Early in my ministry I was given a life verse from the Bible that seemed to reflect my story and personality. From Psalm 96 it said, ‘Proclaim every day the good news that God has saved us’.
This became my call to action and my motivation for each new day.
I have now been in ministry for more than 40 years - the last 11 of those years as the Anglican Bishop of Lancaster.
As I prepare to retire I find myself reflecting first on how I will miss the people of this great county of Lancashire and one particular kindness comes to mind.
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At my consecration service, when I became Bishop of Lancaster, at York Minster in 2006 I asked for the hymn, ‘In Christ Alone’; but it was refused for various reasons.
When clergy in the Blackburn Diocese heard this, in the weeks and months after my arrival as Bishop they started to deliberately choose it wherever I went!
It became a kind of anthem and a reflection of the kindness and hospitality that my wife Jean and I have constantly experienced across the county.
Jean has been a constant support to me. I remember visiting a church in Fleetwood where the vicar promptly announced the best thing about the Bishop of Lancaster is his wife. I could not agree more!
Jean and I have worked as a team in ministry for more than 40 years. Her personal ministry has included hospital work, spiritual direction, hospitality, preaching and teaching.
Although I have been officially Priest-in-Charge of the wonderful Shireshead Church Jean, as a Reader, was really the Focal Minister! We will both miss the people of Shireshead very much.
During my own time as the Bishop of Lancaster the verse I mentioned previously from Psalm 96 has shaped particular areas of my ministry.
Ever since being involved in a national report ‘All God’s children?’ which argued for new priorities to communicate the gospel to millions of children who face life without any awareness of a God who loves them, I have been an advocate for children’s ministry.
It is wonderful to be able to recall several particular successes in this area of work as my time in the diocese draws to a close. We became the first diocese to award 100 Child Friendly Church awards while our very successful concept of ‘Confirmation Camp’ for young people has developed year-on-year and it was fully booked this year.
And even now, my last weeks in office are taking me to many schools and churches to celebrate more than 3,000 children completing my latest ‘Bible Challenge’. It has been a special joy for me to see the enthusiasm for the Bible stories from Luke’s gospel the young people have engaged with.
Among the many memories from my time as Bishop I will cherish is the Youth Pilgrimage to South Africa in 2016 during which older teenagers from Lancashire worked hard, played hard and prayed hard. It was such a privilege to work alongside them as they rebuilt a home in an African township.
As well as being a mentor myself, I have had many mentors of my own along the way but two bishops in particular shared the same advice that I have tried to follow.
As a young curate in West Yorkshire I got to know the charismatic Bishop of Pontefract, Richard Hare, who encouraged me to be gentle in my episcopal ministry.
It was a similar message from the great Bishop of Lincoln, Edward King, who had confirmed my grandfather. His motto was: ‘Thy gentleness hath made me great’ (Psalm 18:36).
Both these men taught me that gentleness is not weakness, but restrained strength and they pointed to the gentleness and strength of Christ.
I have been involved in various projects outside the diocese but perhaps my involvement with some of our training institutions has given me most satisfaction.
I helped steer Cranmer Hall, Durham, through a difficult period and to see it flying now is a real joy. Having chaired a theological college in the north east I then became involved in the start of St Mellitus North West.
This became the first full-time route to ordination in the north west since a college had closed in the 1980s. Based in Liverpool Cathedral it now has more than 70 ordinands training in a way which equips them well for the demands of ministry and mission in the 21st century.
I sense then, I leave Blackburn Diocese in good heart. There is a great team across the whole diocese, led by Bishop Julian, the Bishop of Blackburn, spearheading our Vision 2026, which is all about healthy churches transforming our communities.
Recently no less than 12 new deacons and six new priests were ordained in Blackburn Cathedral. I was struck by the quality of this cohort of 18 men and women and their leadership potential.
In my work leading on church growth and church planting as part of Vision 2026 I also recently published a paper highlighting 10 brand new congregations which have started in Lancashire in recent years for people of all ages, including the young, who may not be drawn to a more traditional church.
As I draw these reflections to a close, one memory from my experience of working with children and young people comes to mind; perhaps because it so neatly sums up the way the young can so quickly get to the point ...
Walking past a group of youngsters one day, I overheard one of them say ‘it’s that Jesus dude’.
I’ll take that!