THE Bishop of Norwich designate, the Rt Revd Graham Usher, has described how a village sacristan, Miss Manning, had been pivotal to his Christian vocation.
“Faith became more real to me as a teenager in a village church in North Yorkshire,” he recalled on Sunday. “We had an outstanding vicar called Simon Stanley, and my vocation to hear the call of Christ on my life, as a 13-year-old, was prompted by a veritable Anna in the congregation: a woman called Miss Manning, who was always present at church, a sacristan. She had an incredible ministry to teenagers, just to encourage and support them.”
He often used her as an example, he said, when telling congregations, “You are not too old to reach out and support young people.”
Bishop Usher, whose appointment was announced last week (News, 3 May), has been the Bishop of Dudley since 2014. He studied ecological science at the University of Edinburgh, and theology at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and trained for the priesthood at Westcott House, Cambridge.
For five years, he served as Vicar of Holy Trinity, North Ormesby, a parish with high levels of social need and child poverty. On Sunday, he described spending an evening in Great Yarmouth, “in the cheapest possible bed and breakfast”, as part of discerning his call to the diocese of Norwich.
“It’s a community where 71 per cent of people voted for Brexit, and do feel on the edge, but there are these incredible ways in which the Church and other charities are reaching out to people and serving them,” he said. “One of the questions for me is not only giving to people the very practical things they are in need of, and being alongside and with them, but how do we share the gospel so the overflowing sense of the joy of the gospel can be theirs?”
During a recent trip to the link diocese of Tanzania, meeting “some of the poorest people on the face of the earth”, he had “relearned something of the utter joy of the gospel”. He was looking forward to a “creative relationship” with the community at Walsingham, which had “a particular outreach to some of our poorest parishes”.
Bishop Usher helped to devise the initiative Calling Young Disciples, in the diocese of Worcester, which has placed several “mission enablers” in parishes (News, 20 January 2017), and said that he was keen to work with children and young people in his new position. In Norwich, he inherits a diocese that is “committed to growth in discipleship, service, and numbers”, diocesan documents say.
“If we start from the premise ‘We want to grow’, then people smell that out — they think ‘Well, I am just here, wanted as a number’,” he said on Sunday. “But, if we start deeply rooted in a vision of God, and Christ’s call for us to love God and serve our neighbour, then out of that emerges something that is deeply attractive and appealing.”
A recent theological review of the Crown Nominations Commission observed that: “At times, the bishop is called to be a prophetic sign, speaking forgotten or uncomfortable truths into an impoverished public discourse.”
Bishop Usher spoke of environmental issues and medical ethics as two areas in which he hoped to make a contribution to public debate. He has previously chaired bodies including the north-east advisory committee of the Forestry Commission, and is a board member of the Human Tissue Authority.
“People certainly are willing to listen, but we must have a humility about us in expressing a confident Christian reflection into the major issues of our day,” he said.