Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

Wellington gains first female dean

As Wellington celebrates Rev Anashuya Fletcher’s election as their second female Assistant Bishop, the Diocese has achieved yet another quiet triumph for Anglican women’s public leadership. In November last year, the Very Reverend Katie Lawrence was installed as Dean of the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, making her the first female Dean for Aotearoa New Zealand’s capital city.

Julanne Clarke-Morris  |  21 Mar 2024  |

The Very Rev Katie Lawrence is the newest Anglican Dean of Wellington, making her our capital city’s first female priest appointed as a Cathedral Dean.

Back on Sunday 12 November 2023, Katie Lawrence took up the lead role for the Cathedral after four and a half years as Canon Precentor, including two years as Acting Dean.

In her time at Wellington Cathedral since 2019, Katie has formed a strong idea of what the Cathedral can aspire to be, and has savoured the embrace of the three Tikanga Church.

“The past four years in Aotearoa New Zealand have been joy-filled and challenging in equal measure, providing me with a fresh perspective on God’s call for me to lead the body of Christ in this place.”

“I have come to love the dynamism of God’s people in these islands and am humbled to have been adopted into a new expression of God’s family through the concept of whānau.”

Katie wants Wellington Cathedral to be a place that extends spiritual nurture to all.

“The Cathedral is like an anchor in the landscape that provides stability, enabling people to come for worship; but we are also like a well, providing an oasis for our regulars, and for visitors who might want to drink deeply.”

“There’s always a tension between “come and see” and “go and be”. Christ is the living water, cleansing, refreshing, making all things new. I would like our ministry to be a life-giving river that brings health, healing and wholeness beyond the Cathedral doors.” 

Rev Katie Lawrence answered the call to Wellington after four years as a priest, serving as curate at Winchester Cathedral in the UK.

While leading services at Winchester, Katie expanded the Cathedral’s ministry setting up adult discipleship groups, establishing a new children’s ministry, designing prayer stations and spiritual pilgrimages for the Cathedral and establishing a chaplaincy at Winchester College of Art. 

During her Winchester curacy, Rev Katie also took part in a SOMA mission team in Rwanda and Tanzania, led the ‘Sanctuary Prayer Space’ at the UK New Wine festival and served in a prophetic dance ministry team in the Healing Rooms at Holy Trinity Brompton.

Dean Katie’s diverse road to ministry came on the heels of her twenty-year career as a professional dancer, where she combined performance, choreography and teaching internationally.

For Katie, life in the world of dance gave her insights into the nature of God and of discipleship.

“Dance teaches me about indescribable joy, and about the creative presence of God. God is not something to be looked at like a work of art.

God enables us to be grounded, God redeems all that we are.” 

She also believes the discipline of dance has taught her to be more inclusive and compassionate, and to value the sacred breath – so important to dance – in all people.

“And of course the greatest works are not solos. You can achieve so much more with a company of dancers than you can on your own.”

Once Katie received her call to ordained ministry, (which arrived as a complete surprise) she undertook rigorous Church of England ministry training, which took her into prison ministry, out to Holy Island on pilgrimage, and into urban mission with youth at the Good Samaritan Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, USA.

While Katie’s Christian journey began with her baptism in an Anglican Church (growing up on an RAF base in Cyprus), she has worshipped in many denominations, including Greek Orthodox, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Evangelical and Pentecostal churches.

But when Katie and husband Matthew Lawrence later settled in an English country village, they discovered that it was their local Anglican Church that drew them into its hub of life and faith. And there, the enthusiastic vicar encouraged them to explore their talents for ministry. 

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In five short years, Katie Lawrence has already faced challenges in Cathedral ministry it would have been hard to forsee.

As Acting Dean, she and the Wellington Cathedral community found themselves at the heart of national life in a new way, when the Government’s Covid-19 public health restrictions prompted virulent protest, and the live-in tent city sprawling across the Parliamentary lawns began to spread onto the Cathedral grounds too.

But while it wasn’t easy, Dean Katie doesn’t regret for a minute that the Cathedral chose to stay open.

“It was a turning point to say ‘We are not closing the front door.’

 We were saying God is big enough to allow people in, and so can we.” 

“People were angry with that decision on both sides. Some said it prolonged the protest, and others said we should have opened our hall for the protestors to use.”

That decision to stay open (one of only two public spaces in Thorndon that did during the protests) fits with Katie’s understanding of what a Cathedral should be for its city and community.

“We are a Cathedral community of faith, but we are also a place that can offer blessing to people who don’t usually consider themselves part of the church.

We may never know what the spiritual impact of that choice could be.”

So far Dean Katie has found that each service the Cathedral is called on to offer has its own unique opportunities for ministry.

Those occasions might go from extremes such as the large-scale pomp and circumstance of Cathedral services for state or Crown, to last June’s painfully heartfelt memorial service for the five people who died in the Loafers’ Lodge fire in Newtown.

“It’s a tragedy that anybody should have to face inhumane living conditions and so die in a fire like that. We wanted to respond, to open up the cathedral to be a place where people could be together, and not stay isolated in their grief and pain and anger.”

For now, Dean Katie gives thanks for her faithful and excellent Cathedral staff and Vestry colleagues. The combination of their gifts and skills, along with the daily rhythm of scripture reading and prayer, help to sustain her as she prepares for the surprises of each day of Cathedral ministry in the capital city. 

“Each day might play out in providing practical resources to a rough sleeper, leading a group of students on a prayer walk through the neighbourhood, liaising with the Department of Internal Affairs or welcoming the Governor General for a Civic service.”

“And I view every encounter as an opportunity to build bridges for the fruitfulness and flourishing of God’s work of reconciliation and restoration.”