THE children of William Law C of E Primary School, Peterborough, had asked that their next diocesan Bishop be someone who was kind, an encourager, and able to tell the story of Jesus. They were the first to hear the announcement, on Thursday morning, that the Suffragan Bishop of Southampton, the Rt Revd Debbie Sellin, had been nominated.
Consecrated in 2019 for the diocese of Winchester, Bishop Sellin has, since 2021 and Dr Tim Dakin’s departure as Bishop of that diocese (News, 23 July 2021), served as its Acting Bishop. She has received praise for helping the healing process in the diocese after a period of tension and turmoil (News, 8 September).
Speaking on Thursday morning, Bishop Sellin suggested that an important aspect of a diocesan bishop’s ministry was to hold together people who disagreed.
“Listening to people is really important, and valuing everybody’s perspective and views: realising that we’re not looking necessarily for total agreement, but we’re looking to live together with disagreement,” she said.
Crucial to this was encouraging others to listen, too, she said. “One thing we found in Winchester was that people with differing views, once they began to understand the perspective of the others, they can see why they hold that view. . . Then they can see the person rather than the issue.”
The General Synod meets in November to discuss Living in Love and Faith (LLF), and it is currently unclear how matters will proceed. Bishop Sellin refused to be drawn about her personal position on the proposed prayers, including the possible blessing of same-sex couples, but it was the “deepest hope” of the College of Bishops that “we can hold together,” she said. “That’s the one thing we all agree on: that maintaining unity is important.”
Bishop Sellin trained for the ministry on the Southern Theological Education and Training Scheme, and was ordained deacon in 2007 and priest in 2008. She served her title as a self-supporting minister at St Saviour’s, Guildford, before becoming Vicar of St John the Baptist, Wonersh, in the diocese of Guildford.
While ostensibly rural, the parish’s location just outside of Guildford put it firmly in the London commuter belt, and meant that it had a more fluid and transitional community than was normally associated with a rural ministry.
For Bishop Sellin, this struck a chord with her own experience, and her sense of what the church could offer to a community. Born and brought up in Scotland, she still has family north of the border. For her, belonging is less about geographical location and more a sense of emotional connection.
“People need to belong, and that’s where the church can play a huge part.” People “often belong before they believe”, she said.
“Ultimately, we want people to know that they belong to God, and the church can be that place that allows them to be valued, to be loved, to be accepted, whatever is going on in life.”
Balancing the traditional parish model with new opportunities and ways of building church communities was important, Bishop Sellin suggested. She identified the school in which she was standing as an example. “There is a church attached to the school, and we’ve just been talking to the Vicar about what it means to engage with the community, with people who never, ever went into the church building,” she said.
“The way that churches and parishes are contributing to people’s needs — with things like foodbanks and toddler groups — is the first step. The more that parishes can be more outward focused, I think those opportunities become more real . . . to meet people where they are.”
Before entering the ministry, Bishop Sellin worked as an NHS manager. She suggested that the C of E and the NHS were similar in the range of people that they touched, and in that one’s work was never finished: “There is always more to do.”
Bishop Sellin is married to Paul, a physics teacher, and has two adult sons. Her interests include cooking, reading, and crafts.
She will be installed in early 2024.