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A visit to Holt deanery

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Sorrow for the past and volunteers for the future were just two of the subjects covered by Bishop Graham at a question-and-answer session in Matlaske church.

The Bishop of Norwich met clergy from across the Holt Deanery in the sunshine of the rectory garden. Hosted by the Rural Dean and Rector of Matlaske, Canon David Longe, he met people serving in parishes ranging from Blakeney to Hindolveston and Bale to East and West Beckham.

Across the road from the Rectory, in Matlaske’s medieval round-towered church, Bishop Graham joined the gathered clergy and lay ministers for Evening Prayer, after answering a series of questions.

Bishop Graham drew upon his childhood for a question about how to answer parishioners querying the Church of England’s financial response to its links with the slavery.

As a very young child he had played on a Ghanaian beach close to the dungeons of Cape Coast Castle where countless African people had been incarcerated before being transported across the Atlantic. In his 20s he returned, thinking it had all been been ended by William Wilberforce. Again, last year, with local Christians and the descendants of slaves, he entered the dungeons.

“Iona is called a thin place, between heaven and earth. This was a thin place between hell and earth,” said Bishop Graham. In some places the prison had been excavated down to the floor of British-made bricks; in others the ground was still trodden-down human excretion.

The Bishop then talked about money given to the Church of England in 1704 to supplement the income of poor clergy by buying land or giving grants. Much of the Queen Anne’s Bounty endowment was invested in companies buying, selling and transporting slaves. More donations came from people who had profited from slavery.

Recent forensic accounting has revealed 20 per cent of the money used by the Church Commissioners to support the mission and ministry of the Church of England can be traced back to investments once linked to the slave trade.

“It is not about reparations because no amount of money can repair the evil of slavery,” said Bishop Graham.

Instead the Church Commissioners are setting aside £100 million over 10 years for projects in communities where the impact of the historic trade in human beings is still damaging people today, and for a new investment fund to create a positive legacy into the future. The Commissioners also expect to support the front-line work of the Church of England with £3.6 billion between 2023 and 2031.

Responding to another question, about the possibility of bringing youth workers to rural parishes, he talked about churches which were getting involved with after-school clubs, as well as the value of older people in youth ministry. ‘Youth work is not essential for the future of the church, it’s essential for the church of today,’ he said.

With some of the priests looking after multiple parishes he was told about the problems of finding people to take on administration, finance and churchwarden roles, and the complexity of complying with charity and Church of England requirements – but was clear that safeguarding was non-negotiable. “We have to absolutely ensure as a church that we are as safe as we possibly can be. That is essential,” he said.

And asked about the best bit of being a bishop, Bishop Graham said: “The things that bring me the greatest joy as your bishop is when I’m most being a parish priest – being alongside the ill, supporting clergy where there are challenges.

“I’m really excited about the environmental agenda, and how that is taking off nationally. I delight in confirmation services and seeing people taking a step in their life with the Lord.”