Canon Rosalind Brown, Nave Canon and Canon Librarian of Durham Cathedral, is retiring. She has been at Durham Cathedral for the last 13 years. Her final Sunday at the Cathedral as a member of its Chapter is Sunday 8 July. She has answered some questions about her ministry at Durham Cathedral and her plans for the future.
What have been the highlights of your time at Durham Cathedral?
Simply being part of this wonderful, historic Cathedral has been a joy. I always believe our most important job is to say our prayers and keep the doors open, as simple as that. It has been such a privilege to be here at the Cathedral, and be part of a history of worship that stretches back a millennium.
I sometimes go to Saint Cuthbert’s shrine early in the morning to pray and the history and the tradition of my predecessors is tangible. It’s been a blessing to help to maintain the worship that has been going on for hundreds of years. Also, the sheer joy of the Cathedral has been a highlight for me. The Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove, the previous Dean of Durham, used to say “Whatever your plans, the Cathedral always wins” and I think that is very true. The Cathedral itself shapes the lives of everyone in its community.
Durham is a beautiful part of our world to live in. I was driving back from Lanchester on midsummer’s day, about 9.30pm in the evening; the scenery with the summer sun, just setting, was so beautiful. It’s moments like this, of serene, pure beauty in our local area that make me reflect on the beauty of creation in new ways.
There have been a few services at the Cathedral which have been particular highlights for me: the celebration of the 600th anniversary of the Chorister School was very special, with wonderful music and history. I always enjoy the Ordination services which mark new beginnings, new potential and new ministers, and the Miners’ Gala service. On Christmas Eve, before the full Cathedral celebrates Christmas with the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, the clergy gather in the Chapel of the Nine Altars to say Evening Prayer. That simple service, which includes the 3,000 year old words of Psalm 85 beginning, “Lord, thou art become gracious unto your land”, marks the start of Christmas for me. Holy Saturday, between Good Friday and Easter Sunday comes to mind as well. At the end of Evening Prayer we sing the hymn “If in some Syrian Garden”, and in the first verse it talks about the death of Jesus as an end. Then the second verse starts with “But if, the grave rent and the stone rolled by…” and that is Jesus’ resurrection. For me that “But if…” is when my heart leaps and Easter starts. I love the simplicity and rhythm of the regular services as well, being still and either leading worship or participating as others lead. You show up and get on with it, with no fuss. Even if it’s just me and a verger early on a cold winter Saturday morning, it’s still important.
Being Canon Librarian has been such an honour. To be responsible for our historic collections and in particular to see such ancient manuscripts as the Magna Carta and the Durham Gospels is an unforgettable and privileged experience. The beauty of the medieval manuscripts is amazing, whenever I see them I ask myself “how did they do it?” I have seen our Magna Carta and St Cuthbert’s coffin from inches away and not through glass; that’s such a privilege.
What are your plans for the future?
In the immediate future my plans are just to move house and settle in, tackle the garden, rest, walk and read. I have some ideas for continuing church involvement and volunteering; I want to do something creative and mentally stimulating. But my plan is for quiet beginnings and then see what happens. One of the reasons I am retiring now is so I can still have an active retirement and focus on the parts of ministry I enjoy.
What are your hopes for Durham Cathedral going forward?
From a practical point of view, I am really looking forward to the new glass porches being installed – they will create a whole new sense of wonder as visitors enter the majestic Norman building. It’s important that the Cathedral remains a place of awe and welcome. When visitors step in, I want that to be their first step towards God. When they leave the Cathedral they should be a little bit further on in their journey with God, even if they don’t realise it yet. I also hope that the Cathedral continues being a place of excellence and welcome, without pretension, and that the new endowment fund can be built up so we can do the constant work that is needed to keep the Cathedral open.
Most of all I hope that the Cathedral continues to be a place of ministry, in word and action; a safe space, a place of sanctuary and support for people who are burdened.
The Reverend Canon Rosalind Brown has been at Durham Cathedral as a Residentiary Canon for 13 years and as and Canon Librarian for 8 years. She began her working life as a town planner in the south of England, then moved to the US where she was a member of a Benedictine community living in a former steel town in the Pennsylvania Rust Belt. After three years at Yale Divinity School she was ordained and served in parish ministry in the US before returning to the UK in 1999 and for six years trained people for ordination in Salisbury. She moved to Durham in 2005.