I was visited by the new bishop of Durham today. The fact that a couple of weeks ago he contacted me to arrange the meet up and was insistent that he would come to my home had already won him huge kudos points as far as I was concerned. As you know, I'm a stickler for good manners and correct pastoral protocol. I was very impressed.
Our chat together was, as they say, satisfactory. In fact, it was a very pleasant hour and a half. I'm sure that, in respect of how I felt, this had a lot to do with the fact that I wasn't after any from him other than friendship and care. I no longer want to be a full time parish priest (at least, not in the rigid, constraining, unimaginative form this ministry takes at this moment in time in England), Mrs MP would throw a thrombie if I even suggested it and neither of us have any intention of ever leaving out humble, little abode. Also, I do not let other people down for my own gain and having built up a ministry on the internet I'm not going to discard it. Of course, I would love to to offer my skills and enthusiasm to the Church of England and get involved in my new bishop's initiatives but, if that is not to be, then I will survive and I will still have a priestly ministry. I am incredibly fortunate in being a priest through ordination and, also, by acclamation. I wasn't foisted on anybody and I enjoy the self responsibility that goes with being dependent on my "congregation."
My first impression of Bishop Justin Welby (and, as you know, my first impressions are always correct - ahem), is that he is a man of very little guile. To be honest, I think he would have problems being deliberately deceitful as you can see his whole life in his eyes. And there's a lot of sadness there which, although redeemed by his love for his family and his God, will always be with him. This is good as his discernment and understanding of what makes individuals tick is based on his own experience of life, not on stuff he has read in a book or been told in a seminar on leadership. He will be capable of making tough decisions, he has done many times in the past, but I have a sneakin' suspicion that that every person he hurts, even when it is arguably necessary, will be on his conscience for ever after. I don't think he is able to tap into that vein of psycoticism that allows so many "natural" leaders of business, government and church to sleep at night.
Intellectually, his main concern is to bring more people into the worshipping life of the Church and, more importantly, to bring them into a "loving relationship with Christ." My guess is that emotionally his primary concern is to stop the pain in individual human beings. Both of these concerns mean that I think it unlikely that he will be flying all over the world telling other people what to do like his predecessor did. In fact, I think he will begrudge any time taken up by duties outside of the diocese which take him away from working towards what he wants to achieve in the diocese. And he will be enthusiastic about church growth and stuff, and this, along with his evangelical background, will make many priests in Durham diocese suspicious of him. But he's clever enough to realise that people don't just do as they are told even if you are the bishop and plans to visit each priest in their own homes over the coming year or so. I think he is a very personable man who will find this collaborating and caring approach will pay huge dividends as far as getting people enthused with his vision is concerned. I think anybody of any tradition will be able to work with him and count him among their friends. That is except the lazy and stubbornly unimaginative who will probably find his episcopacy a bit of a bumpy ride.
He's still quite worried about what being a bishop is all about but hopefully he will soon realise that there are no hard and fast rules and that he can make being a bishop about whatever he likes.
Of course, I could be wrong about all this. Only time will tell. But as I have stuck my neck out so unconditionally he better not turn out to be another boring, bank manager bishop. If he does there will be a new cartoon series at OCICBW... pretty damn quick and that's for certain.
We didn't discuss anything specific about my future which, as I said at the beginning, was not my concern anyway. But I think something new will come out of our conversation. Whether this is a big thing or a little thing I don't know, but I am pretty positive that, for the first time in my dealings with the church authorities for a long, long time, it will be a positive thing. I even feel just a little bit excited.