Thank you for coming today. Shall we pray?
Breathe on us, breath of God: fill us with life anew, that we may love as you have loved and do as you would do. Amen.
I’m delighted and somewhat daunted at being nominated to the see of Norwich. A theme of God’s calling in my life is that each new chapter has been to a new and unexpected place. That was true for the call to Middlesbrough, to Northumberland, and to Dudley and Worcestershire. I’m grateful to the people in each of those places for shaping me as we have shared in the joy of living the good news of the gospel together.
The Diocese of Norwich is equally a new and unexpected place for Rachel and me. What a wonderful privilege it is to be called to serve among you. We’re looking forward to getting to know Norfolk and Waveney, and being part of your life in many and various ways. I see the role of a bishop as being deeply connected to the warp and weft of life in a place, seeking to build bridges, bring people together, and finding the common ground on which the common good flourishes.
At least you don’t need to learn the name of a new bishop! And it is with Bishop Graham that I would like to start. Having worked closely with him on relationships with the BBC and media outlets, I’ve long admired his ministry and valued his friendship. I look forward to building further on the legacy that he has left. The Diocese of Norwich feels in good heart!
As I’ve re-read the works of Mother Julian of Norwich over recent weeks, I’ve been struck afresh about how she came to realise that the truest and most authentic spiritual life was one that produced awe, humility and love.
The Christian faith is awe-inspiring. It is a story that has woven around and within my own story, and brought me the greatest joy. God’s invitation is that everyone should encounter the transforming love of Jesus; that his life and death and resurrection should be woven into the pattern of all of our lives. I believe that living in his shadow is the greatest decision any of us can make in our lives. And I’m looking forward to leading a diocese that seeks, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to inspire the imagination of more people, especially the young, about the Christian faith.
With 650 church buildings, many of them architectural and heritage gems, and all of them treasure troves of memory, this diocese has an incredible local presence. Yet, in humility, we know that there are places where buildings have become a burden and volunteers are struggling. Places where ministry is stretched with clergy and lay leaders being overly busy. I want us to be honest about these challenges, as well as seeking to be imaginative in our response to best support local communities. It’s often from the cracks in our lives, and the vulnerabilities of our communities, that the light of Christ shines through. Thus, being unafraid of experimenting and doing things differently, offering an inclusive welcome to all, nurturing vocations and gifts of lay ministry, and fostering partnerships with those seeking the common good and the flourishing of all, will all be crucial for the journey that lies ahead.
I pray, too, that as we seek to plant and revitalise churches, we will add to our cadre of humble and servant leaders seeking the growth of our church communities. Communities that can live out their faith in Jesus Christ with a generosity of spirit and compassion, better serving their neighbours in partnership with others.
I’m looking forward to getting out and about, meeting people who live in the Broads, along the Norfolk coast, and amidst your farms, villages, coastal and market towns. I’m looking forward to learning about the landscapes and natural history that lie under Norfolk’s big sky. I’m also looking forward to getting to know Norwich, the ‘fine city’ as it is known. However, I’m conscious that, like many other communities in the diocese, it isn’t a fine city for everyone. I’m committed to working with others to make Norwich, Norfolk and Waveney a finer place for the marginalised and excluded; those on the edge. I believe passionately that the last, the least and the lost who will become the first, the fullest and the found in God’s kingdom. The calling of the Church is to live that, offering all that it can in love.
So an adventure lies ahead that dwells in the awe of God, walks in humility, and reflects the love of Jesus Christ to the individuals and communities we seek to serve. Under God, ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well’. May it be a joyous adventure of finding life in all its wellness!
Please pray for me as I will pray for you. I was deeply moved to be given, by Dean Jane, the slips of paper from the vigil service in the Cathedral. People had been invited to write down what they hoped to be able to do for their new bishop and praying for the Bishop of Norwich was the over-riding theme. I’m grateful for that commitment. Thank you.
Back in January, I stood in front of the high altar in Norwich Cathedral as a mum read to her daughter, who had severe learning difficulties, the prayer that you had written for the discernment of your new bishop. I’ve taken the liberty of adapting that prayer to be one that is now very personal, which I offer now to God before all of you:
Eternal God, my shepherd and guide, in your mercy may I be to the Diocese of Norwich a shepherd after your own heart who will walk in your ways, and with loving care watch over your people. Help me to be a leader of your vision, and a teacher of your truth. So that your church may grow, and by your grace accomplish more than I can imagine, for the glory of your name, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.