Diary: Graham James

04 January 2019

ISTOCK

Life lessons

SINCE we’ve lived in Norwich for nearly 20 years, we are completely out of practice in the art of moving house. What is worse is that this is our first experience of downsizing. We haven’t thrown out much in 40 years of married life.

I’ve discovered that I’m not very attached to material possessions, with the exception of books. When I pick from my shelves a book that I don’t think I need any more, I open it and start reading again. Then I realise why I bought it in the first place. So it goes back on the shelf — and the risk of divorce increases a notch or two. Advice, please, from experienced library downsizers.

The second thing I’ve discovered is that I rather like tied accommodation. Choosing where to live and purchasing a house are both relatively new experiences, late in life. Some of it is fun, but people now regularly ask me whether I’m good at DIY. Someone as disinclined as I am to be found in the local branch of B&Q once defined DIY as “Don’t Involve Yourself”.

 

Total-immersion visitation

A THREE-day visit to the diocese by the Archbishop of Canterbury (News, 16 November) just two weeks before my farewell services has meant that there hasn’t been much sense of “winding down”. An archiepiscopal visit at such a time probably goes against all wise advice about how bishops should approach retirement, but it was energising for the diocese, as well as for me.

Perhaps it is a good way for the Archbishop to take the temperature of a diocese before a new bishop is appointed. If the members of the Crown Nominations Commission, elected by the General Synod, came on such a visit, they would have some sense of the context of the appointment, instead of relying on the reports of others and hearsay.

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A spot of re-rooting

ARCHBISHOP Welby knows Norfolk from childhood holidays here. So we took him to the Blakeney Breakfast, in a village he loves. Every month, the church provides a cooked breakfast for anyone who wishes to come. Children arrive before going to school, and then some parents return, while older people turn up later.

The capacity of the volunteers to turn out a full English breakfast from a small kitchen is something of a modern feeding miracle. There were well over 200 people to greet the Archbishop (more than usual, but the attendance is normally into three figures). Some of those present recalled him from many years ago. One person commented: “I’ve not had a proper conversation with the Archbishop since he was nine years old.”

There is currently a vacancy in the benefice — soon to be advertised. If an application should arrive from Lambeth Palace, I can confidently predict a strong chance of shortlisting.

 

Heavenly hosts

ONE of my final parish engagements was to preach at an Angel Festival. Christ Church, Eaton, was full of angels of all types and sizes, created by groups and individuals in the church and the wider community. When I was ordained at Michaelmas 43 years ago, angels didn’t get a mention. I think they were also a bit of an embarrassment to my theological teachers, since “demythologisation” was then still in vogue.

Now, however, angelic encounters are recorded on countless websites, most of them coming from people who seem to have no idea of the prominence of angels in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. What is striking is that most of these modern angelic visitations are consistently comforting and reassuring, whereas, in the Bible, angels are initially disturbing — as those words “Fear not” remind us.

I think I’m keener on Angel Festivals than the Christmas-tree ones since there’s more chance of some theological teaching.

 

One in the spirit

NORFOLK is home to “Archangel Gin”, made with nothing less than Walsingham water. It must be the holiest gin around, and has a devoted following. Clearing out a cupboard in preparation for our move, I discovered a bottle of angostura bitters, purchased just after I was made deacon in 1975. That was when pink gin was still a favoured drink among Anglo-Catholics, and no self-respecting spiky curate could be without it. I’m told that angostura bitters never go off, but — even though I don’t take much notice of “use by” dates (the bottle is so old that it hasn’t got one) — I don’t think I’ll risk it.

 

Nil nisi bonum

WHEN Bishop Henry Bathurst died in office as Bishop of Norwich in 1837 (aged 92, which makes me feel a bit of a snowflake retiring at 68), his family removed 6000 bottles of wine from the cellar of the Palace, fearing an Evangelical successor who would not pay up. Sadly, my family have not got the same dilemma.

Perhaps there were so many bottles left because Bathurst never liked the Norfolk climate, spending his winters in Great Malvern, where he lies buried. But he was one of a tiny number of bishops to vote consistently in favour of Catholic emancipation and the 1832 Great Reform Bill; so he wasn’t all bad. I’ve become keen that bishops should be remembered charitably.

 

The Rt Revd Graham James became Bishop of Norwich in 1999.

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