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Obituary: The Rt Revd Richard Lewis

13 November 2020

Diocese of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich

The Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich writes:

THE Rt Revd Richard Lewis, Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich from 1997 to 2007, is fondly remembered as a popular, pastoral bishop who dedicated much of his ministry to championing rural communities.

Born in 1943, he was educated at Radley College, before reading theology at King’s College, London. He was ordained in the diocese of Newcastle in 1967, serving as curate of Hexham, and, from 1970, served in industrial chaplaincy. To some, it comes as something of a surprise that he served seven years as an industrial chaplain in the north-east. He became much better known for his passion for supporting rural culture, and would spend the rest of his ministry serving in dioceses more “rural” in character.

In 1982, he was appointed to an agricultural chaplaincy post in the diocese of Hereford. It is said of Bishop Richard that his approach to ministry could be framed by the title of a report he co-authored during this time in his ministry, The People, the Land and the Church. He became Archdeacon of Ludlow in 1987, before his appointment in 1992 to the suffragan see of Taunton in the diocese of Bath & Wells.

In 1997, Bishop Richard was translated to St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the diocese covering the countryside of Suffolk, where he was very much at home with the county’s agricultural communities. He was at ease talking to farmers about crops or livestock, and he desired to be alongside those beyond the institution of the Church as they searched for faith and meaning.

His maiden speech in the House of Lords was, most appropriately, made within the context of a debate on food and nutrition. Highlighting the experience of foot-and-mouth disease and swine flu on the farming community, he took the opportunity to draw attention to the relationship between food-production policy and rural culture and community. When swine fever and foot-and-mouth struck the county, Lewis attended many farmers’ meetings to hear their pain and stand with them. Still today, farmers remember his support in a time of crisis.

He felt passionately that the Church should not retreat from the public square, and devoted time and energy into building links with local government and voluntary organisations across Suffolk. The perfect opportunity to combine his interest came when he was appointed President of the Suffolk Agricultural Association.

It was during his time as Bishop that the bodies of five murdered women were discovered in the Ipswich area. Lewis played an important part in helping the people of Ipswich through such a traumatic experience. Ipswich Town FC approached him to say prayers for the town before a match with Leeds United. There was absolute silence as he prayed, broken only by a round of applause from the fans.

Bishop Richard took enormous pride at the completion of the millennium tower project at St Edmundsbury Cathedral. He was an enthusiastic and early supporter of this vast undertaking, which now stands as one of the most iconic buildings in Suffolk.

Clergy under his episcopal care became used to a phone call, email, or card in response to prayer requests, and many gained help from his pastoral support during a crisis. The early years of his ministry in Suffolk were overshadowed by the death of his son Pete, but this, too, became a point of identity with many grieving parents who also experienced bereavement.

He championed a more open, inclusive ,and tolerant Church regardless of gender or sexuality. This led him to appoint many women to parochial posts and support the move towards women in the episcopate, besides taking a more liberal and inclusive approach on human sexuality.

Bishop Richard died on Saturday 19 September, aged 77. He is survived by his wife, Sara, whom he married in 1968, together with Nick and Mike, two of their three sons.

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