Interview: Mike Hill Bishop of Bristol

by
31 October 2006

‘The moment Annie suddenly opened her eyes was very powerful’

The spinal surgeon told us there was good and bad news. My wife Annie [Anthea] had broken her neck in five places, but it had broken in the same direction; so there was no splintering. She has had skin grafts on her left hand, lost part of a finger, and she has damaged the nerve in her right arm.

I take responsibility for the accident: I was driving. I never thought, “This is God’s fault: how could he let this happen to me?” I have had people say to me: “This is bound to affect your faith.” Yes, it has, but in a positive way.

I am not a triumphalist, and don’t say my wife lived because we prayed hard enough. For 72 hours, we did not know whether she would live. Prayer really does work, but, of course, as a priest, I have prayed for and with people whose relatives have then died. Prayer is about knowing that, whatever does happen, God will give you the strength to deal with it.

My granddaughter Annabel, who is nine months old, is my morning alarm call. The family — I have five children, four daughters and a son, and one granddaughter — have been at the hospital most days, and I could not have done it without them. They have just persuaded me to take a day off from visiting, which I managed this week, but it was not easy.

The moment Annie suddenly opened her eyes was very powerful, despite all the unknowns about her condition. She could only mouth words to start with, and, of course, as women, she and my daughters communicated much better than I and my son. I think we both looked like something from the film Dumb & Dumber.

The diocese is being looked after well, as it is important to have clear leadership. I am still aware of what is going on, and my PA runs things by me. I want to be here with my wife, but it is a very different kind of daily routine. Those who know me say I am a focused, passionate person; and there is still a job to be done in Bristol, which I plan to return to.

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As an action man, I find it hard that there are sudden little bouts of progress and then lots of waiting. In the first couple of weeks, I read bubblegum stuff like newspapers and magazines, but I have just bought Richard Dawkins’s new book The God Delusion, which I started yesterday, and I am enjoying detective novels. I am a great fan of the author Henning Mankell.

I try and focus on the little graces. There was an off-duty policeman in one of the cars behind us, and he immediately took charge. A motorcyclist gave me his big leather jacket as I was wandering round in shock; I had been able to walk away from the car, and obviously they wanted to keep me away from Annie. The policeman said afterwards that when he saw the car he did not expect anyone to come out alive.

We are trying to work out what will be best for Annie in terms of rehab and where we will go. She is currently wearing a halo, which is bolted on her skull, and a very stiff long jacket to keep her neck and spine in alignment. The surgeons are happy, but there is no definite future timescale about how long she will have all this on.

Both the volunteers here at the hospital and the medical staff have inspired me — the hand surgeon in particular, who even showed us how cartoon characters manage without the full complement of fingers. Historically, I have been inspired by John Wesley and Dr Lloyd-Jones, and currently by Bill Hybels from Willow Creek Church.

Psalm 23 has been very important. I have often preached a particular message called “Facing life’s fragility”, based on this passage. I have now had to apply it to myself, and hold on to the promises despite “walking through the valley of the shadow of death”.

When it comes to sermons, I had a wonderful teacher at college, John Ortberg, who always said that, as preachers, we should never commend to others lives that we are not leading. That has stayed with me.

As a child, I wanted to be a professional footballer and, of course, play for Manchester United, where I come from. Jack Nicholls, the Bishop of Sheffield, sent me a lovely note, saying he was praying for me and the family more than United — which showed how much he cared.

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We are hoping that in time Annie will make a fairly full recovery and live as a normal a life as is possible for a bishop’s wife. I no longer use a sling or painkillers for my broken shoulder, and am off this weekend to get a new car. I have not driven since the accident.

Annie and I had just returned from such a great holiday in Greece before we had the accident. I felt so close to her and God, and I kept thinking about that when she was lying there clinging on to life.

I would like to be remembered in the same way as one of the leaders of the 18th-century Evangelical revival, Thomas Clarke. An inscription about him at my church in Chesham Bois said that he had been of good character, had a desire to see the Kingdom grow, and preached the word of God in and out of season.

Apart from Angelina Jolie, I would like to be locked in a church with Bobby Moore, Proust, or perhaps Leonardo da Vinci.

The Rt Revd Mike Hill was talking to Rachel Harden.

http://bishopmike.wordpress.com/tag/mike-antheas-accident/

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