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Challenging times demand ‘faith and experience’ says next Bishop of Bath & Wells

29 April 2022

Diocese of Bath & Wells

Dr Beasley is shown around St Mary’s School, Bridgwater, by a group of Year 6 pupils

Dr Beasley is shown around St Mary’s School, Bridgwater, by a group of Year 6 pupils

COWS, canal boats, and paper butterflies were the order of the day for the Bishop of Hertford, Dr Michael Beasley, after Downing Street’s announcement that he is to be the next Bishop of Bath & Wells (News, 28 April).

On Thursday, on a whistle-stop tour of the diocese, Dr Beasley met members of the farming community in Somerset to hear about the challenges they face; and saw a community artwork composed of hundreds of origami butterflies in St John’s, Highbridge.

At St John’s, he also met a couple who used their canal boat as a floating vaccination centre for the boating community (News, 30 April 2021).

“What I’ve seen today is the astonishing range of activity that people are involved in here in Bath & Wells,” Dr Beasley told the Church Times. “It’s just been brilliant to see the sweep of stuff the Church is involved in here across the diocese.”

Dr Beasley, who is currently a suffragan in the diocese of St Albans, trained as an epidemiologist before his ordination. He has maintained his involvement in this work. Last year, he helped to establish the VaccinAid campaign, which has raised more than £10 million to support Covid-19 vaccine provision around the world (News, 22 March 2021).

When asked what lessons the Church had learnt from the pandemic, he said: “There’s been a huge amount that we’ve seen in our response to an emergency that shows we have a flexibility and a resilience and an ability to respond to situations that we might not have known we have, but now we do.”

He also said that the speed of the Church’s response to the need for social action and to move worship online, showed that “we have a capacity of creativity and original thinking that we might not have appreciated was there.

“I’m undoubtedly coming to Bath & Wells during challenging times: we’re emerging from the Covid pandemic, there’s the war in Ukraine, and the cost of living crisis is only going to become increasingly urgent.

“Addressing these issues is going to demand everyone’s faith and experience, and their creativity and skill. And we’re going to need the strength of the communities in which we live. We’ve learned lots during the pandemic about the trust in which we’re held.”

The Bishop’s doctorate, from Oxford, is in epidemiology, and he is one of the three conveners of the Anglican Health and Community Network, which was launched last year (News, 16 April 2021).

While he was Vice-Principal of Westcott House, Cambridge, from 2003 to 2007, he also held a post in the Department of Infectious Diseases, at Imperial College, University of London.

Speaking on his appointment to Hertford in 2015, Dr Beasley described how his ministry and his academic work complemented each other: “The pastoral skills of a priest are an invaluable aid to policy development with a number of governments,” he said. “Skills gained in planning and strategy” contributed to his ministry.

He describes himself as having “married into Somerset” through his wife, Lizzie. In February, during the discernment process, the couple walked 60 miles across the county.

“It was a great way to connect with the land and the people, and we’re looking forward so much to coming to know people here, and to being known by them,” he said.

And what about the honourable Somerset tradition of cider-drinking? “I’m certainly not averse to that at all as a way forward,” he laughed.

His installation is expected to take place in the autumn.

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