A YOUNG vicar who grew up in a leprosy hospital in Bangalore has been announced as the next Bishop of Loughborough.
It is understood that the Revd Malayil Lukose Varghese Muthalaly (known as Saju), Vicar of St Mark’s, Gillingham, in the diocese of Rochester, will be the youngest bishop in the Church of England when he is consecrated next year at the age of 42.
Ordained in the Church of England in 2008, Mr Muthalaly has served at St Mark’s for six years after curacies in the dioceses of Blackburn and Carlisle. He will be the only suffragan bishop in the diocese of Leicester, and will have particular oversight of its intercultural worshipping communities programme and racial-equity strategy, in addition to the development of church plants and fresh expressions and vocations and training.
Last Friday, he said that his priorities in ministry were “profoundly relational. If I have felt anointed in anything, it is in forming friendships, gathering God’s people, and creating hospitable and loving spaces in which people can grow in faith, hope, justice and love.
“I have a deep desire for the flourishing of all people, particularly the poor, those at the margins of our world.
“I grew up in a leprosy hospital in the city of Bangalore, India, where my mother worked as a nurse. From my earliest memory, my heart has bent towards those who live in poverty. Poor people aren’t just poor people; they are mothers, artists, gifted leaders, friends, people who are passionate about the environment.
“I have always been drawn to enhance the voice of people who have lived experiences of poverty, whether in a parish in the UK, mission visit to the prisons of Eritrea, or through the work I do as one of the directors of ATD Fourth World,” a human-rights anti-poverty organisation.
In 2019, St Mark’s, Gillingham, was among the recipients of a share of a £1.39-million SDF grant in the diocese of Rochester, for a congregation based on gospel music (News, 8 August 2019). In 2018, its “Feed the 5000” project sought to feed 5000 people through worshippers’ inviting people for a meal.
Mr Muthalaly was brought up in the Syrian Orthodox Church in Kerala, which traces its roots to St Thomas the Apostle, said to have brought the gospel to the region in the first century (Features, 9 March 2018). The Bishop of Bradwell, Dr John Perumbalath, also comes from this community (Features, 11 May 2018). Mr Muthalaly studied at the Southern Asia Bible College in Bangalore, and trained for ministry at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford.
Intercultural worshipping communities are one of the five priorities of the diocese of Leicester, defined as church communities “where people from different cultural and ethnic heritage deliberately interact with one another in order to deepen their understanding and experience of God and of each other” (News, 9 August 2019).
In 2019, it received a £1.54-million strategic-development grant towards it work to create six such communities, with targets including welcoming up to 900 people of BAME heritage as “active worshippers” by 2024, and seeing 20 people of BAME heritage explore vocation to ordained ministry (in the hope that at least 70-75 per cent would be recommended for training).
Research in the diocese in 2017 suggested that “active presence and participation of people of BAME heritage is limited within Anglican worshipping communities, and at all levels of leadership within the current governance structures of the diocese”, and that “very few” of its churches considered BAME mission and ministry a priority. “Cultural and ethnic homogeneity is the current strategy for church growth. Cultural assimilation, not integration, is the leading assumption in BAME mission.”
The largest ethnic-minority group in Leicestershire is Indian, accounting for four per cent of the population, according to the 2011 census. While 91.4 per cent of the population of Leicestershire identify as “white”, more than half of the population of Leicester (54 per cent) define as black and minority ethnic.
The diocese’s racial-equity strategy was published in April, with a commitment to “ensure that our mission and ministry actively promote a culture that is palpably anti-racist, and lead to a fuller sense of belonging for all, translated in the full participation of all people, particularly those of global majority heritage, in the life and structures of Leicester diocese”.
The former Bishop of Loughborough, the Rt Revd Guli Francis-Dehqani, now the Bishop of Chelmsford, is currently the only BAME diocesan bishop in the Church.
Mr Muthalaly is married to Katy, and they have four children. He is currently captain of Rochester and Canterbury diocesan cricket team, and suggested in his introductory video on Friday that it was “the most beautiful contribution the English have made to the world”.
The Bishop of Tonbridge, the Rt Revd Simon Burton-Jones, said: “His restless energy and innate desire for the gospel are so evident, and they are coupled with an astute and reflective mind. And that gregarious, occasionally mischievous, personality will make instant connections wherever he goes.”
His consecration is expected to take place in London in January.