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Diary: Graham James

22 September 2023


Comings and goings

WE HAVE been saying farewell to Philip Mounstephen and his wife, Ruth, in the diocese of Truro this week, and wishing him well for his new ministry in Winchester (News, 7 July). Philip is the sixth Bishop of Truro to be translated since the diocese was created, more than 140 years ago.

A trenchant editorial about Truro translations was published last month in this paper — in the “100 Years Ago” feature (25 August). That was when Guy Warman left Cornwall for Chelmsford (on his way to Manchester), and the Church Times expressed its disquiet that Truro was being used as a stepping-stone to preferment elsewhere. At the time, Truro was waiting for its seventh bishop in 46 years; now, we have had 16 in 146 years: an average tenure of nine years. Truro does not seem an outlier in episcopal terms of office.

That critical editorial a century ago suggested that one reason bishops of Truro may have sought pastures new was Cornwall’s “trying climate”. How rude. When I watch Rick Stein, Michael Portillo, Julia Bradbury, or countless others explore Cornwall on television, the climate never seems too bad at all. But it did get very trying this August, although families sheltering from the rain in the shops of Truro seemed surprisingly cheerful. Perhaps they were grateful not to be caught in the Mediterranean heatwave, or stranded at airports.

Cornwall is undoubtedly temperate (otherwise defined as wet, warm, and windy), but I doubt the weather has much influence nowadays on episcopal ministry.


Stable story

IT WAS not always so. One of my predecessors as Bishop of Norwich — Henry Bathurst (in office 1805-37) — lies buried in Great Malvern. That’s where he spent his many episcopal winters, since he did not like the East Anglian climate. Bishops did things like that in the good old days of the Church of England.

Norwich probably is an outlier in the tenure of her bishops. I used to enjoy pointing out that there had been only 12 Bishops of Norwich (including me) since 1792. When I retired in 2019, that made an average of 19 years each. No wonder Norfolk was sometimes called “the graveyard of ambition”.


Location, location. . .

I’VE heard it said that long ministries are unnecessary in an age of social media and networking. I’m not sure. We may be a more mobile society, but the power of place remains. That’s certainly true in west Cornwall.

I was in the Land’s End Benefice, earlier this month, presiding and preaching at the most westerly church in England, St Sennen’s, adjacent to the First and Last Inn. I expected a lament that they’d had no parish priest for more than two years, but found the local church alive with genuine animation and response in the worship. The way 60 people sang the Peruvian Gloria unaccompanied, led by their talented organist, Lucy Ellis, as cantor, was a delight. Gareth Malone, eat your heart out.

There seems a solidarity among the three parishes of the Benefice (St Buryan, St Levan, and St Sennen), which may derive partly from living on the geographical edge of the country. There’s self-sufficiency, creativity, and individuality in such locations. No wonder that the area is full of artists; and novelists, including David Cornwell (John le Carré) and Patrick Gale, have found it inspring to live there.

When the Land’s End Benefice was last advertised, a priest commented to me that it was “too cut off”. “Cut off” from what? If you want to be in central London weekly, it would be a bit of a drag; but much of the world comes to you.


Signal achievement

WE HAVE been to the stunning Minack Theatre at Porthcurno (in the parish of St Levan) three times this summer — for Measure for Measure, Blithe Spirit, and Evita, by visiting companies: all excellent in their different ways, and part of as varied a programme as you’d find anywhere. Productions have to be good to grab your attention when you are sitting in an open-air theatre cut into the side of the cliff, with a glorious view of the Atlantic Ocean as a backdrop.

Looking out to sea at the Minack, I’m acutely aware of what cannot be observed in the depths of the waters. Porthcurno was where the first undersea telegraph cable came ashore in 1870, enabling communication with India in a matter of minutes.

It was here rather than in central London that the communications hub of the British Empire developed. Effective government was dependent on what happened at the edge of England.

Nowadays, fibre optical cables come ashore not just at Porthcurno, but at Sennen Cove, too. You can learn all about these extraordinary developments at Porthcurno’s Museum of Global Communications. To describe the area as “cut off” could hardly be wider of the mark.


In the van

ARCHBISHOP Robert Runcie used to claim that “the centre of the Church lies at the circumference”. It probably wasn’t very good geometry, but it was excellent ecclesiology. Where is the Church of England most authentically herself? Not at Church House, Westminster, or Lambeth Palace, or any diocesan office, but in places such as the Land’s End benefice. And (despite what is frequently alleged), I don’t know of any bishop who would not agree with me.

When there’s another opportunity for clergy to be appointed to St Buryan, St Levan, and St Sennen, I expect them to be queuing up. . .


The Rt Revd Graham James is a former Bishop of Norwich and now an honorary assistant bishop in the diocese of Truro.

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