John Hall installed as new Dean of Westminster

Saturday, 2nd December 2006

John Hall installed as new Dean of Westminster

In a ceremony which drew on the historic origins of the post, he became responsible for day-to-day management and worship at Westminster Abbey, one of the best-known churches in the world.

The new Dean was previously chief education officer for the Church of England and was heavily involved in the recent debate over faith schools. Now he will focus on the thousand-year-old Abbey.

The centuries-old ceremony - part of it in Latin - was conducted during Evensong at the Abbey. The Grant and Mandamus from The Queen, to whom Dean and Chapter of the Abbey are ultimately responsible, was read out and the Dean responded by swearing and affirming a number of formal oaths.

During his sermon to the 1500-strong congregation, the Dean spoke about the Abbey's unique position in the relationship between Church and State. He said:

Westminster Abbey is particularly well placed to serve the partnership between Church and State in the 21st century. In the first place are the obvious historical and geographical reasons: the Abbey has a thousand years of experience in the role; and is where it is. In the second place, the Abbey's status as a Royal Peculiar accords it a subtle detachment from some of the daily concerns of Church and State, though that status should not beguile us into living to ourselves or developing a stance of detached criticism.

He went on to discuss the suggestion that the relationship between Church and State should be severed. Calling the link between Church and State in England 'inseparable', he added:

The connection between Church and State is not of course unambiguous or unequivocal; neither Church nor State is in thrall to the other. In any case the partnership changes and develops with time. Arguments for a secular public space miss the point...[that] human beings' religious instinct properly affects all our lives, our work, our relationships, our public and private commitments.

The Dean also spoke about the centrality of worship in the life of the Abbey. He said:

One of John Betjeman's television films, broadcast again earlier this year to celebrate the centenary of his birth, showed a country parson tolling the bell for Matins and saying it alone and aloud in his stall, as he did every day.
There was no irony or mockery in the film, just a sense that this daily work on behalf of his people was at the heart of what he was there to do.
In the Abbey, we know that our daily office is not said alone. The presence with us of Christians from throughout the world and of all traditions is a potent reminder of the universal Church, that we pray in a great living company. The daily sacrifice of prayer and praise has I suppose been offered here unbroken since the collegiate church was established in 1560 and before that in the monastic community of which this present building is heir, from the foundation of the Abbey by St Dunstan in 960.

The Dean had an audience of The Queen at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday 28th November, the occasion of his appointment to the Abbey. He succeeds Dr Wesley Carr who retired in February.