THE invitation to be the next Bishop of Portsmouth was “unexpected and unsought after”, the Dean of York, the Rt Revd Jonathan Frost, said on Tuesday.
His nomination was announced by Downing Street last Friday. He will succeed the Rt Revd Christopher Foster, who retired at the end of May (News, 18 December 2020).
Before taking up his present appointment in early 2019 (News, 30 November 2018), Bishop Frost had spent eight years as the Suffragan Bishop of Southampton, in neighbouring Winchester diocese.
Speaking on Tuesday, he said that the invitation from the Crown Nominations Commission “came out of the blue and at a time when I was feeling that York Minster was beginning to come through a really tricky phase, but, through great team work was beginning to turn the corner after Covid. . . My focus was very much on York and York Minster, and working with a new Archbishop, and very much enjoying and valuing that.”
The links with Portsmouth diocese were strong, however: he has been an honorary assistant bishop there for three years, and chaired a joint board of education for Portsmouth and Winchester dioceses.
Bishop Frost spoke of the need for both courage and collaboration in leadership. During his time as Dean of York, he had had “to face and then take some very difficult decisions”, which required “courage”. He had aimed to adopt a “profoundly collaborative approach”, however.
“If change is going to be convincing, enduring, and of any use at all in the Kingdom, it needs to be with vision, and a vision that is shared and owned by those it affects most closely,” he said. “So I would aspire to that kind of leadership, that enables clear direction to emerge but within a collaborative framework of working.”
Asked whether he had drawn lessons from his time in Winchester, whose diocesan Bishop, Dr Tim Dakin, resigned after facing a vote of no confidence (News, 23 July), Bishop Frost said: “I think the lessons I will be drawing on will be more immediate: they’re from the experience of leading an outstanding team with exceptional people [at York Minster] through a pandemic experience which was enormously demanding, and I hope to bring some of my own learning from that process.”
As in Winchester, there have been complaints from some in the diocese about pastoral reorganisations leading to the loss of clerical posts. Bishop Frost said that he had already met in Portsmouth diocese “outstanding clergy who are doing a great job right now”. He had also witnessed “outstanding clergy and lay leaders” on the Isle of Wight, where there have been problems with filling vacancies. He gave the example of St Mary’s, Brading, “where an inspirational parish priest has drawn communities together around the environment and on our need together to act for climate justice”.
On the day that his nomination was announced, Bishop Frost met staff at HM Prison Isle of Wight. “I met outstanding leaders doing the work of God’s Kingdom, whether they would describe it in this way or not, enabling the development of prisoners, some of whom will stay on the island for a very long time,” he said. “But what I saw was a concern for the individual that I left feeling inspired by.”
A focus on the climate crisis was linked to his other motivating passion: the mental health and well-being of children and young people, he said. Charter Academy, a C of E secondary school in Portsmouth city centre, where he met pupils last Friday, was “doing an outstanding job with children growing up in a challenging environment in which eco-anxiety is a reported reality.
“There’s a great link to be explored between the leadership that children and young people are offering us in the area of climate justice and climate change, and the need that the church has to reconnect with this generation for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we can bring our love for Jesus Christ and our longing for this generation to discover his beauty and to hear his call, together with the leadership that young people are already giving us, that’s an area I really want to take forward.”
Before his consecration for Southampton in 2010, Bishop Frost served as a residentiary canon of Guildford Cathedral, co-ordinating chaplain at the University of Surrey, Bishop’s Adviser for Interfaith Relations, and Tutor on the Diocesan Local Ministry Programme. Previously, he was Rector of Ash, also in Guildford diocese. He trained at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, served his title in West Bridgford, near Nottingham, and was also a police chaplain.
Bishop Frost said last Friday, when his nomination was announced: “I believe the role of a bishop is to pray, to share the story and the love of Jesus, and to speak up for the marginalised and voiceless.
“I’ve got Portsmouth on my heart. Many people across this diocese have had a tough time through the pandemic, especially the most vulnerable, and I know Christians here played their part with others to support those in need.
“I’m looking forward to working in partnership, as together we tackle the biggest issues facing us today — such as the poor mental health and well-being of so many of our young people; climate change; and the scandal of poverty, which restricts opportunities and life chances.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury said: “His wide range of interests and experiences, from youth engagement and interfaith relations to social justice and community building, will be invaluable in bringing the people of Portsmouth together as he begins this new role. Please join me in praying for him and his wife, Christine, as they take this next step in their journey as disciples of Jesus.”
The Archbishop of York said that Bishop Frost had “very successfully steered York Minster through difficult and challenging times. But he has also enabled it to focus on its primary purpose as a place of prayer and a centre for mission. Although we are very sad to see him go, we are delighted that he has been called to use his considerable gifts of leadership, pastoral care, and missionary endeavour as the next Bishop of Portsmouth.”
Bishop Frost is married to Christine, an integrative child psychotherapist. They have three adult children. His interests include Fulham FC, live jazz, the Taizé community, and walking.
A statement from Portsmouth diocese said: “Because various legal formalities have to take place before Bishop Jonathan can take up his new role, his installation service in Portsmouth Cathedral is not expected until the New Year. Between now and then, he intends to visit the diocese of Portsmouth regularly as he begins to get to know the area and its people.”