good shape, but it is likely that we will have to raise the annual membership fee, if we are to support an annual conference, which traditionally runs at a loss.

Thanks were expressed to Jane Brooke for her excellent chairmanship over the last two years. Jane has ensured that Cathedrals Plus has been able to rise out of the post-pandemic ashes and we now have 43 members. We are still hoping that ALL the Cathedrals and Greater churches will eventually join us.

Thanks to Laura Arends, the Regional hubs were able to meet and set up connections and networks for each region. These hubs are very helpful to colleagues, especially those new to Cathedrals Plus. Diana Ives encouraged people to join the Whats App chatline and coordinated two inspiring Sharing Ideas sessions (one with an Education-focus and the other with a Visitor management focus) to which colleagues contributed practical and valuable examples of successful initiatives. Everyone’s contribution was greatly appreciated.

The Thursday and Friday workshops were also very successful.  Delegates were able to attend 2 out of 8 choices (see Conference Programme) and Cathedrals Plus is very grateful to all the workshop presenters who contributed so effectively to the event. Workshops included sessions by:

  • Phil Stephens and colleagues from Ely Cathedral who have developed successful outreach partnerships with schools;
  • Debbie Ducille of the Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF) who shared the ever-expanding ministry with older people through the BRF’s Anna Chaplaincy;
  • Jane Butler of the Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF) who focused on Messy Church goes Wild;
  • Sarah Moring, of God and the Big Bang, who outlined valuable STEM partnerships between science and faith;
  • Jo Wilson of Worcester who discussed County lines and the Clewer initiative;
  • Charlie Rowbotham and Sophie Staines who shared their work on contested history at St Paul’s Cathedral;
  • Steffan Engstrom of the Worcester Eco group; and
  • Alexis Paterson, Director of the Three Choirs Festival who explored the challenges faced by those in events management.

All our plenary speakers spoke powerfully on the theme of partnerships and community. Anthony Cane kindly opened the conference by explaining why he thought Cathedrals and greater churches are important. Canon Ivor Moody, from Chelmsford Cathedral, shared his fascinating experience of inter-faith partnerships and gave us much to think about. The celebrated artists, Jacqui Parkinson  and Peter Walker, have exhibited extensively in sacred spaces around the country. They both gave thought-provoking and moving PowerPoint presentations about their own artistic drive and vision.

Jacqui traced her work, from smaller embroidered pieces through the thread-like pathway of her career, to the large-scale pieces which are currently touring the UK. Each delegate was also given the colourful booklets that accompany her exhibitions. 

Peter helped us to reflect on the role of art, and what it is that defines a ‘work of art’. He reminded us of the power of the language of art and the importance of the viewer. His own immersive visual experiences, such as Remembrance, have reached thousands of people, including those who might never have entered a Cathedral or sacred space.

Throughout the three days, there was a positive ‘buzz’ amongst the delegates who were clearly delighted to be able to meet in person again, after the challenges of the pandemic. Sadly, several colleagues are no longer connected with Cathedrals Plus, but it was reassuring to meet newcomers -from Education and the Visitor departments -who will bring fresh vision and new ideas to what we do. It was good to note that the conference was also attended by several members of the clergy.

Another conference, for 2025, was proposed, with some potential themes, and two offers to host it have been received by Council who will decide by the end of February.

Watch this space and mark January 2025 in your diary!
Jackie Holderness, Secretary Cathedrals Plus

Cathedrals Plus Worcester Conference 2024 Feedback Summary.

% Excellent or Good
1.How well did the conference meet your expectations & needs?93%
2.Relevance to your work93%
3.Value and quality of the keynote presentations96%
4. ThursThursday workshops91%
4. FridayFriday workshops100%
5.Impact and value of the LAMPS dramatic performance83%
6.Cathedral tours89%
7.Optional trips83%
8.Pre-conference information and general admin96%

There were 29 feedback forms returned but some boxes were not completed.

Based upon the completed responses, the overall average mark out of 10 for the conference was 8.6.

What was of most benefit to you on this conference?
Nearly every response referred to Sharing Ideas, Networking and meeting colleagues in person. Many also said they were inspired by hearing about others’ challenges, and creativity in developing new projects/ideas. 

What might you do differently as a result of having attended?
Several answers stated seek new partnerships, connections with other organisations and charities, as well as connecting more regularly with colleagues in other cathedrals/churches for support and ideas – especially through the regional hubs.

What specific improvements to a residential conference would you suggest?
Most people commented on the rather packed programme and would favour a few more breaks and ‘down time’. Most also would have preferred to have time to check into their hotel earlier in the day but the hotels’ check-in was after 4pm.

Many also wanted more time to explore the host site independently and some even opted to skip one of the sessions to do this! 

Any themes that you would value in future conferences (be they online or residential)?
No two answers were the same here, so all the below are just individual responses.

  • Art in churches & cathedrals & using the cathedral building effectively
  • Story-telling
  • Working with volunteers
  • Income
  • Diversity, SEND and equality issues & provision
  • Topical global issues
  • More visitor experience as opposed to education focus

Conclusion: The overall feedback was extremely positive, with additional comments added to thank the organisers and everyone who donated bits for the ‘goodie bags’!


2 Responses

  1. Coming to Conference has always been the best part of my job! The opportunity to meet colleagues (now friends), catch up and share ideas is invaluable, and by far the best INSET for our rather unusual line of work. Thank you to the organising team, speakers, caterers and everyone involved in making the three days a success.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *