A place of inclusion, a centre for excellence and a promoter of the creative arts: Dean of Newcastle Katherine Bowyer has a firm vision for the city’s iconic Christ Church Cathedral.
“I’m really passionate about this being a place where everyone knows they are welcome, and for LGBTIQA+ rights and First Nations peoples,” she says.
In 2017, Dean Katherine became the 16th Dean of Newcastle. She was the first female and first person born in the Diocese to be elected to the position.
As the Parish Priest, she is responsible for connecting with the city and community and also plays an important role in the Diocese due to the Cathedral’s standing as the “Mother Church”, where occasions like ordinations and other celebrations take place.
Dean Katherine says she wants people to “feel like they are coming home” when they visit the Cathedral.
“So many people feel like they can’t come in or drive past and don’t realise it’s open pretty much every day,” she says. “I want people to come in, I want them to sit here and wonder: ‘Why was this built? What’s it all about?’
“People asking questions is a really easy point of engagement to start talking about the way of Jesus.”
Born at the Mater hospital and a proud Novocastrian, Dean Katherine is grateful for the Diocese’s encouragement of both women and men to be called to all three orders – deacons, priests, and bishops – of ministry.
She added Newcastle Anglican Bishop Dr Peter Stuart had been a great champion of equality. “Particularly under his leadership, I see that he has been an advocate and an ally in that space,” she says.
“Women have been ordained as priests for over 30 years now, with the celebrations taking place last December.
“I still encounter some people who are surprised that I am the Dean and the Priest here. I love it when they say to me: ‘Oh, can I speak to the Dean? And I say: ‘Yes, you’re talking to her.”
The role of Dean has not been without its challenges over the past five years, particularly during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dean Katherine says the Cathedral’s dedicated team saw the signs early in 2020 and began to prepare for online services. Live streams, alongside morning and afternoon prayers, have since attracted an impressive following.
The services allowed the Cathedral to maintain a strong connection with parishioners and improved accessibility.
“We’ve been really surprised and thankful for the reach (of our services),” Dean Katherine says.
“There’s a person who joins in every morning from his backyard in Queensland because he found it and it’s nurturing for him. In the normal course of events, he wouldn’t have that connection with us.
“Equally, I know of parishioners from the Cathedral who have moved away to be closer to family and they are still able to access that link through the online ministries.
“The role of the Church is to be where people are. If we’re locked away in here, well, that’s beautiful and wonderful, but the people are out there.”
So, what does the future hold for the Cathedral?
Dean Katherine plans to build on the work of previous deans by strengthening the music and family ministries and improve engagement with the wider community.
“I want the Cathedral to be a place that is known for being like a centre for excellence or centre for goodness, where there is excellent preaching, teaching, music and liturgy but also that it’s like a real cultural hub,” she says.
“In medieval times, cathedrals were the places that nurtured the creative arts and this cathedral, through lots of previous deans, really sought to do that. I also want to strengthen our engagement with the community.
“Whatever brings people over the threshold gives us an opportunity to invite them to think more deeply and to reflect.”