Good­bye, Gra­ham:

As the Lord Bishop of Nor­wich, the Right Rev­erend Gra­ham James, or Bishop Gra­ham to his flock and many friends, pre­pares to re­tire, he bids a fond farewell to Nor­folk

EDP Norfolk - - INSIDE - Rowan Man­tell

We talk to Nor­wich’s pop­u­lar re­tir­ing bishop

Thou­sands of ser­vices and ser­mons, an abun­dance of anec­dotes and charisma, a heart for the dis­pos­sessed and head for ac­tion, a way with words and a call to spread the word – plus a sure faith and a few corgi facts – have won the Bishop of Nor­wich friends across his dio­cese and far beyond. Nor­folk has been his home for al­most 20 years and he leaves be­hind a legacy of faith, fun and funds.

Bishop Gra­ham is the long­est-serv­ing bishop in the Church of Eng­land, be­com­ing a bishop in his na­tive Corn­wall 25 years ago.

He and his wife, Julie, ar­rived in Nor­folk in 1999 and fell in love with the county al­most im­me­di­ately.

“The thing that I kept hear­ing about Nor­folk was that you need to be here for 180 years be­fore any­one will speak to you!” he said. “We cer­tainly didn’t find that at all. Of all the places I have been in min­istry this is the place that has given the warm­est wel­come and was the eas­i­est to feel at home in.”

Since the turn of the mil­len­nium Bishop Gra­ham has vis­ited ev­ery benefice, and al­most ev­ery church, in a dio­cese stretch­ing from King’s Lynn to Low­est­oft and Cromer to Diss.

He has preached in more than 500 Nor­folk churches, or­dained more than 400 new dea­cons and priests and con­firmed many thou­sands of peo­ple into the faith he has spent a life­time preach­ing. “I try to write a new ser­mon each time I preach, but I can’t prom­ise ev­ery anec­dote will be new!” he said.

A gifted com­mu­ni­ca­tor, he is a reg­u­lar on BBC Ra­dio 4’s Thought for the day slot and in Nor­folk has taken part in char­ity game shows and even played God – in a vil­lage pageant. He is also a mem­ber of the House of Lords and pa­tron or pres­i­dent of more than 30 or­gan­i­sa­tions. Twelve years ago he helped cre­ate the Nor­folk Com­mu­nity Foun­da­tion which now has a £20 mil­lion en­dow­ment aimed at help­ing Nor­folk peo­ple for years to come.

“Nor­folk peo­ple love their county and want to sup­port com­mu­nity life and what I wanted to do was cre­ate some­thing that would last,” he said. “I like to think that the com­mu­nity fund will be here for a very long time. Just as at the bot­tom of my gar­den one of my pre­de­ces­sors founded the Great Hos­pi­tal in 1249, and it’s still go­ing, I would love to think that the Com­mu­nity Foun­da­tion will out­last me.”

Along­side the Cathe­dral Close house that he and Julie will soon leave for a home in Truro, are beau­ti­ful gar­dens – which have brought lo­cal char­i­ties thou­sands of pounds ever since they be­gan reg­u­lar open days. “I will miss shar­ing the gar­den with peo­ple,” he said.

He will also miss the peo­ple and places of Nor­folk. His very first visit was to see a friend from priest-train­ing col­lege, and the pair of fledgling cler­gy­men en­joyed a roller­coaster ride. His next trip to Great Yar­mouth Plea­sure Beach was in dis­guise – for by now he had risen through the ranks, in­clud­ing six years as chap­lain to the Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury and a place in the Gui­ness Book of Records as the youngest bishop of the time. But the new Bishop of Nor­wich was keen to en­joy the fun with his fam­ily without any cer­e­mony.

He was a cu­rate on a Peter­bor­ough coun­cil es­tate when he met Julie. This

‘There is that great tra­di­tion of wel­com­ing strangers which goes so deep in our his­tory ’

year they cel­e­brated their 40th wed­ding an­niver­sary. She was a nurse, and then a mid­wife, but felt un­able to re­turn to mid­wifery af­ter los­ing their mid­dle baby to cot death. “I had tried to re­sus­ci­tate my own child, and failed,” she said, the des­o­la­tion of that day still sharp af­ter more than 30 years.

For the past 16 years she has nursed at Nor­wich’s Priscilla Ba­con Lodge hospice. Next month she too will re­tire. “I’ve loved it,” she said. “It’s a huge priv­i­lege to look af­ter peo­ple.”

She has also loved her time in Nor­folk – and be­ing able to cre­ate her own life. “I only ever wanted to be a nurse,” she said. “I was never go­ing to be a full-time bishop’s wife.”

But she has been a vi­tal part of her hus­band’s min­istry. To­gether they have shared their faith across the county. Some of their favourite

Nor­folk places fea­tured in Bishop Gra­ham’s book A Place for God. Wals­ing­ham, Bee­ston Pri­ory and Nor­wich Cathe­dral all ap­pear – along­side Galilee and Beth­le­hem.

Dur­ing his reign, Nor­wich’s new hostry and re­fec­tory be­came the largest ex­ten­sion of an English cathe­dral since the Re­for­ma­tion. But Bishop Gra­ham said: “Some of the oc­ca­sions which have most touched me have been in small churches in the depths of the Nor­folk coun­try­side – ded­i­cat­ing a war me­mo­rial in Felm­ing­ham a cen­tury on from the First World War, play­ing God in the mys­tery plays at Bergh Ap­ton, cel­e­brat­ing the re­newal of the bells in Fox­ley, in­au­gu­rat­ing the Friends at Salle – it’s some­times in the small­est places that you get a sense of how trans­for­ma­tive the life of the church can be for the lo­cal com­mu­nity around.

“I love see­ing Chris­tian min­istry reach­ing out to the wider com­mu­nity. Although there are not lots of peo­ple clam­our­ing to get into church, the Chris­tian faith is very much alive.”

Bishop Gra­ham has worked with or­gan­i­sa­tions tack­ling home­less­ness, ad­dic­tion, ru­ral iso­la­tion and fam­ily break­down, and been able to pass on the wel­come given to him. He wanted Nor­folk to be a place of sanc­tu­ary for fam­i­lies flee­ing death and devastation in war­zones in­clud­ing Congo and Syria.

“There is that great tra­di­tion of wel­com­ing strangers which goes so deep in our his­tory that Nor­folk is still a place of hos­pi­tal­ity,” he said.

With Nor­folk host­ing the head of the Church of Eng­land ev­ery Christ­mas, he gets to ex­pe­ri­ence royal hos­pi­tal­ity too.

The grand­son of a tin miner preaches at the San­dring­ham Sun­day ser­vice – and con­nects with the Queen over cor­gis, which were his own fam­ily’s pet of choice dur­ing his child­hood.

As his time as Bishop of Nor­wich comes to an end, there is a chance to say good­bye at the cathe­dral on Novem­ber 25. Bishop Gra­ham will preach at the 10.30am morn­ing ser­vice and at­tend a farewell even­song at 4pm. All are wel­come.

His suc­ces­sor will be an­nounced next year and Bishop Gra­ham’s ad­vice to him, or her, is; ‘en­joy it.’ “I have en­joyed it enor­mously,” he said. “I was told by a Ro­man Catholic bishop 25 years ago that one of the most im­por­tant roles of a bishop is to be cheer­ful.

“The peo­ple of God need a bishop who looks like he’s en­joy­ing be­ing a bishop. Do you have a leap of joy in the heart at the prospect of it? I had that when I was asked to come to Nor­wich.” N

BE­LOW AND OP­PO­SITE:The Bishop of Nor­wich the Rt Rev Gra­ham James pro­cess­ing into the ser­vice cel­e­brat­ing Wy­mond­ham Abbey 900th an­niver­sary (Photo: Steve Adams); Bishop Gra­ham and Julie James (Photo: Bishop’s House)

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