It has been announced this morning that the new Bishop of Southwark is the current Bishop of Woolwich, Christopher Chessun. How on earth Christopher has lived with this for the last three months and continued to work as normal in the diocese beats me. Yet that in itself says something about the stature of the man.
I have worked with Christopher for the last five years and he has proved himself to be an able and respected bishop and leader. Committed to London and appointed Bishop for Urban Life and Faith, he understands the varied contexts in which the clergy and people of this diocese serve. He will bring to his new post a clear vision, a robust adherence to the faith and discipline of the Church, and an ability to take a fresh look at how and why we do things the way we do in Southwark.
Little is widely known about how bishops work together in a diocese like ours. People encounter their own Area Bishop and, from time to time, the Diocesan Bishop. Most won’t realise that our pattern of working is based on mutual trust and a recognition that the three of us (Kingston, Woolwich and Croydon) are very different in temperament, experience and character. Yet, this is a strength in a diocese of some diversity and considerable challenge. To ensure good communication, constant discussion and broad understanding of each others’ remit, the bishops in Southwark have a pattern of meeting once a month as follows:
- 8.00am Eucharist
- 8.30am Breakfast together (informal chat and catching up)
- 9.00am Bible study (led by rotation)
- 9.45am Business
- 1.00pm Lunch together and depart
The Area Bishops meet with their own Area staff (Archdeacons and Advisers) once per month (in Croydon from 8.30am to 1pm) and the Bishop’s Staff Meeting meets once a month (from 10am-4pm).
The strength, proven through the years I have been here, is that this pattern offers the best chance of good relationships, coherent discussion, mutual advice (and/or sympathy) and an excellent forum for the establishment of good collegiality and communications. Bishop Tom Butler set all this up and worked it very effectively; we three Area Bishops have worked together well, creatively and honestly. (And Richard Cheetham, the Bishop of Kingston and Acting Diocesan Bishop, has handled his role in the vacancy with great skill and discretion – we owe him a great debt of gratitude.)
So, all this adds up to a promising future in Southwark. Because of ridiculously short notice I cannot be with Christopher at his introduction to the diocese and the press. Nor can I be in Croydon when he visits the Area in the afternoon. (I am interviewing and then doing a long-planned and prepared Parish Visit – the work carries on!) I then can’t be at the Diocesan Clergy Study Day in Southwark on Thursday (I am addressing a Southwark Headteachers Conference in Canterbury). But, my absence is completely regrettable because I would like to be there to offer Christopher my complete and unreserved support and encouragement.
The new Bishop of Southwark will need to be given time and space to negotiate the change of role as well as the change of home and office. He will need the prayers and generosity of clergy and people in the Diocese. He’s got mine. It is a great appointment.