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Atwell to be Bishop of Exeter

24 January 2014


Supporting farming: Bishop Robert Atwell (left) talks to Henry Banbury, a farmer, near Iddesleigh in Devon

Supporting farming: Bishop Robert Atwell (left) talks to Henry Banbury, a farmer, near Iddesleigh in Devon

THE next Bishop of Exeter will be the present Bishop of Stockport, the Rt Revd Robert Atwell, it was announced on Tuesday. Bishop Atwell will be installed in July.

Being bishop to the more than 500 parishes in Devon was crucial, Bishop Atwell said on Tuesday. "I'm very much looking forward to when the first women will be made bishops," he said. "At the same time, I'm concerned that those faithful Anglicans who are unable to accept this development know that I am their bishop as well."

Despite considerable division over the question of women bishops and same-sex relationships, Bishop Atwell said that he believed that the Church was able to have these debates in a respectful way. He said: "I'm encouraged by the quality of the conversations nationally. There is a deep and profound respect for people and that is really encouraging."

He said that he upheld the Church of England's teaching that marriage was a union between one man and one woman, but also said that he was looking forward to the discussion in the next College of Bishops meeting about the Pilling Report (News, 29 November). "But I see no place for homophobia in the Church whatsoever. I would hope, whatever someone's gender and sexuality, they would find a warm welcome in the Church," he said.

Discovering that he had been chosen as the next Bishop of Exeter had been both surprising and daunting, Bishop Atwell said. "It's a huge privilege, and I'm really looking forward to moving to Devon," he said. "I bring my experience and passion for the gospel, and I particularly want to help in the growing of spiritual confidence in the diocese. I want to help people in their struggle for meaning, purpose, and direction - their search for God."

Bishop Atwell was involved in writing the Church's new Pilgrim course (Features, 11 October) and said that he hoped it would play a big part in the life of his new diocese.

He said: "Many parishes across the spectrum of the Church are gaining a good amount from it. It is a course for the whole journey of life, and people are getting great encouragement from it."

Bishop Atwell, who is 59, was ordained in 1979, and after a curacy in north London became chaplain of Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1981. From 1987 he spent ten years as a Benedictine monk in Burford Priory.

"My ten years as a Benedictine monk taught me that all growth is rooted in prayer," he said. "[Prayer has] always been part of my life, but those ten years did teach me that."

Another piece of the puzzle in keeping the Church growing was social outreach, he said.

On the day he was named as the next Bishop of Exeter, Bishop Atwell visited a foodbank and then a debt-counselling centre in his new diocese. He said: "One of the things that concern me nationally is that as we come out the recession the gap between poor and rich is greater than it ever was.

"I'm particularly concerned about how we, as Christians, can make a difference. As we serve the community, we can build joy. Those are the hallmarks, and, when that happens, we see real growth.

"I realise that the picture-postcard image many have of Devon isn't the whole truth. There are communities facing great hardships, through poverty and lack of employment, as well as the recent flooding, which has affected many people and caused problems forthe farming community. I've been moved by the stories I've heard of churches and individuals across the county getting stuck in and helpingpeople."

When not encouraging his diocese to serve their communities, Bishop Atwell said that he enjoyed hill walking, gardening, and theatre.

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