Seeing eye to eye
EARLIER this month, we said hello to a suffragan bishop. The previous Bishop of Repton had long moved on, and we were waiting for a replacement; even at the time, I wondered “What woman will we get next?” Our diocese (Derby) was an obvious place for one of the earliest women bishops to be placed; for there are not many parishes where her ministry would not be welcome, and the diocesan Bishop is strongly in favour of the ordained ministry of women.
The wait has been long, but worth it. It was good to get the first sight of our new Bishop — in fact, the first sight, as she walked up the aisle, was almost the last we had of her in the service, since standing at floor level she was completely hidden by taller people.
It is a joy for me to meet, for once, a bishop I can look straight in the eye, but at a formal service I would have preferred her to be high and lifted up. But I can see that that is not her style; she prefers to be among people, engaging directly with them and their concerns.
ONE delightful aspect of the service was the reading, by children, of postcards written by children to welcome the new Bishop to the diocese. They were anxious to point out to her the beauties and attractions of the county. She came to us from Norfolk, and the Derbyshire hills were clearly felt to be a strong point in our favour; but stately homes and amusement parks also featured, not to mention a sweet factory.
The children were full of suggestions about how she might enjoy her free time. I wonder if I detected a slight uneasiness in the diocesan Bishop? He seemed to think she had come here to work.
BUT work she does, and we felt the benefit of it only two weeks later, when she came to license two priests in our deanery for new ministries. There was a capacity congregation for the licensing service, and the welcoming atmosphere was enhanced by the presence of two assistance dogs — who behaved, as such dogs always do, impeccably.
The acting Area Dean skilfully negotiated the potentially tricky responsibility of inviting local dignitaries and the representatives of organisations to come forward and greet the newly licensed priests. Just to make sure, he ended by asking, “Is there anyone I haven’t mentioned who would like to give greetings?” Bang on cue, a happy voice from in front of us said, “Woof! Woof!”
Perhaps the hearing dog had already sensed that the new Bishop is a dog-lover.
REORGANISATION is the name of the game for this diocese at the moment: the number of deaneries is being halved, and boundaries are being redrawn. Our deanery has been amalgamated with its neighbour, and two parishes have been added to it. The service I mention included the regrouping of parishes. We are all having to get to know new neighbours and new colleagues.
In the event, our new Bishop’s appointment was delayed, since her predecessor’s house was thought to be too remote and inaccessible — the glories of Derbyshire tend to be paid for with inconvenience.
Although the title of the suffragan see is “Repton”, this is homage to the impressive Saxon history of the Church in this county, not any indication of territorial responsibility, and the name bears no relation to the place of residence of either the previous Bishop or the new one. The new Repton House is in Swanwick — a place also well known to the Church in England, although in more modern times. Who has not been to a conference there?
From our local point of view, the importance of Swanwick is that it is one of the two parishes just added to us. We have a bishop living in our deanery! (Indeed, we have two: a Forward in Faith bishop is incumbent of one of our parishes.) There are interesting times ahead.
AT THE risk of reinforcing my reputation as a grumpy old woman, I feel moved to complain again about the religious and ecclesiastical illiteracy of much of the media. I noticed that, in the radio guide of a newspaper that really ought to know better, Choral Evensong was explained as “a selection of devotional music”.
Fortunately, the people who make the programme know better, and we do get a genuine act of worship according to the Anglican, or sometimes another, tradition. We hear the choir’s party pieces, of course, but nothing gimmicky or out of place. It is a calm and restful oasis in the middle of the week, or after a demanding Sunday morning.
In the convent, we spend our lives saying or singing the Office; it is good to be carried along, for once, by other people doing the work.
The Revd Sister Rosemary CHN is a nun at the Convent of the Holy Name in Derby