Andy Rider writes: Last week in St Paul’s Cathedral at the end of the Candlemas service, the Bishop of London passed over his crozier to the Bishop of Willesden who will be acting in his place during the episcopal vacancy in this great global city. It was a powerful moment as a much loved bishop began the task of letting go of this great role.
I came to London 23 years ago and was welcomed in and licensed by Bishop David Hope who was another great Bishop of London but here I want to give credit to Bishop Richard Chartres, the 132nd Bishop of London 1995–2017.
Soon after arriving in London I heard that the Bishop of Stepney, Richard Chartres, would sit by his phone every morning for 15 minutes so that any of his clergy could ring him with anything they wanted to talk about, ecclesiastical or pastoral. This remarkable pastoral gift was valued by many whom I have met over the years. It was something that he continued into his time as Bishop of London.
Not long after Bishop Richard became Bishop of London he visited me in the West End, and as we walked together from All Souls Langham Place to the All Souls Clubhouse (where I was vicar) we came across a woman who had just fallen on the pavement. It turned out that she was a nun, and Bishop Richard insisted we walked her home to All Saints Margaret Street. For months afterwards the Bishop upon seeing me would ask if I had picked up any fallen women recently? Such was his unique mixture of humour and pastoral concern.
Bishop Richard was finding his stride in those early years and find it he did. He soon reversed the decline of the city churches giving many of them niche purposes. He encouraged growth and flourishing wherever he went; he has during his time in post turned London from a struggling diocese to its rightful place as the nation’s flagship, a ‘can do’ diocese that has increasingly offered leadership and inspiration to the Church of England.
Some will say that women were sidelined during his time, but his decision to only ordain deacons, leaving Area Bishops to ordain priests seemed wise to many of us and allowed him to truly offer an episcopacy to the widest breadth of church traditions in the diocese. For those of us there, his evident delight when Rachel Treweek, whom he twice appointed to archdeacon, was subsequently declared Bishop of Gloucester, the first female Church of England diocesan in church history, was clearly visible to everybody in the room.
Bishop Richard was at home on the national stage and on the largest of stages, preaching to more people than anyone else at one time in history when he owned the pulpit at Prince William and Kate’s wedding. He sacrificially chaired the Church Commissioners often to the point of exhaustion. He wasn’t overly fond of structures and some would even describe him as cavalier in his approach to procedural bureaucracy—in the great tradition of many revivalists I am sure! Only a year before his retirement our much admired Bishop more than gladly joined me to welcome Prince Charles to our redeveloped crypt whilst others attended General Synod!
Was he the first modern Bishop nationally to completely embrace church planting? It has been quite a journey, at times controversial, but the diocese of London is now seeing health and growth against the national tide of declining church attendance and is teaching others how to grasp the church growth and church planting agenda amongst the swirling waters of theological and missional (mis)understanding which still pervade our deanery chapters and synods. He made friends with those not of his tradition because he wanted to encourage the church wherever it was healthy and flourishing. A regular guest at the HTB Leaders conference sharing the stage with the likes of Tony Blair, and arriving each summer at the HTB Focus holiday week holiday to commission new church plants wearing his rather bright Hawaiian shirts for which he became well known.
This is the Bishop who bravely stepped into the midst of the controversial melee to support St Paul’s Cathedral when Occupy were encamped around it. His diplomacy, care and humour made him just the statesman amongst the campers and the broken cathedral staff team alike. My own observation is that what he has done for St Paul’s Cathedral—whilst a sideline compared with his major role—has in fact been a truly magnificent ministry which has given great credibility and strength to that national institution, its ministry reaching even further and deeper now than before. All this and yet often the best way to catch Bishop Richard amongst his busy diary, was to attend the early morning Eucharist at St Paul’s Cathedral and walk him back to the vestry afterwards! He was a man of prayer and service to be found in the quiet corners of his city, as well as the grand city events, and his national and international roles.
The 132nd Bishop of London was often imitated by his clergy who would, with a knowing look on their face, tilt their head slightly and raise their right hand; finger and thumb together and dropping their voice a few tones pronounce ‘Good News’ in their best Bishop Richard voice. He was a good news Bishop and this was reinforced in the summer of 2016 when, before a crowd of some 6,000, the Archbishop of Canterbury described Bishop Richard Chartres as one of the best bishops since the Reformation. I’m inclined to think he’s right.
I have heard it said that behind every great man is an ‘amazed and exhausted woman’ and whilst Caroline never looked exhausted, she radiates warmth and smiles that encourage everybody who crosses her path. I do think she has been hugely significant in Bishop Richard’s success. Her ability to remember names and to take time with people is unquestionable. Some years ago she and Richard invited me and my wife for supper. There were a number of us at the dinner party and after the main course I heard her unmistakable laughter as two of her children brought out their pet snakes to entertain the guests! She shares both Bishop Richard’s love of people and his sense of fun.
Bishop Richard’s personal interests would naturally include church history and the Orthodox Church; both would pepper his after-dinner speeches and both built significant bridges with other worshipping communities and of course came to life when lecturing on Mediterranean cruise ships.
At a time when leadership has been a hotly contested word and men have often been unsure of their place in society, Bishop Richard has demonstrated and offered great leadership in the Church of England, and a role model to modern men generally. Kiplings words come to mind:
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Bishop Richard Chartres may have been more of a Lancelot Andrews fan than Rudyard Kipling but the words fit; behold the leader, behold the man, behold the 132nd Bishop of London, well done good and faithful servant. In the final days before laying down his crozier, Bishop Richard met with all the curates of his diocese, inspiring them with his missional heart and investing in the future of the church.
Under Bishop Richard’s watch the church in London has grown in health and vitality. It has not shied away from difficulties. It has engaged with the city and the nation. I and many members of the church in this great global city are giving thanks for his 21 years in the post—a man who began life as an ink monitor and ended his ministry as Bishop of London with his first ever tweet: #BF2L #lightoftheworld
Revd Andy Rider is Rector of Christchurch Spitalfields and Area Dean of Tower Hamlets.
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