Wakefield Cathedral’s Sub Dean swaps Yorkshire for the heart of London’s South Bank.
Wakefield Cathedral will say goodbye to its Sub Dean this week, when Michael Rawson leaves his Yorkshire roots to go south to join the team at Southwark Cathedral on London’s South Bank.
His walk to work will be a far cry from the shops and County Hall buildings of Wood Street and Cross Square, sandwiched as Southwark is between the Shard and the replica of Sir Frances Drake’s old ship, The Golden Hinde in the heart of one of London’s busy tourist spots.
It will be a wrench for the people of Wakefield Cathedral as well as for Michael who has spent all his ministry here in Yorkshire during which time, he says, he has learned important lessons about the church and his role as priest.
“The church is about people and engaging with people at every level. It’s an inclusive model that reaches out to everyone, wherever and whoever they are. It gives people hope, it finds friends in the unlikeliest places and allows people to realise that church is for them and they are important and valued.
“And funeral ministry should be where this happens every time,” he said. “For me, funeral ministry is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a priest. It is the privilege of being with people at their most vulnerable and to give them hope and a good experience of church and God in their lives.”
The Dean of Wakefield, the Very Revd Jonathan Greener, praised Michael and said: “We will all miss Michael terribly. He has been a stalwart of this cathedral, without whom we would have struggled to be what we are today.
“On a more personal note, Michael’s paths and mine have continually crossed throughout our lives. He opened the door to me when I first visited St Stephen’s House in Oxford; he was just down the road when I trained at the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield; and then in Wakefield too we both worked together before coming to the cathedral. So I am sure they will cross again,” he said.
Born in Huddersfield, Michael knew he wanted to be a priest at the age of 12. He had experienced the ministry of priests who made God real and were rooted in serving their communities. He wanted to do the same. He was encouraged in his vocation as he grew up at St Saviour’s, Ravensthorpe.
Before training for ministry at St Stephen’s House, Oxford Michael lived in Ghana where he spent two years as the administrator of a new theological college, just set up by the Anglican church of Ghana. Here, in that small interdependent community, he experienced his first taste of what ordained ministry might be like.
His first curacy was alongside Canon John Flack in the team parish of Brighouse before he was given his own parish of St Mary’s Gomersal where he spent 11 years.
A keen interest in interior design, gave Michael an eye for liturgical space which later led him to chair the Diocesan Advisory Committee which helps and advises parishes on their ambitions to transform their church buildings inside and out for serving their communities. He was involved in the re-ordering of St Mary’s Church in Gomersal for worship and community use.
Said Michael: “It was hard work, but we were a real team, all outward facing, working together to bring about this reordering which took our ministry out into the heart of the community.”
He spent two years as chaplain to the former Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Stephen Platten, learning how to balance a hectic schedule of civic and parish engagements, together with supporting clergy and parishes.
And that combination of community engagement in Gomersal and civic engagement in the Bishop’s office were the right ingredients for Michael’s next role as Sub Dean of Wakefield Cathedral. He joined the team in 2007. His highlights have included the nave’s transformation with Project 2013, where he especially loves the labyrinth; and he has been privileged to conduct some of the city’s most high profile funerals including the mayor, a Wakefield Wildcats star and members of the Armed Forces.
He said: “I’ve loved my time at Wakefield Cathedral. We have wonderful worship and music and I’ve worked with a fantastic team of people – lay and ordained – who are utterly committed to cathedral ministry and all that means.
“We have a hit and run sort of ministry; people with little or no contact with church come to us when they need a listening ear. They need someone to take them seriously; to give them time there and then. And we are here for them.
“You can’t be a cathedral without loving the people you serve – whoever they might be, from whatever walk of life they come.
“And that’s who we are at Wakefield Cathedral,” he added.
His new role as Sub Dean at Southwark Cathedral also gives Michael his own church of St Hugh in Bermondsey, a new church building with a growing, vibrant ministry. Opened last year, it combines social housing, church and community centre in a unique way.
Michael’s last service is this Sunday (Nov 23) at 3.30pm at Wakefield Cathedral. He will be installed in Southwark on Dec 14 at 3.00pm – there are still spaces left on the coaches going from the Cathedral after the Eucharist at 9.00am for anyone who wants to go. The coaches will leave at 10am