The Very Rev Graham Smith describes his time as Dean of Norwich as “an enormous privilege”
The Very Rev Graham Smith is stepping down as Dean of Norwich after almost a decade in the role. As he bids farewell to the city and county, he talks to reporter Emma Knights about his time at Norwich Cathedral.
'An enormous privilege' is the way the Very Rev Graham Smith sums up his time as the Dean of Norwich.
'I'm immensely sad to be leaving. Nine years has flown by. It's been an extraordinary experience being at the heart of a great cathedral.
'It's all built around a rhythm, a daily rhythm of prayer and worship, and to be part of that rhythm is an enormous privilege,' said the 66-year-old Dean, whose last service before retiring was yesterday.
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The Dean, who has been ordained for 37 years and was previously Team Rector of Leeds Parish Church, came to Norwich in 2004.
He said it had been an honour to work in the surrounds of 'the finest Romanesque cathedral in the world,' and paid tribute to the tremendous team of dedicated staff and volunteers who he said all contribute to the incredible friendliness and warmth of Norwich Cathedral.
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Alongside his important duties of leading Christian worship, the Dean has played a key role in shaping the cathedral's future, in terms of the building itself and also its relationship with the whole Norfolk community, both religious and non-religious.
He said perhaps his biggest highlight and also his biggest challenge was overseeing the completion of the £12.5m Hostry and Refectory project which was opened by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in May 2010.
The Dean arrived at Norwich Cathedral at the point where the Refectory had just been completed, and more fundraising was needed for the construction of the Hostry.
He paid tribute to the extraordinary generosity of many individuals and organisations and the many extremely dedicated people who worked so hard to make the Hostry vision a reality.
'The fundraising for the Hostry was a very, very big challenge indeed because we had been doing that for so long,' he said.
'I think alongside that the challenge was really to promote the vision of what the purpose of this new building was, what difference it would make.
'We live in fast changing times and the whole reason for the Hostry was that the Chapter, who are responsible for the cathedral, realised that the cathedral had to be more than just a place where church services took place, that is its primary function without a shadow of a doubt, but we've got to be able to encourage people to come for other reasons as well, and with these new buildings we would be able to attract people for educational purposes, for business conferences and community events.'
Thankfully all the hard work was a success and the Hostry has gone on to become a popular venue, hosting an array of functions, events and exhibitions and bringing an extra dimension to the cathedral, but the Dean reflected that it may have been close to being a different story.
'I sometimes say that it is by the grace of God that we got the money in just in time before the financial world started falling apart. I think had we been six months behind on our fundraising there would have been a real question as to whether we could have placed an order for the construction of the new Hostry. It was that close.'
Another challenge during the Dean's time in Norwich was resisting pressure to charge an entry fee to visitors to the cathedral.
'A lot of cathedrals do this now, and I was absolutely determined we shouldn't do that because the cathedral belongs to us all,' he said.
'It's all wrong in my view that you should have to pay to come into a place of worship, and so we devised a system whereby people were invited to make a donation but were not required to do so.'
Looking to raise funds in other ways, the cathedral allowed a production company to use part of the building in 2011 to film scenes for the movie Jack the Giant Slayer starring Ewan McGregor.
'The nave was taken out of commission for four weeks for that but the services continued in the east end of the cathedral everyday so there was no question of the cathedral closing,' the Dean said.
'We did the filming at that time because we really needed the income as we had a very big requirement on one of our properties in The Close which we had to restore quickly.
'It was also great fun, more fun than we had expected, partly seeing all the stars, partly seeing how they make a film, and how the cathedral was turned into a medieval castle, in fact we got a lot of what I think is called film tourism where people came into The Close to watch it all going on.'
ALL WALKS OF LIFE
The Dean said during his time here he has found the cathedral to be important to people from all walks of life.
'Being Dean of Norwich you get invited to all kinds of things. My policy has always been to accept every invitation if my diary allows it, so you get to all kinds of events - happy times, sad times, difficult times, and businesses seem to take us very seriously too.
'And you wonder, why is it that when church-going has become so unfashionable now that having the Dean or the Bishop at an event is so important?
'I just think that in a county like Norfolk, the church and the cathedral in particular matters enormously to people. It's a kind of symbol of stability and constancy, and the building itself sends out a message that all is well, it's been here for 900 years, it's going to be here for another 900 years. Everything else may be chaotic but the cathedral is there and its doors are wide open.'
He said he has seen civic services - such as the recent service to commemorate the Battle Of Britain and the service to remember people who have died as a result of drug and alcohol abuse - grow enormously, and he said he felt the cathedral had an important role in marking these significant occasions for people, regardless of whether they are religious or not.
He also said he felt the cathedral's role in working with schools was increasingly important, especially with schools' resources being squeezed, and that he was very proud of how the cathedral's work with schools was expanding.
CATHEDRAL OF CULTURE
In recent times the cathedral and The Close have been the backdrop for some extremely popular cultural and social events, such as the Shakespeare Festival, some of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival performances, and also this year's inaugural Young Norfolk Arts Festival which saw Dame Judi Dench pay a visit.
'We filled the nave of the cathedral with all these young people, and we had Dame Judi do a question and answer session,' the Dean said.
'That was a great moment and she is as delightful and fascinating a person in the flesh as you would imagine, with a lovely twinkle in the eye and genuinely interested in young people in the arts.'
The Dean said it had been wonderful to be involved in all these different events, and that one of his particular favourites had been the introduction of the annual diocesan classic car rally in which he is well known for driving his Daimler SP250 that was left to him by his late brother Noel.
While the Dean said he was 'just brimming over with sadness' about leaving the cathedral, he said he felt a natural watershed had been reached in terms of the cathedral's development and that it was time for a new Dean, with new ideas and new energy, to lead the next phase.
The new Dean of Norwich is yet to be appointed, but when asked what words of wisdom he would give his successor, the Dean said: 'It's the best job and they've got the best cathedral so they are on to a winner before they have even begun. They will be received and welcomed with love and enthusiasm and with great energy. They will have support from a very wide range of people who just want the cathedral to go from strength to strength, so what a great way to come into a job.'
He said two major things on the horizon for the new Dean to oversee were the relighting of the cathedral's interior because the existing lighting system is wearing out, and also a much-needed overhaul of the organ. Both are expected to need funds of about £1.5m.
Meanwhile the Very Rev Graham Smith, his wife Carys, and their sheepdog Alfie, will be getting used to a new life in Devon.
'We have so many happy memories and I'm just so grateful to Norfolk and its people and to the parishes for all being so supportive during our time here,' the Dean said.