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A Chorus of Chaos at Winchester Cathedral

Amid public accusations of bullying, Winchester Cathedral has lost its 22-year director of music, the senior non-executive member of its chapter, and half of its adult male choristers, or lay clerks.

The dean, the Very Rev. Catherine Ogle, has taken a break that the cathedral suggested will be brief, and the precentor and sacrist accused of bullying, the Rev. Canon Andy Trenier, “is on light duties,” a statement by the cathedral staff said.

Bishop Stephen Philip Mounstephen of Winchester has ordered a review of the conflicts by Patti Russell of the law firm Winckworth Sherwood, whom he described as “a highly experienced ecclesiastical lawyer with expertise both in the area of cathedral governance and leadership and HR matters.”

The cathedral’s season of discontent has been the subject of various media reports, from the tabloid Mail on Sunday to the cultural magazine The Critic.

“The talk is of funds being diverted away from the choir and into other areas of cathedral life, including other start-up choral groups within the cathedral,” Gavin McCormick wrote in The Critic. “Rumours that the whole choral foundation in the cathedral is under threat have abounded. It is not difficult to see why: the ranks of the lay clerks (who stood at a full complement of 12 in [former dean Trevor] Beeson’s day [the 1990s]) have shrunk to a minimal level (now just 7, perhaps soon 6); boy choristers are also numerically down. The choir looks threadbare — and communication about why this is so, and how the problem will be solved, has been non-existent.”

Ali Kefford of The Mail on Sunday wrote about Trenier: “He is said to have berated the Director of Music Dr Andrew Lumsden in front of the boy choristers, and told singers they could leave if they didn’t agree with his approach. Those targeted by his volcanic temper are said to have been left trembling.”

Kefford added: “Canon Trenier’s relationship with the eight adult male lay clerks is said to have irretrievably broken down amid allegations that he has been coercive, manipulative and belittling. They are four short of their usual tally of 12 because, his critics say, working at Winchester is now seen as a poison chalice.”

Trenier has denied requests by U.K. media for comment. When Church Times sought his response, the cathedral sent a statement that said: “The Chapter is already committed to some practical steps in terms of investment and resourcing, to answer some of the concerns, with a focus on building a positive future for choral music at Winchester Cathedral.

“Investment in music at the Cathedral will rise to as much as £850,000 this year — a 36 percent increase since 2019/20 (before COVID) — with the bulk of the budget increase invested in the main cathedral choir.”

Toby Oliver of the Hampshire Chronicle reported that Mark Byford, the senior non-executive member of the cathedral chapter, “said he resigned with ‘deep reluctance and disappointment.’”

Oliver added: “Former choristers had also expressed their fears over the departures of organist Claudia Grinnell and, in 2021, George Castle. Toshi Ogita, chorister and professional singer who deputises for the Lay Clerks, broke ranks to write a public letter to the bishop asking him to intervene.”

Bishop Mountstephen said in a statement posted on the cathedral’s website: “The precise terms and scope of the Review are now being finalised. However, whilst the Review will of course focus on areas which have been the subject of public concern, it is important to stress that its aim is primarily pastoral. The recommendations which it gives me will, I trust, enable Winchester Cathedral to move into a more settled future in which it continues to offer worship to God of the highest quality, and to act as a sign of his welcome and love to all who enter into it. After a very difficult and painful period I would ask all those concerned to approach the work of the review with grace and trust so that together we can play our part in ensuring the Cathedral enters into that positive and fruitful future.”

In another statement on its website, the cathedral pledged its cooperation: “We appreciate the Bishop’s support and share a desire to quickly understand and address any concerns related to our culture, management, or governance — particularly in light of the recent concerns around the management of the much-loved choral tradition. We recognise that trust in the Cathedral’s leadership is essential for a healthy and flourishing church and see a review as an opportunity to work towards that end goal.”

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