My name is Joe Hawes, and since 2018 I have been Dean of St Edmundsbury.
The role is twofold: first to lead the life and work of Suffolk’s Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds, and second as senior priest in the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich to share with the bishops in leadership across Suffolk.
In practice this means, at the cathedral, chairing the Cathedral Chapter which provides strategic direction and focus and the Management team which delivers the operational day to day running of the cathedral. That sounds slightly dry doesn’t it?
Well: St Edmundsbury cathedral stands on the site of the ancient abbey of St Edmund, founded a thousand years ago by King Canute to live a community life of monks dedicated to the rule of St Benedict.
Today the community is still founded on those principles: worship, hospitality and stability. The round of daily worship is at the heart of everything we do. The cathedral hosts at least three services every day and four on Sundays. A hundred thousand visitors and pilgrims come through our doors every year, including thousands of children from schools and parishes across the county. Our musical life is incredibly important as well. We have four choirs who share in leading the seven choral services a week.
Providing leadership in the cathedral means, for me, always taking us back to our first principles; our worship, mission, pastoral care, hospitality and lifelong learning, and enabling my colleagues and our fantastically committed staff and volunteers to be and offer the very best we can in the service of God, as we live out the saving work of Christ.
I love my work as senior priest in the diocese. It involves visiting parishes to preach or preside once a month, as well as meetings of Deanery Synods, events in the county and working with the civic, religious and community life across our county.
The recent months have been uniquely challenging for everyone. Isolation, bereavement, fear and anxiety has affected the population of Suffolk even if the rates of infection and mortality have not been as high here as in other parts of the country. The devastating effects of lockdown on retail, agriculture, education, as well as the hidden effects of abuse and relationship breakdown will take months, even years to work through.
St Edmundsbury Cathedral is committed to be agile and creative in meeting the increased needs of our county, emotional, spiritual, practical. We are already cooking and delivering ready-meals for foodbanks and rough sleepers in Bury, building up networks of pastoral care and doing what we perhaps do best: accompanying the grieving and broken on their journey with attention and hope.
We are determined to be open, inclusive, generous, compassionate and hopeful in our response to our county. Our cathedral is a gathering place where people can find a spiritual home, heal suffering and magnify joy. A pandemic will not defeat that.