Outgoing Dean of Liverpool praises the ‘can do’ attitude of the city

After five years at Liverpool Cathedral, the Very Revd Pete Wilcox, is moving on to become the Bishop of Sheffield – but he cherishes strong memories of his time in Merseyside. Tony McDonough reports

Outgoing Dean of Liverpool, the Very Revd Pete Wilcox

Bigger congregations, helping people back into work, getting Liverpool Cathedral to number one on Trip Advisor and raising millions of pounds towards its upkeep.

All significant achievements during the five-year tenure of the Very Revd Pete Wilcox, Dean of Liverpool, who left his role on Trinity Sunday to become the Bishop of Sheffield.

But Dean Pete, as he is known, insists the progress made at the Cathedral, the UK’s biggest and the world’s fifth-largest, has been a team effort.

“All of the achievements of the past five years have not been about me but about the team we have here,” he told YBNews

“These are their achievements – my colleagues here are first class.”

He also adds that as much as he has given in his time in Liverpool, the city has given him so much in return adding that he owes it a “huge debt”.

And Dean Pete was happy to share his high points from the past five years.

Fundraising for the future

In 2014, the Cathedral launched its 10-year 24 for 2024 fundraising campaign which aims to raise £24m by 2024 for the long-term upkeep of the cathedral.

2024 marks the 100th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone. The cathedral was consecrated in the presence of King George V and Queen Mary.

He explained: “We have a great team here and we pretty good at staying in the black year-on-year in terms of the day-to-day running of the cathedral.

“But if you are going to have to biggest cathedral in Britain then raising the capital funds for its upkeep is a huge challenge.

Liverpool Cathedral is the biggest in the UK and the fifth-biggest in the world

“If we want to keep it standing for the next 100 years then that is going to cost millions and millions  of pounds.

“We have already made a great start to the appeal by raising £7m so far. We are currently putting together an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund and, if that is successful, that will be a big contribution to reaching our target.”

Congregation growth

For a number of people living nearby, Liverpool Cathedral is their local parish church and it holds a minimum of three services a day – more on Sundays.

Dean Pete said: “We have set out to grow the size of the congregations and that has been successful. Average attendances are up by 30-60%.

“When the services take place we expect all other activities to stop.

“We are very clear that the cathedral is, first and foremost, a place of worship and Christian mission.

“When we reach out to people it is about refreshing their memory of Jesus and we take that very seriously.”

Helping the vulnerable

Reaching out to those in need is central to the Christian ethos and the Dean is particularly proud of two of the projects that have started during his tenure.

The Cathedral supports the Hope+ food bank in the city and also runs a project called Volition, which identifies volunteer roles for people as part of a pathway to get them back to work.

“Volition has so far helped 99 people find paid work and I am very proud of that,” he added.

“Both of these projects are designed to help some of the most vulnerable people and it is such an important part of the work we do.”

Tourist attraction

The jaw-dropping magnificence of Liverpool Cathedral has always drawn visitors from across the world and now it is has planted itself at the heart of Liverpool’s booming visitor economy.

Twice, in recent years its has won the he Major Attraction of the Year Award at the Liverpool City Region Visitor Economy Awards.

“If you go on Trip Advisor and look for recommendations of where to visit in Liverpool the cathedral is number one – and we are very pleased about that,” said Dean Pete.

Liverpool Cathedral is the location for many events. Picture by Tony McDonough

“We push the boat out more than other cathedrals in terms of activities. Cream held a rave here that attracted 2,000 people and some might ask ‘is that ok?’.

“Our rule of thumb is ‘is this an activity that would make God frown if it was held in a public space?’. If the answer is no then we are happy to allow the activity to take place here.”

Stand-out moments

Dean Pete said two events stick out in his mind – the funeral service for PC Dave Phillips, who was killed in a hit and run by a stolen vehicle while on duty in 2015, and the service for the 2014 Battle of the Atlantic commemorations, which was broadcast live by the BBC.

“The funeral of PC Phillips was a day when I think we served the whole of Merseyside,” he said.

“I think we do those big, set-piece liturgical occasions really well. There is something really special about this cathedral when it is full of people.”

Passion for training

The Dean trained at Ridley Hall in Cambridge after completing a degree in modern history at Durham University. He later studied for a doctorate at Oxford University.

He subsequently held a number of positions in the church, including assisting in the training of new ministers. He cites education and training as a major passion and while in Liverpool he has also helped established a training facility for new ministers to serve the whole North West.

He is married to a writer, Catherine Fox and they have two adult sons. Dean Pete is a fan of all ball sports and follows the fortunes of Newcastle United especially closely.

He is also the author of three books: ‘Living the Dream’ (2007), ‘Walking the Walk (2009) and ‘Talking the Talk’ (2011).

He added: “I owe a huge debt to this city and myself and my family have loved living here. I have been ordained for 30 years and these last five years have been the most fruitful and fun.

“I love the can-do attitude of Liverpool and it has been a huge privilege to have worked here.”

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