A look back at 12 years as dean of Chichester

THE dean of Chichester hung up his robe and retired from his role at Chichester Cathedral on Friday (February 28).

The Very Rev Nicholas Frayling was 70 on the day of his retirement – or would have been if he hadn’t been born on a leap year.

The Very Reverend Nicholas Frayling, Dean of Chichester Cathedral''C111872-1a Chi Cathedral Feature  Photo Louise Adams

The Very Reverend Nicholas Frayling, Dean of Chichester Cathedral''C111872-1a Chi Cathedral Feature Photo Louise Adams

“Technically, I’ll be 17-and-a-half,” he said, in an interview with the Observer last week.

He told the Observer about the highlights in his 12 years as dean, as well as the remarkable life he had lived until that point.

Starting his working life in a rather different role, he worked in retail – at HMV and Harrods – and then as a welfare officer in Pentonville prison.

He went on to be ordained in 1971, looking after a parish in Old Kent Road, Peckham, and then moved on from there to Tooting.

He moved to Liverpool in 1983 as rector of the city parish, at a time of political and social tension.

“I was very involved in the community. I became very involved in Northern Island when I was in Liverpool.”

He wrote a book called Pardon and Peace – a book about making peace in Ireland, a cause which is close to his heart.

“I was offered six jobs while I was there, but I didn’t want to leave because I loved Liverpool,” he said.

“In 2002 I was asked to be the dean of Chichester. At first I didn’t want to. I thought it would be rather posh and very different.”

But he was persuaded in 2002, and began his stint as dean of Chichester in September.

And it didn’t take him long to fall in love with the place.

“It was very different, something of a culture shock,” he said.

“It is a wonderful cathedral, with some lovely people worshiping here.”

He said the talented cathedral choir made evensong ‘the finest show in town’.

Soon after he became dean, he set about making the cathedral an integral part of the community.

“Because the cathedral is physically in the heart of Chichester, I wanted it to be in the centre of community life as well,” he said.

He has spent his time in the city making ‘important’ links with the local councils – and it was something he did well, which was made clear when he received the freedom of the city.

“It gives me a link and ties me to Chichester for the rest of my life,” he said. “It is a great privilege.”

He said one of the greatest achievements was making sure admission to the cathedral remained free.

“This is the people’s cathedral, we want everybody to be able to come in. That is really important.”

He was also involved with various restoration projects in the cathedral – which even warranted a visit from Prince Charles.

The stonework at the cathedral was restored, repaired, and some was even replaced, the Lady Chapel was restored and the shrine of St Richard was cleaned up.

“With a building of this age you’re always restoring.”

Other high-profile visitors included archbishop Rowan Williams, and his successor, archbishop Justin Welby, chose the cathedral as his final stop on a pilgrimage.

“Four thousand people turned up at the cross. He has talked about it ever since, he had never seen anything like it.”

The dean has also been keeping links with churches all over Europe. With ‘a strong connection’ to churches in Bamburg, Bayreuth, Chartres and Ravenna, he said, ‘the link has never been stronger’.

Looking back on 12 years in the city, he said: “It has been a busy time, the main part of the work is the worship and the building up of the congregation.

“If I have a regret, it is that it is a very time-consuming job as a dean, you have to keep the show on the road. It doesn’t leave time for an awful lot else.”

But retiring to a flat in Southsea, he has plenty to keep him busy.

“It is important to keep other interests.”

And he does, one being as the chaplain nationally for the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association, a cause he says is important and he hopes to raise awareness of.

He is also a trustee for the Institute for Food, Brain and Behaviour which researches the effects of nutrition on behaviour – primarily linking junk food with crime. Prostate cancer is another area in which he is trying to raise awareness.

“In 2004 I was diagnosed with prostate cancer,” he said. “I had three operations. I am clear of it now. I am very conscious that others have not been so lucky. I felt it was important to talk about it and try to break the taboo around cancer.”

Breaking other taboos, although he says he hasn’t been particularly ‘outspoken’, he certainly has a fresh approach to issues affecting the church.

He once said ‘homosexuality is not a choice but a given’, a statement he stands by.

“I think the church has to wake up to this,” he said.

It is important, he believes, to make the church ‘a warm and welcoming environment for all people’.

“I think the church has badly let down the gay community – and divorced people,” he said.

“I believe we are created in the image of God, that God loves what he has created, he has not created things in vain.”

It is this faith and acceptance of people in all shapes and forms which has made him a much-loved dean in the city.

The Rev Frayling has certainly had a remarkable life, and he said after 42 years in the church, he ‘would not have wanted any other career’.

On whether he would write a book about his life, he said: “I may or may not write, I do not know. I have had such a fantastic life and ministry, the temptation to write it up is very great.”