December Update

From the Provost:

By the time you read this I will have started my sabbatical prior to retirement.  Jane and I are very conscious of the love, support and encouragement we have received over past weeks as we prepare for the Cathedral party and service with heavy hearts and joyful thanks.  We are aware of all the work involved in organising what we know will be both poignant and very special. Time has flown since 1990 when Jane and I and our 3 young sons arrived in Lansdowne Crescent.  26 years later these young sons now have lovely wives and their own beautiful children, and Jane, who retires in June, and I look forward to the next stage in life’s journey.

As I look back over these years, none of what has been achieved would have been possible without the help of so many others: generations of fellow clergy, including the first female canon; office staff and vergers; inspiring musicians; sacristans and servers; faithful servants who have run the Sunday Groups, visited the housebound, made coffee, rang bells, delivered magazines, arranged flowers and gardens, stewarded services, concerts and events, walked with Christian Aid, worked with Palmerston Place Church, promoted One World, to name but just some of the vast number of groups and activities that flows from our Cathedral and sustains it.

You and the daily cycle of prayer and worship, which our open doors symbolise, have sustained me.  The opportunities and challenges of the last 26 years beyond the safety of the Cathedral have been substantial.  Law and justice loomed large: membership of the Parole Board was followed by 3 years as HM Inspector of Constabulary (during which time Dunblane happened) and then chairing the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission investigating miscarriages of justice (Lockerbie was one of our cases) and serving on the Cabinet Office’s security vetting appeals.  Health and medicine were never far away: 13 years on the General Medical Council, as well as chairing the Scottish MMR Expert Group and the UK government’s ethics committee on Pandemic Flu.  5 years’ involvement in armed forces’ pay meant visiting troops in Afghanistan, or being submerged in a ballistic submarine or shivering in the Falklands or roasting in the Gulf.  Secure in the prayerful support, I found these and other experiences continued to deepen my understanding of priesthood.  These 26 years exposed me to journeys, literal and metaphorical, which I could never have imagined, as I was installed as Provost in 1990 or made deacon in our cathedral in 1976.  The awards of a CBE in 2004 and honorary doctorates are gratifying, but much more so has been the privilege of journeying with you in times of joy, at weddings and baptisms for example, and with loved ones as they faced their final journey on this earth.

Advent is a time of new beginnings for us, for the Cathedral, for you.  Last Sunday’s baptisms offered an icon of Cathedral life which I will always treasure.  Around the font were a husband and wife, whom I had married, now holding their first born; a family from India, now working in Edinburgh, whose older daughter helps produce our Mothering Sunday and Harvest cards for the housebound and whose younger daughter was to be baptised; and an adult, standing there with her husband.

The team at the Cathedral, led by John McLuckie, is a strong team and a good team whom I have had the privilege to lead.  You and the Cathedral are in most safe and caring hands.

Jane joins me in thanking all of you from the bottom of our hearts for all that all of us have shared together these 26 years.  St Mary’s Cathedral has been and always will be a very special place in our lives.

November Update

This may be my penultimate column, and yet in many ways nothing really changes, as we strive to witness to God’s love in the beauty of holiness and in the holiness of beauty.  We say welcome to the new generation of choristers who received their surplices.  These choristers, Florence Gill, Brigitte Harrigan Lees, Clara Harrigan Lees and Alex Mackie, despite their young ages have demonstrated their commitment to music and the choir, and with their white surplices now look even more angelic!  They are joined by our new Organ Scholar Adam Wilson.

Outwardly around the Cathedral much has changed, ranging from a car crashing into a pillar on Palmerston Place and ruining some of our brand new railings to the completion of the pathway from Old Coates House past the Garden of Remembrance and the North Door.  We are also all set for new stone pillars and railings to go on the Manor Place pavement side – thanks to the generosity of the Friends of the Cathedral and the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust.

What has not changed and what I have been so privileged to see time and time again over the last 26 years have been the quiet lives of discipleship and faithful commitment.  Alan Oxberry, who died suddenly this week, was one such person.  A Cathedral steward, an administrant of Communion, a former member of the Friends’ Executive, a loving and caring husband of Helen, the love of his life.  He was in the Cathedral the Sunday before he died. A man of relatively few words, his discipleship spoke volumes. RIP.

ADVENT Sunday and the evening before draw ever nearer.  Jane and I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible that weekend.


October Update

The Provost writes:

ADVENT in the Church’s thinking has always been a time for new beginnings.  The endless procession of Sundays after Pentecost gives way at Advent to the sound of the voice of the Baptist in the wilderness, the Voice that points to the Word.  The Church stops, changes gear, listens to the voice of him who points to the Word made Flesh – the new beginning.

Because of this it seemed right to Jane and me that Advent should mark a new beginning in our lives as well as in the life of the Cathedral.  The formal end of our 26 years at the Cathedral will be on Advent Sunday (Sunday 27 November) at 10.30am when I will preside at the Altar.  The evening before (Saturday 26 November) there will be a party in the Cathedral (6.30pm – 8.30pm).  We very much hope you will be able to come along (ideally) to both of these celebrations.  We are also very much aware of the immense generosity shown to us last year on the occasion of our 25th anniversary of coming to the Cathedral: the presents given to us then are treasured and serve as most fitting reminders of our time and ministry here.  We trust the Party will be an informal celebration in a building we all love so much with some music and some wine and lots of chat.



September Update

The Provost writes:

1. The end of the Festival is always tinged with an element of sadness as we say farewell and thank you to our departing choristers. At the Chorister Valedictory Evensong Charles Bradshaw, Esme Frith, Peter Gill, Dominic Markus, Tallulah Molleson, Ciara O’Neill and Jacob Slater hung up their surplices. All – both individually and corporately – have given us so much over so many years, as their “angel voices ever singing” make way for the next generation of choristers. Our thanks go to them (and indeed to their parents) as we wish them all every success and happiness in the years ahead.

2. Bass Lay Clerk Colin Heggie sang in the Cathedral Choir when Dr Dennis Townhill was Organist and Master of the Choristers. Colin’s contribution to singing thus goes back decades, and warm appreciative applause and a bottle of Champagne honoured his retirement. Organ scholar Jonathan Yip and tenor Sam Jenkins are also moving on to pastures new, and we wish them all the best.

3. The above illustrates the constant movement of musicians as choristers move on and choral scholars leave university. It also illustrates how blessed we are in having a musician of the calibre of Duncan Ferguson in front of the next generation of new faces in the choir, training and inspiring them to the demands of daily choral evensong, live Radio 3 broadcasts, the recording of exciting new CDs such as Stravinsky.

4. This year’s Festival featured not only music (both our own musicians and others from places near and far) but also tours of the Cathedral and the Song School and exhibitions of “Women of the West End” and sculptural glass by Philip Baldwin and Monica Guggisberg. Part of our contribution to the Festival happened outside on the south lawn: “Still Here” – theatre for justice in association with Bristol Old Vic – served as a powerful and poignant reminder of the plight of the refugee in our world. None of these could have happened without the massive commitment of a squadron of volunteers who give so generously of their time and enthusiasm to make everything run like clockwork.

5. August also gave us the privilege of not one but two Presbyterian preachers climbing into our pulpit! The current Moderator of the General Assembly highlighted the work of Fresh Start: he was followed on the next Sunday by good friend (and former Moderator) John Chalmers who not only preached but also baptised a beautiful granddaughter.

6. Those of us who have been in and around the Cathedral for a long time will remember Lorna Ross who died recently. A Choral Evensong of thanksgiving for Lorna’s life took place earlier this month in honour of this special soul. RIP.

7. Michaelmas has been one of the traditional times for ordinations, and this Michaelmas will be no exception. On Sunday 18 September at 3.30pm in the Cathedral Kenneth Fleming will be ordained priest. Kenneth has already made a substantial contribution to the life and ministry of the Cathedral as our chaplain and patently has many gifts to share. The following Sunday at 3.30pm in the Cathedral former lay clerk Oliver Brewer will be amongst those made deacon. Please hold him and all who are preparing for ordination at this time in your thoughts and prayers.

Jane and I have been very touched by the kind and generous response to the news of us leaving the Cathedral after 26 years.  Advent Sunday is traditionally seen as the start of the Christian year, a time for new beginnings, for both the Cathedral and us.  I will begin my sabbatical then which in effect marks the end of my time as Provost of this wonderful Cathedral.  Below, Bishop John explains the process of appointing my successor and how that will happen next year.

Bishop John writes:

Dear Cathedral Member,

As you know, Graham has announced that he will retire as our Provost on the anniversary of his ordination next June. This marks the end of a remarkable 26 years of service to St Mary’s. In writing to you now I simply want to acknowledge all that Graham and Jane have brought to the Cathedral over this period and to recognize that many of you will have heard the news with sadness for you will have many reasons to be grateful for Graham’s ministry ‘through all the changing scenes’ of your lives.

I also want to tell you about the process to appoint Graham’s successor. According to the Cathedral Constitution, this is an appointment that belongs to the Bishop in consultation with the Cathedral Board. The Cathedral Board is the Provost (in the chair), the Vice-Provost, the Lay Representative (Sheila Kidney), the Alternate Lay Representative (Andrew Veitch), the Diocesan Chancellor (Cathedral member, Lord Bannatyne) and myself as Bishop. In the absence of the Provost (who will clearly play no part in this process) the Board is chaired by the Vice-Provost.

Graham goes on Sabbatical before the end of the year and I have asked him to draw up a report on ‘the state of the nation’, a realistic picture of Cathedral life, current and future tasks, opportunities and challenges to help the Board more accurately define the skills required and gain an understanding of the demands of the role of the Provost of the largest Cathedral in Scotland. This will be completed before Christmas and doubtless will give the Board much food for thought.

Graham has kindly agreed that we may begin the formal process in January by which point he will be on Sabbatical. Part of that process will be to enable me to hear your views, perhaps through the Cathedral’s many committees and groups. I will liaise with John McLuckie to determine how best this can be achieved.

The whole diocese will be praying for you during these coming months and I invite you also to pray. Pray for Graham, Jane and the family who have made their home with us and shared so many experiences with us over these years; pray for the Board and all those involved in finding Graham’s successor. And pray too for that priest, as yet unknown, whom the Holy Spirit is already preparing to come to serve God and God’s church at St Mary’s Cathedral.

With warmest good wishes,

Yours sincerely,

Bishop John



July Update

The Provost has announced his intention to retire. See: Provost’s Letter

May Update

CONGRATULATIONS to Helen Hood and Paul Foster who have been “canonised” or more accurately have been rightly recognised for the years of distinguished service they have given to the Diocese and the wider Church.

Helen Hood, in addition to undertaking an extraordinary number of roles within the Cathedral, has also laboured tirelessly in the ecumenical arena, having held a number of demanding and responsible roles, especially within ACTS (Action of Churches Together in Scotland) and Christian Aid.  Recent amendments to the Cathedral Statues and Constitution enabled the Diocesan Synod at Bishop John’s instigation to create an additional number of new honorary canons, including for the first time honorary lay canons.  Helen quite correctly is the first (and currently the only) woman in the Diocese to hold such a title which is richly deserved.

Paul Foster as well as climbing our pulpit steps, is the relatively recently appointed Head of the School of Divinity at New College, University of Edinburgh.  All of us celebrated with great joy when “Dr Foster” became “Professor Foster” in recognition of his highly rated contribution to New Testament scholarship which sees him lecture at home and overseas.  An honorary canonry is the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Edinburgh recognising both his scholarship and the unique achievement of an Anglican priest being Head of School at New College.

Marion Chatterley, Carrie Applegath and Fred Tomlinson have also been made honorary canons of the Cathedral.


  • Former chorister and current alto lay clerk (Dr) Michael Wood on the news of his engagement: we wish Lucy and him every blessing and happiness in their life together.
  • Former chorister David and Jen Chalmers on the safe arrival of a beautiful daughter Evie Elizabeth, a little sister for Rory.  Evie will be baptised in August.
  • Secretary of the Friends of the Cathedral Helen Godfrey on her appointment as Diocesan President of the Mothers’ Union.


March Update

  • With this month’s Magazine you will have received the Cathedral’s 2016 Stewardship campaign material.  All I ask is that everyone reflects carefully on what the Cathedral and its wider witness mean to them and return your pledge card. If perchance the Stewardship material has not reached you – worry not!  A simple phone call (225 6293) or email ( to the Cathedral Office will rapidly rectify this omission.
  • A special treat awaits all on Mothering Sunday (Sunday 6 March).  A Fairtrade breakfast will be served in the glass annex to the Walpole Hall from 9.30am.  If you can, do let us know you are coming. Otherwise simply turn up, and we hope our ability to feed the 5000 is not put to the test!
  • Palm Sunday marks the start of Holy Week, and as last year’s lunch was so successful we are holding a “bring and share” Lunch in the Walpole Hall.  Simply bring something to share.  Coffee, fruit juice etc will be provided.  Afterwards you might like to go for a brief walk and then back to the Cathedral in time for 3.30pm when the Choir is performing Stainer’s Crucifixion.
  • The Cathedral’s 2016 Holy Week and Easter Card is now available either with the Magazine or from the west end of the Cathedral.


February Update

CHRISTMAS 2015:  With Candlemass about to be celebrated – the day 40 days after Christmas when the Christ Child was presented in the Temple and greeted by faithful Simeon as a “light to the Gentiles” –  I know it is time finally to say farewell to Christmas.  We bid farewell to Christmas, but also pause to recognise and acknowledge how much so many people did to enable the Cathedral to celebrate the birth of the Word made flesh.  Attendances at our Christmas services were probably the highest for generations and testimony to the beauty and splendour of the Cathedral Choir’s music.  The PLV party for our senior members, Crib Service, and a BBC broadcast for Christmas Eve illustrated us looking in and looking out.  What many people do not see is just how much love and care go into our celebration of Christmas: beautiful flowers and a 20ft high Christmas tree; thousands of service sheets designed, printed and collated; hundreds of additional chairs brought into the Cathedral; vestments and frontals lovingly laid out; squadrons of stewards gently guiding the crowds.  We all owe so much to many unseen, but not unsung disciples.  Deo gratias!

SECURITY:  The Cathedral’s doors are always open as a sign of God always being open to all returning home.  We refuse to go with the spirit of the age and restrict opening times or such like.  By remaining open it means of course that there is a risk of us being open to possible thieves and vandals.  Damage was done just before Christmas.  A review of our general security led to the decision to keep our Manor Place door locked.  This is obviously tedious for folk coming from the east (!) but a wise precaution.  The great west doors will of course be kept open.

The CATHEDRAL OFFICE:  Judith Lewis, known in the office with great affection as “saint” because of her never-ending and selfless willingness to help and sort and serve, has retired.  Words cannot adequately describe just how much she personally has given to the Cathedral Office, and I am immensely grateful.  I am delighted to announce that a new [albeit apprentice] saint, Rosemary Kaye, will be joining the excellent Anne Backhouse in the Cathedral Office. Rosemary says: I am originally from London but have been living in Edinburgh on and off since 2010, having previously spent many years in Aberdeenshire, where I worked as a solicitor. My elder daughter Anna was a pupil at St Mary’s Music School 2010-2012; I also have a son who works for the Abernethy Trust and a younger daughter who is in her final year at the Steiner School. At the Cathedral I generally attend Morning Prayer and also enjoy the Walk and Talk Group’s outings. My other ‘job’ is writing and reviewing for The Edinburgh Reporter, an online local news site.

LENT beckons.  The sombre words of Ash Wednesday (“Remember man that dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return.  Repent and believe in the Gospel”) prepare us for Lent’s 40 days of journeying with the Christ as he turns towards Jerusalem.  Use the Lenten liturgy or house groups to help you on that journey.  This Lent you will notice a new (and indeed big) wooden oak cross at the High Altar: the combined talents of Mike Appleby and Fiona Grierson have artistically put the wood of the cross at the centre of our faith.

The dust also reminds me of 2 very special people who before Christmas unto dust returned.  Hester Martineau and Margaret Beeston were each in their own beautiful ways faithful disciples of both the Child of Bethlehem and of him who hung on the wood of the cross: may they both share in the music and harmony of heaven.


Sarah prize

December update

Congratulations to Sarah Grotrian, Appeals Secretary for the St Mary’s Cathedral Workshop, who received a Balfour of Burleigh Tercentenary Prize for Exceptional Achievement in Crafts at a celebratory dinner in London on 24th November.  These awards were given as part of the celebrations of the 300th anniversary of the establishment of the Radcliffe Trust. The prizes are named in honour of Lord Balfour of Burleigh who retired as a Trustee in 2014 after 40 years’ distinguished service to the Radcliffe Trust.

November Update

The Provost reports:

Congratulations to Sarah Grotrian, Appeal Secretary of the Cathedral Workshop.  The Radcliffe Trust wished to mark its tercentenary in a special way.  “The Balfour of Burleigh Tercentenary Prizes for Exceptional Achievements in Crafts” decided to create a small number of prizes for individuals whom they felt stood out in particular as having led and inspired generations of practitioners.  Sarah has won one of these prizes, and I can think of no one who has done more to put “old skills in young hands” – the motto of St Mary’s Cathedral Workshop.  It is simply wonderful that her contribution has been recognised in this way, and all who have been involved in the Workshop over its almost 3 decades can bask in her reflective glory.

A Thanksgiving Service for the life of Nancy Stuart was held in the Cathedral on 11th October. See the November Magazine for more details.

Later this month Jane and I head back to the University of Aberdeen who have awarded me an Honorary LLD: this was totally unexpected from the University where both of us spent 4 very happy undergraduate years.

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