Christ Church votes to allow non-clergy college head
The governing body of Christ Church has approved a proposal which would allow non-clergy to lead the college for the first time in its history.
This follows an independent review of Christ Church’s governance released in May by Dominic Grieve KC, which recommended that the head of the college should not be required to be a member of the clergy. This change would give the governing body more freedom in selecting who should lead the college.
The proposal now serves to divide the current responsibilities of Christ Church’s Dean into two roles. The Dean would remain in charge of the cathedral, working alongside a separate college head.
The Dean is currently in charge of a single foundation which comprises Christ Church Cathedral and Christ Church as an Oxford college. Therefore, the Dean must be an ordained Anglican priest.
On 18th October the governing body took an indicative decision to approve the proposal, but it is still subject to a formal vote and further approval by the University, the Church of England, and Parliament.
If formally adopted, the change would open up leadership of Christ Church as a college to a non-clergy member for the first time since its establishment by Henry VIII in 1546.
The Very Revd Professor Sarah Foot, Dean of Christ Church, said: “This vote signals an historic change for both the College and Cathedral at Christ Church. It is no longer appropriate that the leadership of an Oxford University college should be reserved exclusively to ordained priests.
“The Governing Body’s decision will ensure that future appointments to the headship of the Foundation can be drawn from the widest range of applicants.
“The deanship of the Cathedral is a senior office in the Church of England with significant responsibilities. Future Deans will be able to dedicate themselves to leading the mission, ministry and management of the Cathedral Church of the Diocese of Oxford, overseeing its prayer and worship.”
Though the vote signalled support for separate leadership of the college and cathedral, Christ Church would remain within a single foundation in Oxford.
Professor Foot took up office in July 2023 and may be the last person in the college’s almost 500-year history to lead both parts of the foundation. She was also the first woman to take up the role in Christ Church’s history.
Her appointment followed controversy over the position of the previous Dean, Martyn Percy, due to a conflict over pay in 2018 and allegations of misconduct in 2020.