Yesterday, when Bishop John (of Worcester) visited the Martley area, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect: but it was a day when archery, brewing beer and reindeer somehow blended with school visits, food and a sermon. It was all most stimulating – not least because the Bishop is both highly intelligent and able to adapt his style to suit his audience, whether young or old.
We started off at Martley Primary School. The Bishop led an assembly, and was then grilled by the kids. The questions were highly varied: some were straightforward, such as “How did you become Bishop?” while another (which might possibly have had some adult help!) was “How do you look after Reverend Sherwin?”
Our next stop was the Talbot in Knightwick, a 15th century hotel and restaurant which has a micro-brewery. With the passion of a craftsman, master brewer Chris Gooch told us both about how the beer is made and about the history of brewing. One reason, historically, why beer-drinking became widespread was that those who drank it didn’t suffer from dysentery: I’d never appreciated before that the medicinal benefits are actually genuine! 🙂
After lunch at the Talbot we dropped in on the Chantry. The headmaster, Dr. Andrew Dickinson, gave us a guided tour of the school, and enabled us to drop in on various classes. Possibly the most impressive response was by half a dozen girls in the music department. One moment they were practicing their singing in a small room; suddenly a bunch of dog collar-toting clerics burst in, with their teacher requesting an immediate performance; after some initial shyness they gave an excellent, confident and almost flawless rendition of “Away in a manger”.
We went from there to the Cob House fisheries, a diverse, growing and successful enterprise which includes a restaurant and an animal park. Before going round, however, we were introduced to Mel Clarke, a local lass who had won silver at the Paralympics in the archery. Her training range was at the Cob House, where she’d put in about 50 hours a week in the run-up to the Paralympics. She’s just coming to the end of some down-time before getting back into training for next year’s world championships in Bangkok.
Our tour of the site started with an unexpected encounter (for us anyway) with two reindeer. Then we moved on to the fishery itself, where the Bishop was given a quick lesson in fly-fishing by Karl Humphries. Apparently the Bishop’s casting technique was remarkably good for an apparent beginner!
If this wasn’t enough, the day finished with a session at the church in St. Clements, on the western side of Worcester. About a hundred people turned up to hear him – which would have been great, except that almost everyone there was of retirement age. Nevertheless the Bishop was equal to the challenge, giving a talk before fielding questions for about an hour.
He started with a talk based on Matthew 17:7: the disciples were overwhelmed by their experience of seeing Jesus at the Transfiguration, “But Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid.'” He felt that this was a message which really needed to be heard by the congregation, fearful about their place – individually and as a church – in the surrounding culture.
One questioner asked, in effect, whether or not there were too many church buildings around. The Bishop responded by saying that “Our buildings are good only insofar as they serve the gospel.” He went onto say that the key questions are “Do these buildings help us to love God and love our neighbour better?” and “Could they be adapted to better enable them to do that?” These are stimulating questions which those of us in rural Worcestershire will need to engage with in the weeks and months ahead.
He was asked about the Church reaching youth and young adults. He started by emphasising the need for prayer, as in everything, and then encourage the audience by stressing the importance of grandparental relationships. Nevertheless, he added that “church music is often very very alien to young people today”. (I hope this was heard clearly by the audience!)
When I arrived in the diocese in July, I was aware that Bishop John was very highly regarded by an unusually wide range of people. I now understand why!