Chapter Letter

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Sunday 29 March 2020

Welcome to a new look Chapter Letter, to be issued weekly during the time of concern over the virus.




In line with Government and National Church guidance, the Cathedral is now closed. The clergy are continuing the pattern of daily prayer however, and we meet each weekday with the Administrator via Zoom. Yes, I’m learning new skills in all this!

We remember daily in prayer the clergy and people of the diocese, and we pray too for our society in all its need; those ill, those anxious, those on the front line, those in government, those on the edge.

Worship is being live streamed. Details are on the website and other social media. Music is there too.

I’m delighted that a Cathedral pastoral network has been established and that this is reaching out with other organisations into the wider community. The Canon Pastor gives more details later.

And yes, we are still in Lent. I sense it’s going to be a long Lent. Lent is of course a time to do without. And our society is now doing a lot of doing without; company and connection; prosperity and purchasing; celebrations and socialising; gathering and going out. We are being thrown back on ourselves. Our lives are being heavily individualised.

But the corporate keeps reasserting itself, marvellously. The government, our corporate self really, has rallied to rescue businesses and to save lives. In streets and communities people are looking out for each other. People ring, email, call out over the fence, and yes, there is Zoom too!

And after every Lent comes an Easter. That is, after doing without, there comes a fabulous gift of new life. So it will be. Life will re-emerge. What will we have learnt? What church, what Cathedral, what society do we plan to rebuild? And what parties and celebrations do we want to hold first of all?!

Through the weeks I’ll write more. And I’ll touch next week on how we can support the neediest, locally and nationally.

With my love and prayers,

~ John Davies, Dean


From the Lord-Lieutenant of Somerset

This time a year ago we were counting the days until a visit to Somerset by Her Majesty. Our county had her party dress on. The blossom was out, the skylarks sang, the skies were blue and the pastures were green. Somerset looked joyous and at her most beautiful – and this year, again, she is at her best.

But, what makes Somerset truly wonderful is more than her scenic splendour. It is the community that inhabits our county which elevates her to perfection.

Just as last year I felt confident and proud watching our Sovereign as she enjoyed her visit to us – and indeed she did. She smiled from the moment she arrived until the moment she left. So too, I know that faced with the daunting challenge of Covid-19, just one year later, our county and the people who live here will not be found wanting.

Already that inimitable spirit of generosity and kindness, of compassion and diligence, has begun in every street, in every hamlet, village, town and city in Somerset. For we can do it and we will do it. The better we comply with directions, the sooner we will come through this. We will survive it, together and united, each looking after each other, because we can.

Noli Timere – the last words which Seamus Heaney sent to his wife – Be Not Afraid. This is what I say to myself when I set out to do something which is making me tremble. It is a biblical line which I find so very reassuring and so strengthening.

Each and every one of us, young and old and from every walk of life, has a part to play, and we can and we WILL succeed.


Wells Cathedral awarded Bronze Eco Award

The Cathedral has been examining all its practices – everything from the type of cleaning fluids it uses, the mowing regime, its carbon foot print, its recycling to the food it serves in the restaurant. The aim is to be as sustainable as possible. We have just achieved a Bronze Award, which is a huge encouragement. There is far more to be done, but we are now working on achieving Silver and our hope is to reach Gold.

In the face of the current pandemic, it is easy to lose sight of all the other concerns. Coronavirus has forced us to think about what we are willing to give up for the survival of friends, family and our health service. It is an opportunity to think seriously about our priorities. Climate change is a slower enemy, but potentially even more serious. The Cathedral wants to play its part in ensuring that our children and grandchildren are safe.

The Reverend Mary Bide, Priest Vicar


The Lonely Path to Deeper Lent

If it ever really existed, and some liturgists doubt it, Passiontide disappeared just before the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, to give a more stark prominence to Holy Week. In English use, the white veiling of crosses, statues and pictures used in Lent was replaced by Passion red. There is however a very definite sense of Lent deepening at the Fifth Sunday of Lent. There is more mention of the Cross in the liturgy, not so much as the instrument of torture that it is, but also as a lens through which to look intently at the Easter mystery and the passage through death to life beyond.

Looking through liturgy that is unlikely to be used this year, I have been struck, unsurprisingly in the circumstances, by the isolation of Jesus throughout the narrative; the eventual shedding of everything and everyone as the story moves to its climax. I wonder if part of the strangeness of the half-life we’re all living has to do with the fact we know we’ll be marking the journey of Holy Week without the usual company and the familiar liturgy.

There is something both comforting and appalling about being part of the crowd on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. But although it might be equally appalling to stand alone, might not the opportunity that this year affords be to do just that? Something we can all do is answer ‘yes’ to Jesus’s Gethsemane question, ‘Would ye not watch with me one brief hour?’ Perhaps to sit before a candle for an hour at 8.00 p.m. on Maundy Thursday in silence, and to read the Passion on Good Friday and to be still.

Part of the power of the liturgy of the passion is the hymnody – you will have your favourites. One of the most moving for me is by Walsham How, It is a thing most wonderful, almost too wonderful to be, perhaps because it is all ‘told’ in the first person. There are two familiar tunes we use for it, but for this purpose, I would direct you to a setting of the words by the English composer, John Ireland, entitled Ex ore innocentium. You’ll find it free on You Tube, sung by Tenebrae. The alchemy of words and music might just go some way to convincing you that, crowds aside, it really is all about you.

Canon Nicholas Jepson-Biddle, Precentor


Wells Cathedral Guides 2020 outing to Chichester Cathedral

Sadly it has been necessary to postpone the 2020 outing due to the current emergency and move it to a new date of 24th June 2021.

Charles Crawfurd



For many of us, shutting the Cathedral down has been like a kind of bereavement – this beautiful building and spiritual space has been available to all for worship and visits for over 8 centuries, but for now, as the Archbishops have said, we have to become a different sort of church. In 21st century terms, we are at present becoming a ‘virtual church’, able to speak to each other only by the power of the web or the telephone.

But that in itself has given us an opportunity to reach out to many in our community who can no longer come to the Cathedral, but who are glad to know that we are still continuing the ministry of prayer and care, albeit from our homes.

On Monday last I sent out the first of a series of emails to our new Wells Cathedral Pastoral Network, and have had a wonderful response. People are very glad to be able to share with each other in this way, and it is not all doom and gloom – we are being sent beautiful photos of God’s creation as well as ways to share with other communities across this country and abroad.

As I said in my first email, the purpose of this new email network is two-fold: firstly it is to help us support each other by keeping some kind of human contact with each other and by offers of practical help. And secondly, it is to help us to maintain our spiritual community as far as possible now that we are no longer able to hold public services. To that end, I send out every day an extract from one of the Morning Prayer Bible readings, a very short reflection and the weekly Collect.

If you would like your name to go onto this list, please email me on and your name will be added.

If you know of someone who would like to be kept in touch but doesn’t have email, please do ask them if they would like a regular telephone call from a member of the Cathedral clergy and, if so, please ask for their number and email it to

Rosalind Paul, Canon Pastor

To  keep  in  touch  during  these  distanced  days,  do  keep  looking  at  the  website,  our Facebook page and other social media…




Light a candle

Last Sunday evening many people lit candles of hope to shine from their windows, others placed rainbows, all indicating that we have hope in a God whose grace is sufficient for our needs. Our bishops have asked that if we are able we might continue to join them in continuing this practice each evening at 7.00 p.m. whilst we are physically separated.


Lent 5: A Reflection

Rob James, Canon Chancellor

Sunday’s Gospel reading: John 11.1-45

Medieval Europe was a time a great struggle for supremacy between church and state. On the one hand, Kings wanted to assert their right to rule in their own kingdoms. On the other hand, successive Popes asserted their authority in a time when there was little or no distinction between secular and sacred matters. This inevitably led to conflict. If a King stepped out of line too far, the Pope had a number of weapons at his disposal. One of these was a collective punishment on the whole country, known as an interdict. An interdict was an order that closed churches and which meant that the Mass could not be said. In an age when everyone accepted the existence of not only heaven but also of hell, and in an age when everyone accepted that entry to heaven, at least swift entry to heaven, was through the sacraments offered by the church, interdicts caused very real spiritual and psychological suffering to many. There was an interdict placed on England from March 1208 after the King refused to accept the Pope’s choice of Archbishop of Canterbury. The interdict lasted for six years, and, among many other things, led to the slowing down of, and eventually a pause in, the construction of Wells Cathedral.

Although worship changed in style and language over the years since the Thirteenth century, until just a few days ago, the only other time that Worship has been stopped by order in the Cathedral’s history was during Oliver Cromwell’s rule, when the Puritans closed Cathedrals as places of worship. They are far more famous for banning Christmas festivities. It must have felt bleak to many.

Today’s gospel reading tells of both the sadness that Jesus felt at the death of his friend Lazarus, but also of the power that God has to give life, for Lazarus is raised from the dead. In the story, this is not a resurrection to eternal life, but a resuscitation. But the story points beyond itself. In John’s gospel, only the first half of the text is devoted to the first three years of Jesus’ ministry. The second half is focussed on the last week. The story of Lazarus is right in the middle of the gospel. As Jesus turns his face decisively towards the cross, we have a reminder that God is about giving life and overcoming death. The raising of Lazarus by Jesus prefigures the definitive resurrection that will be Jesus’ after three days in the tomb. Lazarus’ death is deeply upsetting and Jesus weeps. Jesus’ death will be upsetting and his friends will weep. But the God of life will have the final word.

Many are feeling bereft that the churches, along with much else, are closed. For those who have worshipped in a church every week, or even every day, all their lives, this is a disturbing time. For those who would dearly love to come in to say a quiet prayer and light a candle, this is a disturbing time. For many who have lost and who will lose loved ones, this is a deeply upsetting time. Grieving and weeping are part of life and part of faith, and it is right to do this, as Jesus himself did. All the grief that is around and that will be around over the next few months is real. But because of God, new life will come, for the Church, for civic society, for our loved ones departed and for ourselves. Life and love have the final word, because God has the final word.