Robert Willis (priest)

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Robert Willis

Dean of Canterbury
ChurchChurch of England
ProvinceProvince of Canterbury
DioceseDiocese of Canterbury
In office1 July 2001 – present
PredecessorJohn Simpson
Other postsDean of Hereford (1992–2000)
Ordination1972 (deacon)
1973 (priest)
Personal details
Birth nameRobert Andrew Willis
Born (1947-05-17) 17 May 1947 (age 73)
EducationKingswood Grammar School
Alma materUniversity of Warwick
Worcester College, Oxford

Robert Andrew Willis, DL (born 17 May 1947) is an Anglican priest, theologian, chaplain and hymn writer. [1] He has been Dean of Canterbury since 2001. He was previously a chaplain and vicar before serving as the Dean of Hereford between 1992 and 2000.

Early life[edit]

Willis was born on 17 May 1947. He was educated at Kingswood Grammar School in Kingswood, near Bristol. He studied at Warwick University, graduating Bachelor of Arts (BA).[2] He then studied for ordination at Cuddesdon,[3] and completed a Diploma in Theology (DipTh) at Worcester College, Oxford.[2]

Ordained ministry[edit]

Willis was ordained into the Church of England as deacon in 1972 and as priest in 1973. He served his curacy at St Chad's Church, Shrewsbury from 1972 to 1975.[2] From 1975 to 1978 he was a vicar choral of Salisbury Cathedral and chaplain of Salisbury Cathedral School.[4] From 1978 to 1987 he was Team Rector of Tisbury, Wiltshire, and served as chaplain of Cranborne Chase School and RAF Chilmark.[2]

In 1987, he became Vicar of Sherborne Abbey, a former cathedral and abbey in Dorset.[4] In addition, he was chaplain to Sherborne School for Girls. He was appointed canon and prebendary of Salisbury Cathedral in 1988. He served as rural dean of Sherborne between 1991 and 1992.[2]

In November 1992, he was instituted Dean of Hereford,[5] primes inter pares (first among equals) of the governing body of Hereford Cathedral.[2] In addition, he was Priest-in-Charge of St John's Church, Hereford.[6] In 2001, he was appointed the Dean of Canterbury.[6] He was installed on 1 July 2001,[7] thereby becoming the 39th Dean of Canterbury since the Reformation.[8]

In 1995, he became a member of the General Synod of the Church of England.[8] In 1999, he was elected Chairman of the Deans' and Provosts' Conference.[9][6] He continued as chairman of its successor, the Deans' Conference, when it was created in 2002.[2][10]


Willis is an accomplished pianist and opera enthusiast as well as the writer of several hymns. These include "The Kingdom is upon you" and "Let us light a candle".[6]

COVID-19 broadcasts[edit]

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Church of England suspended public worship.[11] In response to this, Willis broadcast religious services from the garden of the Canterbury Deanery. In May 2020, he received international media attention when his cat walked between his legs and into his cassock.[12][13] A similar incident occurred in July 2020, when another cat began to drink from a jug of milk that had been positioned next to Willis.[14]


In 2001, Willis was appointed a Commander of the Venerable Order of Saint John (CStJ).[15] In 2009, he was promoted to Knight of the Venerable Order of Saint John (KStJ); the order does not grant the use of the prefix "Sir".[16] In 2011, he was appointed a deputy lieutenant of the County of Kent.[3] He was awarded the Cross of St Augustine by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2012.[2]

He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity (DD) degree by Yale University in 2009.[2][8] He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Civil Law (DCL) degree by the University of Kent in November 2011.[4]


  1. ^ person page
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Robert Andrew WILLIS". People of Today. Debrett's. Archived from the original on 17 December 2014. Retrieved 15 December 2014.
  3. ^ a b "Robert Willis". About Us. Association of English Cathedrals. Archived from the original on 16 December 2014. Retrieved 15 December 2014.
  4. ^ a b c "The Very Reverend Dr Robert Willis". University of Kent. 31 January 2014. Retrieved 15 December 2014.
  5. ^ "Hereford Cathedral: a history", G. E. Aylmer and John Eric Tiller
  6. ^ a b c d Duke, Alan (26 February 2001). "Hereford Dean comes to Canterbury". Anglican Communion News Service. Retrieved 15 December 2014.
  7. ^ Whitstable Choral Society – Honorary Patron (Accessed 5 January 2013)
  8. ^ a b c "The Dean". Chapter members. Canterbury Cathedral. Retrieved 15 December 2014.
  9. ^ "WILLIS, Robert Andrew". Who's Who 2012. A & C Black.
  10. ^ "Deans' Conference". About Us. Association of English Cathedrals. Retrieved 15 December 2014.
  11. ^ Harriet Sherwood (17 March 2020). "Church of England suspends all services over coronavirus". The Guardian.
  12. ^ "Watch: Canterbury Cathedral cat disappears under Dean's robes during sermon". Daily Telegraph. 27 May 2020.
  13. ^ Rob Picheta (27 May 2020). "Cat disappears into priest's robes during online sermon". CNN.
  14. ^ Luke O'Reilly (6 July 2020). "The Canterbury Tail: Cat steals vicar's milk during cathedral's online prayer service". London Evening Standard.
  15. ^ "Order of St John". The London Gazette (56212). 22 May 2001. Retrieved 15 December 2014. In 2004 he was made an honorary fellow of Canterbury Christ Church University
  16. ^ "Order of St John". The London Gazette (59254). 27 November 2009. Retrieved 15 December 2014.

External links[edit]

Church of England titles
Preceded by
Peter Haynes
Dean of Hereford
Succeeded by
Michael Tavinor
Preceded by
John Simpson
Dean of Canterbury