Language of cathedrals: a quick explainer

As we've been growing our campaign, it is clear that the language of cathedrals needs some explanation.

The language around the constitution of cathedrals goes back centuries and it can be difficult to make parallels to the ‘real’ world.

The Dean: the Cathedral's "chief executive"

Chapter: the Cathedral's "governing board"

Cathedral Council: the advisory board to Chapter

Bishop: the head of the Diocese

Precentor: the priest in charge of music and services

Master of the Music: the professional musician (organist and choir trainer) who leads the music department

Lay Clerks: the adult choir members (professional singers)

Choral Scholars: the student choir members (singers from the city's universities)

Choristers: the child choir members (singers)

So, what does it all mean?

Chapter: formerly known as "Dean and Chapter" is the Cathedral’s governing body, its "executive board". The Dean is the Chair of Chapter and acts as "chief executive" of the Cathedral. Day-to-day running of the Cathedral staff and building on behalf of Chapter is managed by the Chief Operating Officer, who at Sheffield is the senior member of lay staff (not a member of clergy). Chapter is currently not accountable to any authority for its actions (although legislation is being drafted nationally to update the Cathedrals Measure 1999 that will change this in the future).

Cathedral Council: in Sheffield, the Cathedral Council is chaired by the Lord-Lieutenant of South Yorkshire. Its role is to support and advise Chapter. It has the authority to request reports from Chapter; discuss and declare its opinions on any matter; and draw any matter to the attention of the Church Commissioners or the Cathedral Visitor. In respect of the latter, it is therefore the only body that can hold The Dean to account.

Bishop: The Bishop of Sheffield runs the Diocese of Sheffield - the collection of all churches and parishes within the region. The Bishop’s "seat" is in the Cathedral, but he has no authority in the day-to-day running of the Cathedral. He may attend Council meetings, and speak, but may not vote. The Bishop may be consulted by The Dean, Chapter or Council on any matter. As Cathedral Visitor the Bishop can carry out an investigation (called a "visitation") when he considers it 'desirable or necessary to do so or when requested by the Council or the Chapter' [ref: Cathedrals Measure 1999].

Precentor: this is the member of clergy responsible for services and for the choir. This post is currently vacant in Sheffield. The Precentor line manages the Master of the Music.

Master of the Music: is the Director of Music and Cathedral Organist. The Master of the Music is responsible for training and directing the cathedral choirs. In addition the Master of the Music is responsible for the choice of music that is sung, in consultation with the Precentor. The Master of the Music line manages the Lay Clerks, and may be supported by an Assistant Master of the Music, whose role is primarily to play the organ when the choir sings, as well as supporting the Master of the Music with recruitment and training of choristers.

Lay Clerks: The Cathedral has provision for six Lay Clerks, adults who are professional singers employed by the Cathedral to sing alto, tenor or bass (two of each). They are each responsible for supporting the development of a choral scholar. They are paid a salary.

Choral Scholars: The Cathedral has provision for six choral scholars, university students who join the cathedral choir for their time at university: typically three or four years. There are two for each voice part: alto, tenor and bass. They are paid a bursary to help support them in their studies.

Choristers: Cathedral Choristers are boys and girls of school age who sing the top line (usually, "the tune"). Boys join the choir may join the choir from 7 and leave as their voices break at 12-13. Girls tend to join at secondary school age, although they may join at a younger age, and leave when they finish school at 18.

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