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Don’t forget to have fun, says next Bishop of Chester

12 May 2020

Diocese of Chester

The Rt Revd Mark Tanner

The Rt Revd Mark Tanner

DOWNING STREET announced on Tuesday that the next Bishop of Chester is to be the Rt Revd Mark Tanner, at present the Suffragan Bishop of Berwick in the diocese of Newcastle. He is a well-known figure, having been Warden of Cranmer Hall, Durham, for five years from 2011, and later vice-principal of St John’s College, Durham. He has been a member of the General Synod since 2015.

Bishop Tanner was born in Canada in 1970. He went to Loughborough Grammar School and has a degree in mathematics from Oxford, a degree in theology and ministry from Durham, and a Master’s degree in applied theology from Liverpool. Before ordination in 1998, he was a youth worker at Holy Trinity, Coventry. He trained for the ministry at Cranmer Hall.

Chester is familiar ground: he was ordained deacon in Chester Cathedral and served his title at St Mary’s, Upton, on the Wirral, before moving to Doncaster as Vicar of St Mary’s and thence to Holy Trinity, Ripon, where he also served as Area Dean and as an army chaplain. He was also an honorary canon of Durham Cathedral until his appointment to Berwick in 2016, and is a member of the Ministry Council.

He succeeds the Rt Revd Dr Peter Forster, who retired last September after 23 years in the post.

Bishop Tanner this week described his appointment as “an honour and a joy at such a key time in the life of our communities, nation, and Church. In Christ, God offers a gift of hope beyond our imagining. There is no greater joy or privilege than enabling others to step into this freedom of life, whether in deeply practical service or beautiful wonder and worship. God is here for us all.”

The Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Christine Hardman, said: “It has been a real joy to work with Mark as a key member of the team here. I have appreciated his counsel, his kindness, and great sense of fun — and, most particularly, his focus on those whom we are called to serve as Christ’s Church today. He has been instrumental in helping us establish our resource church, and imagine new possibilities in terms of ministry and mission. I know the diocese of Chester will be blessed through his ministry here.”

The Suffragan Bishop of Birkenhead, the Rt Revd Keith Sinclair, said: “It is a great joy to be able to welcome Mark and Lindsay back to the diocese of Chester. . . Mark brings fresh eyes and energy to a diocese to which he is no stranger. He sees God working in our life here, and is ready for the challenges we face in living and speaking the gospel of Jesus for today.

“I know his deep prayerfulness in the Spirit, and thank God for his joyful faith. The whole diocese has been praying and we thank God for answered prayer.”

Bishop Tanner remembers his earlier years in Chester with warmth. “It was a fascinating and vibrant place to be. There’s a sense of going home, a lovely sense of meeting old friends and making new ones. It’s such a gift of God, for which I’m deeply grateful.”

As Warden of Cranmer Hall from 2011 to 2016, he led the college through a period of rapid development and growth, and is credited with doubling student numbers in that time. “I had a fantastic team. It was energising, exhausting, one of the most refreshing things I’ve ever done,” he said.

“I have a high theology of fun. It developed as a provocative statement to get students thinking, but I recognised I was touching on something far deeper. Jesus said: ‘I have come that they might have life and have it to the full,’ and, whilst it is a profound journey to walk alongside people in pain and grief, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that, in our life as Christians, we rejoice in that sense of being alive and imaginative and joyful.

“Learning to party as well as to weep with those who weep is a vital part of vocation that we can sometimes overlook.”

The diocese of Chester is in the process of a past-case review of the handling of child protection, which followed the conviction and imprisonment last year of the Revd Gordon Dickenson, a former Vicar of Christ Church, Latchford, on eight charges of child sexual assault. “I’m really conscious that we need to make sure as a diocese that we listen with humility to where we have fallen short of the standards we would have wanted,” Bishop Tanner said.

“I am absolutely committed to the Church of England being there in every part so all can thrive and grow, and find healing and restoration where that is humanly possible.

“That’s not simply a wish that everyone can be made happy in an instant, but have that fullness of life, that thriving that is not just our human desire but is deeply and profoundly Christian. That starts with listening, and listening with care, and because I care.”

The announcement will take place online, with schools, clergy and members of Bishop Tanner’s family joining him for a full day’s events that include a virtual tea party before evening prayer from Chester Cathedral. “I would of course have preferred to be out and about, but I think we will reach people that we would not have reached if I had been standing in the normal place as others have done,” he said. “I’m really excited about the opportunities we have.” He expects to take up his new post in the autumn.

The Bishop is active on social media, where his Twitter and Instagram handle is @northern_bishop.

Bishop Tanner is a qualified scuba-diver and, having a farming background, is possibly the only member of the current bench of bishops who learned to drive on a tractor. He holds a motorcycle licence, and is a rider for Northumbria Blood Bikes, a blue-light volunteer service assisting the NHS. Bishop Tanner is married to Lindsay, a social-work manager and Reader in the C of E. They have two children, both of whom are at university.

He is a contributing author for a number of publications, and is the author of The Introvert Charismatic and A PCC Member’s Essential Guide, among other titles. He is an occasional contributor to the Church Times: his most recent contribution was last month, when his top ten tips for running a PCC meeting included: “Talk less and listen more”, “Fear universal unanimity”, “Cover the navels and focus outside”, and “Have fun”.

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