Sacred Space 2018 - Adrian Dorber

National Cathedrals Conference

On behalf of the Association of English Cathedrals I am writing to you again to encourage you to book your places on the first ever National Cathedrals Conference ‘Sacred Space: Common Ground’, to be held in Manchester from Monday 17 – Thursday 20 September 2018, before the ‘early bird’ rate of £395 per delegate ends on 31 March.  On behalf of the Association of English Cathedrals I am writing to you again to encourage you to book your places on the first ever National Cathedrals Conference ‘Sacred Space: Common Ground’, to be held in Manchester from Monday 17 – Thursday 20 September 2018, before the ‘early bird’ rate of £395 per delegate ends on 31 March.

I know that a number of cathedrals are waiting to hear about bursary places before they make their booking.  We will be letting you know in early March the extent to which your applications have been successful (see more information below).

Why is the Conference being held?

The idea of the conference has been gestating for a number of years.  Cathedrals have a lot to celebrate: ambitious development and repair programmes, huge popular affection, growing visitor numbers, experiments in mission and public engagement, the reliable accessibility of our buildings for personal prayer and exploration and the daily offering of beautiful and well-considered liturgy.

Yet in troubled times for all churches and cathedrals, and in the midst of a national crisis about Britain’s place in the world and our future political and cultural direction, we face a challenge.  How do we minister in a climate of decreasing religious affiliation?  How do we participate in God’s mission?  How do we order and organise our corporate lives and respond to the challenges of the Cathedrals Working Group report? How do we live and grow sustainably (environmentally and financially)?  How do we marry our tradition and inheritance with new challenges?  How do we develop our Chapters, volunteers, staff and organisational culture to be carriers of vision; wise discerners of the opportunities God is putting our way?  The conference cannot answer all those questions comprehensively, but it can help us see some signposts together.  That is its unique value.  We undertake this work not in departments or according to our role or office but together, in conversation with other cathedrals and with the input of very distinguished speakers and contributors.

Who is it for?

The idea is for every cathedral to send a delegation of clerical and senior lay staff, together with representatives from the cathedrals’ governance structures, e.g. lay members of Chapter and/or chairs of Cathedral Councils.  Space for between 5-12 members is guaranteed for each cathedral.  The decision about who attends is for each cathedral to determine.  Other cathedral network conferences will not be taking place as usual in 2018, giving the opportunity for those who would normally attend clergy network events (Deans, Precentors, Chancellors, Pastors etc.) and lay staff network conferences (CAFA, Cathedrals Plus, Cathedral Organists Association, Head Vergers etc.) to come together in Manchester.
Representatives from the National Church Institutions together with ecumenical representatives from the Catholic cathedrals and representatives from Anglican cathedrals in Wales, Scotland and Ireland will also be coming.

What are the aims?

  • To consider together the stated priorities of the Archbishops – prayer and spirituality, reconciliation and evangelism
  • To learn from our experience and best practice, celebrate achievements and new opportunities, and share how best to respond to current governance and management challenges
  • To reflect on stimulating and thoughtful messages brought from theology, politics, culture and the arts, the media, government, tourism and heritage
  • To consider the success cathedrals have enjoyed and the further contribution that can be made to Church and nation.

What are the expected outcomes?

  • Renewed confidence and awareness of our potential to hold the public’s imagination and interest
  • A greater ability to work with one another and a range of partners as we practise mission, public engagement and cultural life
  • A fresh appreciation of our spiritual treasures and how we share them with a diverse public
  • Considered responses to the Cathedral Working Group’s recommendations
  • A shared understanding of our strengths and weaknesses.

What’s the programme?

We have been working on the programme in response to comments.  On the second day we are offering three different sets of options throughout.  Some are more practically orientated, and others will challenge you to think beyond the confines of your role.  The conference is meant to be a development opportunity for all of us, enabling us to see the bigger picture and attend to practical issues and problems.  The conference will be facilitated by Eve Poole, who currently teaches leadership and ethics at Ashridge Business School.  She will be suggesting processes for discussion:  how we share our learning and return to our cathedrals with an agreed set of actions to implement.  We will also have some clearer ideas to share in our teams and communities.

We are asking every cathedral delegation to spread itself across all the workshops and keynote speeches;  keep a ‘learning log’ and plan how it will access and participate in the conference,           before arriving in Manchester.  We ask all delegates to stay throughout the conference.

You will find the revised programme attached.  We are still finalising some details, but the main conference speakers have confirmed.  The workshop programme on the evening of the second day presents an additional opportunity to consider some of the main conference themes and to look at a range of questions we don’t normally have the time to engage with.

The Conference liturgies will be prepared by Peter Moger of York and Marcia Wall of Manchester.  (Imagination and excellence are therefore assured!)

The main conference venue will be Manchester Cathedral and we will be staying in comfortable modern hotels within easy walking distance of the Cathedral.  There will be a civic reception and a gala dinner.  Dress for the conference is casual and for the dinner lounge suits/ business wear.  We hope to have a VIP guest for the gala dinner and to enjoy some wit and entertainment before and after dinner.

The various cathedral networks will be meeting on the morning of the third day, Wednesday, to discuss their own specific business.  Each Cathedral delegation will meet on the Thursday morning to consider what learning it recommends putting into action back at home.

Sponsors, suppliers and service-providers will be mounting a ‘trade fair’. There is a unique set of opportunities on Wednesday afternoon to tour many of the attractions and places of interest for which Manchester is famous.  (For the high-minded this is contextual study, for the more light-hearted this is a chance to be refreshingly diverted.)

How to book

Please go to  If bookings are made before 31 March 2018, all delegates will be entitled to an ‘early bird’ rate.  After that, the conference fee will rise.


The Allchurches Trust has very generously given a grant to the AEC so that bursaries can be given to those cathedrals in the most pressing financial need.  This will enable up to five additional delegates to be sent by these cathedrals.  Cathedrals have been contacted and sent an application form.  Forms should be returned to Sarah King by Wednesday 28 February.  Those applying will be told the outcome in early March, in good time to make a booking for their entire delegations.

With warm greetings and continued hopes for a successful conference.

National Cathedrals Conference Invitation.pdf