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Principal of Ridley Hall to be next Bishop of Birmingham

31 August 2023

Diocese of Birmingham

THE next Bishop of Birmingham is to be the Revd Dr Michael Volland, Principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge, since 2017, Downing Street announced on Thursday.

Dr Volland, who is 49, will become the youngest diocesan bishop. He was ordained deacon in 2006, after training at Ridley Hall, and ordained priest in 2007, to a title at Gloucester Cathedral, where he was also a pioneer minister in the city, until 2009. He then became director of mission at Cranmer Hall, Durham, continuing in pioneer ministry, and was made Area Dean of Easington. In 2015, he returned to Ridley Hall to teach before his present appointment.

Speaking to the Church Times after the announcement on Thursday morning, Dr Volland said that he looked forward to combining his experience in theological education with the “great training” of both lay and ordained people already being carried out in the diocese.

He was “wholeheartedly committed” to parish ministry across the Church of England, he said. “Parishes are where the really creative hard work of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ is happening, and I am entirely committed to supporting and nurturing the mission and ministry of our parishes.”

How did he prepare ordinands for ministry in the C of E? “With lots of prayer and lots of attention to good theology and to practical experience, and reflecting on that practice. One of the key things is helping ordinands to really understand that we are joining in with God’s mission, and that God has a hopeful future for his Church.”

His 2015 book The Minister as Entrepreneur (SPCK) is the published version of his thesis for his Durham University doctorate, granted in 2013. Did he agree with the current trend towards managerial priesthood in the C of E?

“We need a spiritual priesthood; we need people who are deeply resourced by and moved by the Spirit of God. But I think the spirit of God gives gifts, and one of those gifts is the exercise of entrepreneurship. That is a real gift to the Church. It enables the Church to avoid stasis, and to be a people in movement, as we’re called to be, and to get things done. . .

“But of course, spotting opportunities and working hard to engage with our communities: that takes initiative and resolve and commitment and organisation, if we’re going to be effective in sharing that good news.”

Dr Volland acknowledged that Ridley Hall was an open Evangelical college, and, while not labelling himself as Evangelical, said that he was “committed to the Evangelical desire to engage with scripture and to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and to be involved in the mission of God” — although this was not unique to Evangelicals, he added.

He would not be drawn on his personal position regarding same-sex marriage in the Church, nor what his position would be on the blessing of same-sex couples once he was a diocesan bishop. He was “committed”, he said, to working with his new episcopal colleagues in the continuing process of discernment.

Asked how he thought the Bishops had handled the issue so far, he said that the “careful, challenging process” of dealing with “complex and highly sensitive issues that affect people’s real lives and . . . identities takes time. It can’t be rushed.” He looked forward to playing a part in the next steps.

Before his consecration on 30 November, and his installation early next year, he intends to “meet lots of people, listen, and ask lots of questions” about the challenges facing the diocese. These include, he says, tackling universal challenges, such as the cost-of-living crisis, “the ways in which parish churches and church communities are going to relate to the wider community in the 21st century”, and the use of digital technologies.

He hopes to focus on low-income and homeless communities in the city — the third largest in the UK — as well as the continuing Warm Welcome campaign. “That’s a very exciting piece of work that’s really growing,” Dr Volland said.

He is a keen runner who participates in ultramarathons (News, 19 August 2022) to raise funds for causes and charities, including Shelter. He has been a member of Christian Surfers for almost 30 years. He is married to Rachel, an early-years teacher. They have three children, aged 20, 18, and 15.

Dr Volland will be the tenth Bishop of Birmingham since the diocese was created in 1906. He succeeds the Rt Revd David Urquhart, who retired, aged 70, in 2022, after 16 years in post (News, 13 May 2022), and who was later appointed Bishop to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York (News, 3 February).

Asked whether he intended to settle for as long as his predecessors, Dr Volland said: “I’ll leave the question of how long to God, and just focus on the present, month by month, year by year, with the people of God who are really working hard here. . . I’m really excited about arriving, getting to know people in the diocese, and working with Christians on a whole range of important mission and ministry initiatives to share the good news.”

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