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Poverty a priority for Durham’s new Bishop

20 September 2013

AEGIES/KEITH BLUNDY

THE next Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, at present Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, said last week that he hoped other clergy would be inspired to come to the north-east and other areas that have struggled to recruit priests.

"One of the things that has mystified me for years is that those of us who sign up to be followers of Jesus Christ and ministers of the gospel, if we say we will go anywhere and do anything for Jesus, why it is that not so many people seem willing to go to different places?" he said on Thursday last week, the day his nomination was announced.

Bishop Butler, who is 57, has been Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham since February 2010. He was previously Bishop of Southampton in the diocese of Winchester. He trained for the ministry at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and served a curacy between 1983 and 1987 at All Saints with Holy Trinity, Wandsworth, in Southwark diocese.

He was deputy head of mission at the Scripture Union before becoming Priest-in-Charge of St Mary with St Stephen and of St Luke, Walthamstow in 1994. He was Team Rector in the Walthamstow Team Ministry from 1997 to 2004.

Last month, the Archbishop of Canterbury, a former Bishop of Durham, defended the north-east after a Conservative peer described it as "desolate" (News, 2 August).

The last financial report for the diocese indicated that it would have six fewer clergy in 2013 than planned. The diocese has the smallest financial resources of any diocese in the Church of England.

It was reported on the same day as the Bishop's nomination that the unemployment rate in the north-east is the highest in the country at 10.4 per-cent, compared with 5.8 per-cent in the south-east. The region has the highest percentage of children living in workless households (22.4 per cent), and the lowest levels of income (£13,560 per head in 2011).

Bishop Butler said, none the less, that he was delighted to be coming to Durham, a "beautiful area of the country", with an "extraordinary heritage. . . Each new Bishop of Durham stands on the shoulders of some of the greatest Christians in this country's long and proud history."

Poverty was a priority, he said: "a scourge that we can only tackle together. . . In my role in the House of Lords, I will want to speak up strongly for this region, advocating for its specific needs."

On same-sex marriage, the Bishop said that his position would be viewed as "traditional, orthodox, in terms of my view of marriage between a man and a woman, but I also believe that we need to look at that, and think through how we respond best to those committing themselves to life-long same-sex relationships. I have a deep concern about sexual licence and freedom in all its forms - stability has to be something we look for and encourage. At present, I would not be in a position to feel we could offer blessings of same-sex unions, but I recognise that it is an ongoing discussion. We have to keep working at that."

With regard to women bishops, he said that he had emerged from the July meeting of the Synod "quite hopeful that this latest process may produce something that a majority of us can coalesce with".

Bishop Butler will continue to chair the Churches National Safeguarding Committee. In July, he apologised to victims of safeguarding failures. The Church of England had "failed, big time" (News, 5 July).

His books include Reaching Children and Reaching Families (Scripture Union). He spoke on Thursday of a "strong commitment" to engaging with children and young people, and a "particular concern around child poverty, social, economic, and spiritual".

An honorary canon of Byumba in Rwanda, he is a regular visitor to Africa. Last month, he warned that Burundi was getting a "raw deal" from the world (News, 23 August).

He is married to Rosemary. They have four grown-up children, two of whom took to Twitter today to describe how hard it had been to keep the nomination a secret. The Bishop's own Twitter account reveals a taste for Strictly Come Dancing.

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