Bishop Graham began this Coronation Year by preaching on New Year’s Day at St Mary Magdalene Church, Sandringham, with The King and The Queen Consort present: “Good to join the congregation at St Mary Magdalene, Sandringham this morning as we mark the turn of the year and the naming of Jesus.”
A more sombre occasion followed on 4 January, with his attendance at the Solemn First Vespers of the Dead to commemorate the life of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and to pray for the repose of his soul at St John’s Roman Catholic Cathedral.
Vespers was celebrated by the Rt Revd Peter Collins, the new Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of East Anglia, who warmly welcomed his ecumenical and civic guests. In his homily, Bishop Peter noted: “Pope Benedict XVI reminded us constantly that the strands of human existence are meant to be held together in that harmony which is fashioned and secured by the redemptive sacrifice and triumph of Jesus Christ.”
A happier celebration of Orthodox Christmas with Ukrainian friends and their families took place at St Botolph’s Church, Trunch, on 7 January. Vespers, led and supported by members of three local Orthodox churches, blessing and prayers from Bishop Graham, and a message of support from Duncan Baker MP, was followed by dinner with the best of Ukrainian and British food and a screening of the Grinch, all ending with a visit from St Nicholas! “A joyous celebration with 40+ Ukrainian refugees in a North Norfolk village church. Our rural communities at their best. Thank you to all who organised Orthodox vespers and a wonderful feast. We prayed urgently for the peace of the Christ-child.”
A visit to Taverham VC CE Junior School was next, on 11 January to open their Garden of Hope. An idea borne out of a response to the pandemic, to provide a place for children to come to feel peaceful and hopeful. “Every child has painted a stone and each one is fabulous. I thought they needed a bee! What a fabulous church school.”
Throughout the year, Bishop Graham is invited to preside at services in many different parishes and enjoys the opportunity to connect with their congregations. This past month he spoke at Caistor St Edmund on 15 January: “Good to join Revd Rob Baker and congregation at Caistor St Edmunds to explore holding together our prayers of lament and joyful wonder about creation. Coffee and bacon buns to begin. Another example of an engaging rural church,” he Tweeted.
On Sunday 22, “Good to be at St Thomas’ Norwich this morning to preside and preach. ‘Come, follow me.’ Jesus calls us to self-sacrifice, service and inconvenience. To throw a wide net to include all. To mend nets & sew together broken lives. To net-work for the Kingdom.”
And on Sunday 29, “A lovely visit to Wymondham Abbey, reflecting together on the themes of joy, change and abundance in the story of the wedding at Cana. Lovely to see and hear how the congregation is in good heart and much appreciating the ministry of Fr Christopher Davies.”
The Fourth of a series of five Bishop’s Breakfast Briefings on Monday 16 January brought together a whole range of people from leading employers, social enterprises, the cultural sector, education and charities for a very fruitful discussion about creating vibrant and sustainable economic communities. Presentations from Scrapbox-Norfolk, St Peter Mancroft and the NDBF highlighted the role our churches and people contribute.
A trip out to a much-valued warm space in Lowestoft on 26 January saw Bishop Graham wielding a tea towel with the “fabulous” kitchen team. “I really value all that I learnt today at St Andrew’s Lowestoft at their warm space about caring for people impacted by the cost-of-living crisis. I met Diane, one of the saints of God’s Church here, for 72 years, helping with the Warm Space Brunch Cafe for local people. It has made my heart sing to visit.”
As Patron of Norfolk Community Foundation, he attended their Nourish Norfolk event celebrating those hubs which have provided cheap, good food to 15,000 people in Norfolk over the last year. “That’s more than half of a packed stadium of people at Carrow Road! 15 food hubs, many in partnership with Diocese of Norwich churches.”
Another wonderful celebration on Saturday 28 January as Bishop Graham took part in the installation of the Very Revd Dr Andrew Braddock as the 40th Dean of Norwich. “What a happy day! Lovely to be together in Norwich Cathedral and to hear an outstanding sermon from the Dean about hospitality; cathedrals as common space and holy ground.”
The following day was different again in tone, preaching at the memorial service for those lost in the catastrophic floods in 1953. He remarked: “A packed St Margaret’s Church, Sea Palling as we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the 1953 east coast tidal surge which claimed seven lives in this rural, coastal village. The community responded showing that ‘many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.’” You can read Bishop Graham’s reflective article from the EDP here
On Monday 30 January the Bishop was at Wymondham College to re-dedicate the school chapel which is in a former wartime US Air Force hospital Nissen hut. “Great to meet pupils and staff of this state boarding school and see this wonderful new altar frontal made for the occasion.”
The last day of January was out to the rural parish of Worstead in the North Walsham Benefice and a quick stop by the huge wool church: “St Mary’s Worstead, a gem of a church,” he Tweeted, “famous for worsted yarn spun from long-staple pasture wool from sheep breeds such as Teeswaters, Old Leicester Longwool and Romney Marsh. Then made into Worsted cloth by the weavers from Flanders who settled here.”
Then it was onto Worstead CofE Primary School to open a much-needed new classroom space. But first was an assembly where a willing pupil donned mitre, pectoral cross, ring and crozier to become Bishop Belle by way of an explanation of what a “bishop does” to the enthusiastic children. The ribbon was then cut and tea and biscuits enjoyed by a group of governors, parents, staff and the builders.
The month was rounded off on the evening of 31 January with the Bishop joining the Diocese of Norwich Eco Church Forum Zoom meeting. This happens quarterly to encourage all parishes throughout the Diocese who are at any stage of their Eco Church award journey. The evening’s topic focused on encouraging biodiversity. Bishop Graham’s reflection was thought-provoking and inspiring. Using the Benedicite Canticle he encouraged us all to “notice” as a first step to connecting with and valuing creation.