1. With numbers low in churches throughout the country, does religion still have a role to play in people’s lives today?
Yes, definitely: last Sunday night, for example, our ‘Darkness into Light’ service attracted a congregation of about 750, which is about 200 up on previous years. Actually the figures for church attendance in this country are mixed: although the overall figure is down, the patterns are varied – there is growth in many of the newer charismatic churches, and in the more evangelical wing of the Church of England. In fact, cathedrals across the country are reporting higher attendances, and in the Diocese of Liverpool as a whole, overall attendances were higher in 2011 than they had been in 2012. In any case, many people who do not wish to commit themselves to an institution like the Church of England still find the person of Jesus utterly compelling – his life, death and resurrection are as relevant now as they have ever been.
2. Is it more challenging to follow in the footsteps of Jesus now than ever before?
It’s hard to compare this generation with earlier times but it’s definitely not easy to be a follower of Jesus today. But then, the Lord always warned potential followers that they needed to be aware how costly it is to respond to his call. It’s hard to swim against the tide – to reject materialism and consumerism and to live by love is never an easy option.
3. Conflicts around the world seem to be presented as religiously significant. Can Christianity and Islam be in unison on any level?
Yes, they can. We have an issue globally at present, with fundamentalist religious minorities. Happily, Christian fundamentalists tend not to be terrorists – but they can still manifest the sort of militancy which leads to conflict. But the vast majority of Moslems, like the vast majority of Christians, are peace-loving, peace-keeping and peace-making.
4. With issues surrounding female Bishops and gay marriage, some say the Church of England is actually isolating more people than it’s attracting. Could that be the case?
Yes, I fear so. I’m afraid the missionary cost of the recent decision by Synod not to approve the proposed legislation to enable women to be consecrated as bishops may be considerable. And the missionary cost of our failure to oppose homophobia loudly and to champion the rights of the LGBT community to equality under the law, when most people in our society (and especially among the under 50s) see this as an important justice issue, is bound to make our task of securing a hearing for the gospel of Jesus more difficult.
5. Will the new Archbishop of Canterbury be expected to unite these opposing groups?
Probably, but it might be an unrealistic and unreasonable expectation. Unlike the Pope in the Roman Catholic Church, or the leaders of many independent evangelical churches, the Archbishop of Canterbury has little executive power and has to lead by influence. But Bishop Justin is a man with considerable leadership gifts and great experience in conflict resolution – so we have good grounds to be hopeful.
6. How do you see the Church of England changing in the future?
I sincerely expect the church of England to grow in the future. Like the new Archbishop, I’m utterly optimistic about this.
7. What does the role ‘Dean of Liverpool Cathedral’ entail?
In fact, my role is ‘Dean of Liverpool’. Of course, I’m based at the cathedral and a key part of my role is to ensure the careful governance of this awesome and astonishing building. But the job title reflects the fact that my responsibility is to the whole city and region – and to ensure that the cathedral never becomes the possession of any small group, but is always open and accessible to the widest possible community.
8. What will be your greatest challenge?
The key challenge is a leadership task: cathedrals are complex organisations and moving all the key stakeholders meaningfully in one single direction will be a test of my capacities. In some ways the task will be made harder by the testing economic climate we are now living in – but in some ways that might actually make things easier because some harsh realities come clearly into focus: there’s no room for complacency now. Our core task of proclaiming the good news about Jesus and serving our city, become unarguable.
9. What has surprised you so far about the city or its people?
I love the vibrancy and energy I’ve encountered in Liverpool. There’s a real resilience and ambition which has to do with having faced and overcome significant challenges in the past but which might also reflect the city’s status as a port: there’s an openness here to good ideas, even if they come from outside, which I’ve found really refreshing. Plus, of course, the warmth and friendliness of the welcome, which is famous.
10. Are you happy to share your story?
What do you need to know?! I grew up in a Christian home, but I can remember when my faith came alive and became personal to me. I was 13, and with my conversion came a strong sense, which has never wavered, of calling to ordained ministry. So I lived through my teens in the expectation that I would eventually train to be a vicar. But as I student in Durham, I studied history so as not to be typecast as a vicar-wannabe. That’s where I met my wife, Cathy. We married when I graduated and moved to Cambridge for my vicar-training. Since then I’ve worked as a curate on Teesside and as a vicar in Gateshead in the Durham Diocese – which is where I began to follow Newcastle United. For eight years I was the vicar of a town centre parish in Walsall, in the West Midlands, before I joined the staff of Lichfield Cathedral in 2006. I also spent three years in Oxford at one stage, studying for a doctorate in theology. I have two sons, now pretty much grown up: one is a student studying physics and university and the other is about to go out to Australia for six months as part of his gap year. I never thought I’d become a Dean, but the moment I saw the way this job was advertised, I sensed that this is where the Lord was calling me to be. So I’m really happy to be here and I’m looking forward to discovering what God has up his sleeve in the coming years. How’s that?