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News: The Dean of Newcastle’s Installation

Celebrating our new Dean, The Very Reverend Lee Batson

Saturday 14 October 2023

Family, friends, faith leaders and civic dignitaries gathered at Newcastle Cathedral for the formal Collation, Induction and Installation of The Reverend Canon Lee Batson as the new Dean of Newcastle in the Church of England.

The special service took place at 3pm on Saturday, 14 October, and was presided over by the Bishop of Newcastle, The Right Reverend Dr Helen-Ann Hartley.

The newly installed Very Reverend Lee Batson from Essex succeeds The Very Reverend Dr Jane Hedges, who served as Interim Dean following the retirement of The Very Reverend Geoff Miller in November last year.

At the time of his appointment, Lee remarked, “I am humbled and delighted to have been appointed as the Dean of Newcastle and am looking forward to working with Bishop Helen-Ann, Cathedral Chapter, Bishop’s Staff Team and colleagues in Newcastle Cathedral and Diocese as we seek to further God’s mission in our communities – not least by becoming ever more outward facing, younger and more diverse.”

In April 2023, Newcastle Cathedral completed its multi-million-pound redevelopment project ‘Common Ground in Sacred Space’. This transformation revitalised the Cathedral, making it a more accessible and versatile space for both worship and cultural events. As Dean, Lee will chart the Cathedral’s path forward now that the National Lottery Heritage Fund grant has concluded.

The Cathedral has a long history of serving the people of Newcastle and is one of the few English cathedrals that also acts as a parish church. Originally St Nicholas’ Church, it was elevated to cathedral status in 1882 when Newcastle became a city.

In accordance with this dual role, the Bishop granted Lee the spiritual and practical duties associated with the parish of St Nicholas before he was formally installed as Dean. The Dean’s Quire stall is dedicated to St Nicholas, symbolising his vital role in the Cathedral community and the wider Diocese.

At the time of his appointment, Lee spoke about his affinity with the work of the Cathedral’s Lantern Initiative, which, inspired by the building’s Lantern Tower, aims to be a beacon for people navigating challenging times. This is exemplified by projects such as ‘Recovery Church’ and recent collaborations with charities including the Oswin Project, Crisis, and Changing Lives.

“Whilst I am new to the North East, I already feel a sense of connection with the core values of the Cathedral as a place of radical welcome which, through offering inspiring worship and other activities, seeks to empower worth. I look forward to playing my part in building on all that has already been done to make these values a reality – particularly through the Lantern Initiative.”

Prior to his current appointment, Lee Batson served as Team Rector of the Epping Team Ministry and held positions as Area Dean and World Church Partnership Officer in the Chelmsford Diocese, where he forged strong ties with the Anglican Church in Kenya.

Announcing Lee’s appointment in July, The Right Reverend Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, Bishop of Newcastle, said: “I am absolutely delighted that God has called Lee to Newcastle, and thrilled that Lee emerged as the unanimous candidate of the appointment panel during our discernment process. Lee brings tremendous energy and gifts to his new role, and a commitment to the mission and ministry of God in a Cathedral context as it relates to the city and to our whole Diocese.”

If you were unable to attend Saturday’s service, you can watch it back via our YouTube channel until Saturday 21 October.

The Order of Service is available to view and download here.

The Sermon

The Very Reverend Lee Batson, Dean of Newcastle, said:

“Earlier in our service, we heard a reading from the book of Genesis about Jacob – an important figure in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. We found him in the desert, having had to flee from his homeland and facing an uncertain future. It is whilst he is asleep in his improvised camp that he dreams of a ladder to heaven and God saying, “I am with you”. He awakes and says surely God is in this place, and I did not know it. This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven”. It was in a remote place that Jacob came to this realisation and then travelled on – just as many years later, people would settle in this region in the remote island of Lindisfarne, discover that God was in that place, and then travel elsewhere to enable others to come to a similar realisation – individuals like St Cedd who left Northumberland to begin the Church in Essex thus being one of the first to move from a Geordie shore to discover if the only way might be Essex. Sought, shared, and sent – as our diocesan vision encourages us all to do.

“And as I make the return journey, so I am deeply aware that I am privileged to be joining a Cathedral and a Diocese at a new phase in their lives, with the Cathedral having recently completed its redevelopment and commitment to creating Common Ground in Sacred Space. With its glorious Lantern Tower, it continues to be a place on the skyline of this city, proclaiming God is in this place as God is in every place.

“In making that proclamation, this Cathedral – and every church in the land – is not simply pointing people to the real presence of God in physical places. When Jacob fell asleep, he was in an emotionally and psychologically difficult place. He was without friends or family and facing an uncertain future. His past actions were, shall we say, problematic. And it is in this place that Jacob has his dream and the reminder that God was with him. He leaves a stone and consecrates physical ground – but also leaves with the reminder that God met him where he was, without judgement, and offered him the promise of a hope – a future – better than the past.

“In 1965, the Newcastle rock band The Animals sang, “We gotta get out of this place. If it’s the last thing we ever do”. I don’t imagine this was ever intended as a prayer, but it is a prayer that many have uttered. In applying to come to this Cathedral, I was drawn to it in part because of its emphasis on the importance of a radical, genuinely Christ-like welcome and its embodiment in the work of the Lantern Initiative and Recovery Church and partnership with the Oswin Project. Through these ministries – and others I have yet to discover, and which are being mirrored elsewhere in this Diocese – the Church is doing its best to meet people as Jacob was met by God, where they are and without judgement. To help them to get out of the place they find themselves in and – to go back to The Animals – offer a glimpse that there is a better life for me and you.

“It is not doing this in isolation, but rather through a range of partnerships that testify that God is active outside the Church as well as in it – not least through our relationship with this city of sanctuary.

“God is in this place, and I did not know it. It was when Jacob’s eyes were closed that he saw what was already true. Too often, our – or at least my – experience is that our eyes are closed whilst we are awake, so we miss what is important. On Amen Corner next to this Cathedral is a plaque to Mary Astell – a 17th-century resident of this city who has been described as a protofeminist and who advocated for equal educational opportunities for women. The Northumbrian-based folk band ‘Howay the Lasses’ memorialised her in song in this Cathedral when the plaque was unveiled. The song concludes: “Now at Amen Corner, my tribute it contains; the greater truth that still some barriers remain. For love is patient, love is kind, but in some corners we are still so blind.”

“We need to acknowledge that the Church has played its part in creating and reinforcing some of those barriers – and that it continues to do so. That through our messaging – both perceived and actual – others are led to the conclusion that God may be in our place, but certainly not in theirs. It is why the emphasis in this Cathedral on radical welcome is so important – provided it also includes creating a space in its life for those with whom we might disagree either theologically or politically. It is through a willingness to being open to all – and particularly to those who have been excluded by Church and wider society – that we best show our desire to be formed into the likeness of Christ whom we encounter in his brokenness every time we receive Communion.

“My prayer is that this next season in the life of the Church in this region will be one where fewer barriers exist, and more people discover that God is in their place – however place is defined. We undertake this task deeply aware of those who have committed themselves to seeking God, sharing with others and being sent onwards before us – be they St Cedd, Mary Astell, or later figures like Josephine Butler from Milfield, Northumberland, whose faith compelled her to campaign for women’s suffrage and an end to child prostitution and human trafficking.

“I have made very clear to the Bishop that I am not a runner and will not be joining her on Saturday mornings in any Parkruns in this Diocese. But – as our reading from Hebrews proclaims – I am committed to running the race that is before me, and us, looking to Jesus as my pioneer and the perfecter of my faith. And I do so in the awareness that I am surrounded by the crowd of witnesses – Cedd, Mary, Josephine, Jacob – all of whom discovered that God was in their place, and sought to overcome barriers to others realising the same.”