After a full-on but very fulfilling few months of bishopping, we’re really enjoying a few family days as we celebrate our Ruby Wedding. The lovely bowl pictured left was made by Marion Brown of Wildflower Studios in Northumberland – where Jean and I have has some of our very best holidays – echoing the style of course of Charles Rennie Mackintosh – one of favourite artists. It was a most thoughtful gift to us from my chaplain Mary and the staff in my office, and used in a “bowl ceremony” that Mary worked into a very special communion service that we shared with our family in the Bishop’s chapel. Our thanks to Eric for the catering and to everyone else who gave gifts and sent cards, and especially to our children who clubbed together to make the most moving of the presents, a photo book illustrating their family memories and the gifts they believe we have managed to give them. But most of all of course my own thanks go to Jean, as gorgeous, caring, creative and capable as ever, and whom I love just as much as they day it all began.
We had the enormous privilege on Sunday of a special guided tour of the triumphant Flower Festival at our Cathedral, in the company of designers Lee Berrill and Alan Smith, and Committee Chair Sue Cockram (pictured, looking as wonderful as the flowers). The arrangements took us on a pilgrimage through time – our Centenary theme of course – following the history of Suffolk from the Romans to the present and in particular the story of our diocese and its cathedral. Our favourite was the rendition of Canute’s throne set by the sea, with its carefully chosen palette and excellent use of materials. Well done to everyone for such a fine show, and for giving us such a right royal welcome too.
Our daughter Caitlin has joined us now at Bishop’s House as we start to gear up for a bit of a clan gathering and has decided that the Official Sofa is just her size for glamping. My dad Ron has arrived too, and the cat-on-the-pillow clearly realised that another VIP was now present (she being the other), and started knocking on the window to be let in (really). Just another day at the office…
This is excellent news for the Church of England’s work in education. Stephen will be a purposeful and wise chair and lead bishop, able also to represent us in the Lords which he has just entered. I am looking forward very much to working with him in this new role, as I continue to also serve on the Board and Council.
The Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, has accepted the invitation of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to be the lead bishop for Education. The role includes chairing the Church of England’s national Board of Education and the National Society Council as well as negotiating with government departments and ministers. He will take up the post in the autumn succeeding the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard who is retiring at the end of October.
Bishop Stephen will come to the role at a time of continuing change in education with church schools flourishing at all levels, expanding to meet the needs of the local community. Diocesan multi-academy trusts are changing the face of Church education locally maintaining high standards within the inclusive Christian ethos. Bishop Stephen is familiar with developments in his own diocese of Ely, where a Multi-Academy Trust currently comprising six primary academies will increase to 14 schools in the autumn. Ely also has two pioneering joint Anglican/Roman Catholic academies.
In a Church of England video interview released today(http://bit.ly/1na45OT) Bishop Stephen shares how his time at a church secondary school in south London provided his early Christian formation and equipped him to go to university – the first in his family to do so.
“It is an immense privilege to be asked to take on this role, especially as education continues to be such a key issue in our society. The Church of England has a deep commitment to education going back 200 years, and today some one million children are taught in more than 4,700 Church of England schools across the country.
“Our work with children and young people in schools, colleges, universities and voluntary settings is a vital part of our mission as we seek to enable everyone to have a life enhancing encounter with the Christian faith and the person of Jesus Christ. I am committed to ensuring that we serve whole communities by providing education of the highest quality within the context of Christian belief and practice. I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that continues to happen.”
Bishop John Pritchard said: “The Church of England has been playing a vital role in the education of our children for the last 200 years and I am passionate about the role our church schools play in the life of the nation. The last few years have seen a time of unprecedented change in the world of education, but I believe the Church has responded to the challenges with energy and vision, and will continue to do so. It has been a huge privilege to serve the Church by chairing the Board. I am delighted to be passing on the baton to Bishop Stephen who I know will bring a great deal of wisdom to the role.”
Rev Jan Ainsworth, Church of England’s Chief Education officer said: “I’m very pleased that the Bishop of Ely is taking up this role. He will be able to use his skills and experience for our ongoing discussions on church education at the highest level as well as playing a leading role in the Church’s education for all.”
We were up in the northern part of the diocese this morning near Thorpeness at Knodishall for a lovely summer Benefice service (Aldringham and Friston folk were there too, with a really rather good Benefice choir singing some of my favourite classic anthems). The church building is small but perfectly formed – I love the way the lichen on the brick buttresses is slowly blending them in with the stonework – but it’s not easy to find, down a quiet lane well out of the village, so take a map.
In spoke about what I call Life Mark 1 and Life Mark 2. The first comes on the rations, it’s what we’re born with. It’s a roller coaster mixture of God-given goodness, and Murphy’s Law catastrophe, beauty and brokenness, fruitfulness and frustration. We give it our best, but the harder we try the more poured-out we become. Life Mark 2 is about being poured into, not out, God in his love meeting us in our need – but we have to want it and choose it. Definitively, as Jean and I did when we married 40 years ago. And continually, just as any relationship including ours need to be always being nurtured and refreshed. To change the metaphor, just as plants need light and water, warmth and nutrients to grow, so our life in the Spirit need prayer and the sacraments, fellowship and the scriptures to stay well and survive.
So today was a day for choosing life, and what a great group of people to be choosing it with. Well done to them as they work hard with Rev Sheila during the interregnum, and our prayers are with them as we choose a new priest in charge to lead both their Benefice and that at Aldburgh.
Huge congratulations to Doris Punchard of St Matthew’s Church, Ipswich who is 110 years old today! We’re just back from her birthday party at Maundy Money receiver Freda Smith’s house, where a large group of family and friends gathered to celebrate with her and see the card from the Queen. Someone told me that “Punch” is now the 17th oldest person in the country, and that Ipswich scores particularly highly on the longevity stakes. There was certainly one other centenarian present and going strong. Punch herself used to be church treasurer and still scrutinises the accounts with a watchful eye. One of the great things about the congregation at St Matthew’s is that it has both young and old people in it and from across the continents too, so were treated to some lovely saxophone playing by a young lady from Calcutta and a trampoline was on the go too, alongside the tea and cakes. A great afternoon in every way.