November 2011

There’s not alot of time for blogging these days because the days are all full. All good stuff, but full. There is loads I’d love to think and write about – Putin’s nomination for the Russian Presidency, the so sad suicide of Gary Speed, Syria, Egyptian elections, the Leveson hearings on phone hacking, and more besides. But, my head’s full of other stuff.
So, here’s some easily lifted material aimed at answering a question I was asked three times by non-church people in the last week: “What does a bishop actually do?”It is easy to give an answer that sounds either surreal or pious, but the reality is simply that it is very varied. At risk of attracting criticism for doing all the wrong things, having the wrong priorities or sounding pretentious, here’s a glimpse of my last week and the days ahead this week. (Every day begins with and is shaped by prayer.)

Last week began with two Confirmation services on Sunday. Each service lasts around an hour and a half. I get to the church between 30-45 minutes beforehand in order to prepare, talk through practicalities, attend to paperwork, meet the candidates, etc. After the service I stay behind to meet people and chat – often for an hour or more. I might have to drive an hour and a half each way (last Sunday was only fifteen minutes in the morning and thirty minutes in the late afternoon. This means that one service can take between three and six hours in total – excluding preparation time.

Monday was the Bishop’s Staff Meeting. This happens once each month and involves the two Archdeacons, the Diocesan Secretary, the Dean of the cathedral, my chaplain, two ‘Bishop’s Officers’ (for part of the meeting). We begin at 8.30am, break for coffee at 10.30am followed by Communion, then we resume business. We finish around 3.30-4pm. I then went straight into a ‘safeguarding’ meeting for an hour and a half. I then drove into Bradford for an interfaith consultation and reception hosted by the Lord Mayor, organised by the Dean, facilitated by me. Over 100 people contributed to a very good event that encourages us to develop the engagement in 2012. I got home and dealt with correspondence and emails.

On Tuesday I drove to Wakefield for a non-agenda meeting of the three West Yorkshire diocesan bishops (Bradford, Wakefield and Ripon & Leeds). I then had a pastoral meeting in my study followed by phone calls on a variety of matters. I then had my regular meeting with the Diocesan Secretary. She was followed by the Diocesan Youth Officer who briefed me on developments among children and young people in our churches and schools. When he left I also left to drive back to Wakefield for the first meeting of the so-called Preparation Group, comprising five members nominated by each of the Bishop’s Councils of the three West Yorkshire dioceses (proposed by the Dioceses Commission to be dissolved into a new single diocese). This first meeting was intended to agree the terms of reference, set out who would lead on which issues, what our work should look like in 2012. I got home after the two-hour meeting to attend to correspondence and emails.

I caught the 7.14am train from Shipley to London on Wednesday in order to chair the Meissen English Committee – the last one of this quinquennium – at Church House, Westminster. This finished early (11am – 2pm), so I fitted in three meetings with people at Church House before a briefing meeting with the Church of England’s excellent Rural Officer. This was follow by a pastoral meeting. I eventually checked in to the hotel in time to deal with phone calls and emails before meeting my youngest son for dinner – I hadn’t seen him since we moved up north. A late end to a great evening.

Thursday began with me doing Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2’s excellent Chris Evans Show. The script has to be written a day or two before (in order to go through compliance), so I’d fitted that in on Tuesday. I left the BBC and walked to Church House, Westminster, to chair the Sandford St Martin Trust meeting – which this week covered future development strategy, the 2012 Awards ceremony, finance & investments, routine business, and an invited guest from another media trust (who we embarrassingly kept waiting for an hour – he was gracious, but needn’t have been). I left as soon as the meeting ended in order to get the train back to Bradford to chair the Bishop’s Council (which included several important policy decisions) in the evening. I always work on the train, but was too tired to deal with correspondence and emails when I eventually got home.

Friday was my day off. I went through to my office to offload some work stuff and then bumbled around the house for the rest of the afternoon before going out to the Alhambra Theatre in the evening to see the Rambert Dance Company perform. (I had never in my life been to ballet or dance, but this was beautiful and brilliant.)

Saturday I was in Shipley for a training morning for churchwardens from across the diocese. I worked in my study all afternoon (clearing correspondence, preparing for the next day and the week ahead). In the evening we drove to York for dinner with the High Sherriff.

On Sunday I baptised and confirmed at Haworth (the Brontë church) before heading off to Liverpool to see Liverpool versus Manchester City at 4pm – with my elder son (who lives there) and one of my colleagues – my first time at Anfield for a match for over twenty years. Great atmosphere, OK result (1-1), excellent day. Back in the evening.

This morning I began a three-day visit to one of my deaneries – the seventh of eight deanery visits in the diocese, the last one (very rural) coming next week. I meet all the clergy individually and together, and will lead an open evening for all-comers tomorrow evening.

I will be back in London on Thursday for communications meetings and Friday for the Chris Evans Show on Radio 2 before catching the train back to Bradford.In the margins of all this are the phone calls, the crises, the correspondence and emails (of which there is an abundance and a variety). I try to respond to emails within 24 hours, letters as soon as they hit my desk, phone calls as soon as I can call back (if not available).

So, that’s it. Illustrative. I write it to give an idea, not to justify myself. I write it simply because people ask what we actually do. If it annoys you, ignore it.


A friend in Scotland (not that that is significant, of course) pointed me to this brilliant history of the English language in ten minutes. It just so happens that I am also currently poking around in David Crystal’s book The Story of English in 100 Words. Just enjoy this sprint through the language.



I know I bang on a bit about the linguistic incompetence of the English, but toady I read something on the train to London that pushed all my prejudice buttons.

In today’s Guardian Jonathan Freedland has a good go at the (usually untested) arguments for the massive pay differentials in some of our businesses. The usual rationale has something to do with the assumption that our ‘best’ talent would go abroad if we brought what the boss of Barclays called the ‘compensation’ levels down to something that resembled ‘earnings’. In other words, we would be left with second-division executives who lack the ambition or the hunger to up sticks and emigrate.

He responds to this by recognising that rare skills can legitimately demand rare salaries – but also that the skills of those who earn huge amounts are not exactly rare.

?… Our objection to telephone-number salaries goes deeper. What it comes down to is desert – a notion so deeply ingrained that, yes, even a seven-year-old can grasp it: the belief that people should deserve the rewards they get.

… Most people have long accepted that there will be a differential in pay that, in the hoary example, the brain surgeon will earn more than the dustman. People understand that some skills are rare and therefore command a greater premium. They even accept that this can result in extreme outcomes, with the likes of Wayne Rooney trousering £250,000 a week. But none of that logic applies to the current state of corporate pay.

Rooney is truly a one in a hundred million talent; there might be just two dozen people in the world who could match his skills. But with all due respect to Bob Stack, that is not true of him. Nor can it possibly be true of the 2,800 staff in 27 UK-based banks who, according to the Financial Services Authority, received more than £1m each in 2009. Whatever these people are able to do, it’s clearly not rare.

Ah, comes the reply, but these are the cream of the international crop, among the very best bankers in the world. The commission report blows a hole in that tired argument, revealing there’s hardly any cross-border poaching of corporate talent. Not many of our monolingual high earners could work abroad and even fewer would want to. They like it here and do not have to be paid lottery jackpot money to stay.

Notice the (almost) aside? ‘Monolingual’ high earners? We consistently underestimate the economic cost of our linguistic incompetence – to say nothing of the cultural and experiential deficit.

So, those are the buttons Freedland pressed for me: critique of the absurd and unjustifiable differentials, a sideswipe at our linguistic incompetence, and some myth-busting about the ‘market’.

And beneath all the fun a serious question about how we value people, what they do, why it matters, and how we need to recover some connection between work and reward.

The phone hacking saga just gets more sordid by the day. Some informed commentators have claimed throughout that the trail won’t stop at News International – and now Hugh Grant has openly accused the Mail on Sunday of hacking his phone. Of course, as he admits, this might be speculative; but, if they didn’t get their information from his phone, where did they get it?

We don’t need to go on about this as the stories will just keep coming. But, we do need to remember that the people indulging in this criminal and (by any standards) unethical behaviour justified their activities on the spurious grounds that there was a ‘public interest’ in the stories that emanated from private communications. In other words, unethical means were supposed to be justified by ‘ethical’ ends. These guardians of the public morality exercised a total lack of morality in the pursuit of their trade. And in doing so, of course, they have brought into massive disrepute a profession that is vital to a free and democratic society. (The best response to this recently was Alan Rusbridger’s excellent Orwell Lecture.)

It is easy to forget that it wasn’t the other guardians of civil society and the rule of law – the police, lawyers or the self-regulating press itself – who rumbled this shameful story; it was a dogged journalist who epitomised the best in journalism – Nick Davies of the Guardian. Despite being fobbed off, threatened and deterred, he persisted until the story couldn’t be suppressed any longer.

The problem we now face is that journalism is diminishing at every level. Newspapers are in crisis and desperately trying to find new business models for the digital age. Local journalism involves a good deal of reproduction of local PR stuff – leaving aside the proper scrutiny of power (local government, for example) because sufficiently qualified specialist journalists can no longer be afforded or recruited. This represents a real democratic deficit. We need good journalists.

Which is where the contrasts come in.

This evening I helped convene a reception at City Hall in Bradford for members of the very many faith communities in Bradford. Welcomed and hosted by the Lord Mayor – a Muslim woman who is doing a superb job – we brought together over 100 people to have an honest conversation about how to work for the common good in Bradford. The Leader of the Council was also there, even announcing his atheism in a very good speech. In my address I differentiated between (a) interfaith conversations that addressed the ‘content’ of our faith (world view and practice) and (b) the question of how, despite our differences, we live together and serve the common good together. Loads of creative group work gave everyone a voice and substantial energy and goodwill were generated throughout the evening. We will now plan constructive engagement and cooperation for the whole of 2012.

And the ‘contrasts’?

Almost universal contempt for the media by people who spend their lives trying to live morally and not misrepresent those who are not like themselves or their community.

I made the point (during some feedback) that Bradford’s local newspaper The Telegraph and Argus is actually a very good media organ and that, in contrast to many others I have known all too well, is open to good news stories… if we can supply them and write them well. Yes, the front page has to grab the attention and no, fluffy bunny stories don’t do it – but, there is a genuine commitment to telling the stories that matter. And some of the journalists I know here should be proud of their profession.

The danger is that all journalism will be tarred with the News International brush. But, credit needs to be given where it is due and encouragement needs to be given to those whose job it is to scrutinise power and tell the truth.

Bradford gets a bad press. People who live here are simply fed up with TV companies doing ‘documentaries’ which tell a story already conceived before any evidence has been examined or any researcher even arrived at the station. You don’t have to be here long to hear the anger against those who constantly do the place down. But, as I have argued locally, it isn’t always wise to amplify the negative stories by complaining about them. Instead, we need to challenge the laziness of the sensationalists who can’t be bothered with complexity. And we need to find ways of facing our challenges and telling our stories ourselves.

This evening I heard time and time again – from a number of religious communities – the desire to have honest conversation about the challenges we face within our own communities and to reach those who currently do not participate in civil society. We want to serve the common good in Bradford together, to identify our allies in this task, to encourage each other to deal with reality, and to face down the nasties whose only interest is to create division where it doesn’t exist.

It is a privilege to be here and to be involved in such work. And it will be interesting to see how we best develop the initiatives we have begun. Media representation will be both encouraged and challenged – we don’t mind the truth, but we won’t stand for lazy misrepresentation. We are looking for examples of good journalism, both locally and nationally. Ethics matter.

Just for the record, I note the following:

1. On BBC Radio 4’s excellent ‘The Report’ programme, broadcast last night, I was introduced as having been a vicar in Southwark before moving to Bradford. Not true. I told them I had been Archdeacon of Lambeth for three years and then Bishop of Croydon for eight years.

2. In the same introduction to my contribution to the same programme it was said that I had kept in close touch with clergy at St Paul’s Cathedral – which was part of the theme of the programme (whcih was really about the Corporation of London). In fact, I had said I had been in touch with Giles Fraser on the day of his resignation announcement and that I had met Graeme Knowles several times in the past, but didn’t ‘know’ him. I had also said that the Cathedral Chapter was autonomous and that the Diocese of London was not the same as the Diocese of Southwark – and that my real connection with St Paul’s was having been consecrated there in May 2003.

3. During the chit-chat on the Chris Evans Show on BBC Radio 2 yesterday morning I said that we can see toward Ilkley from our house in Bradford. Well, that’s true in the same sense that you can see towards the North Pole from where I live in Bradford. I meant to say Bingley – and the moors that lead over eventually to Ilkley. Locals who listened must have thought I am seriously geographically challenged.

Neither of those is a moan about the media! Although the first two need clearing up in case anyone connected with St Paul’s wonders what is going on that they don’t know about. It wasn’t me who said it, guv.

But, here’s a plug:

4. My daughter and son-in-law gave me a CD for my birthday which I listened to in the car today. Called simply Kitty, Daisy & Lewis, it is a brilliant, atmospheric recording of some great (almost primitive) rock and roll. It says on the back:

We took a year to record and mix this album in our back room. Over a period of time we collected a lot of ribbon microphones, tape recorders and ancient sound equipment and eventually built a workable studio inspired by Sun studios in Memphis and Chess studios in Chicago along with the makeshift chaos of Joe Meek’s studio in the Holloway Road in London. Our main objective was to capture the energy of our live gigs.

It is excellent, moody, raw – and I would never have come across if it hadn’t been given to me!

If you have a problem, why broadcast it to over ten million people? Good question.

I was back in the Chris Evans studio at BBC Radio 2 to do Pause for Thought this morning after a six month break while I settled in to Bradford. I’ve missed it – not because I’m a groupie, but because (a) it is unfailingly enjoyable and (b) it’s an interesting challenge to write and deliver scripts that work in that environment. Chris and his team were very friendly and welcoming despite the pressures of running an auction for Children in Need.

In this morning’s script I wanted to connect to today’s ‘Dine and Disco’ theme. Basically, I can do the ‘dine’ bit, but the ‘disco’ gives me the wobblies. Some people can dance, some can’t. I try, but I’m hopeless. Unfortunately, at the end of the slot Chris asked me to show him how I dance. He stopped me pretty quickly. Now he knows… (Radio is always better than telly for activities such as this.)

I referred back to the two gigs I got to last week: Imelda May at York and Jools Holland in Bradford. Both were fantastic, but you can’t sit still to either of them. Rockabilly, rhythm and blues, boogie woogie – even I had to get up and … er … dance … sort of. Fortunately, it was dark…

But, one of my favourite Imelda May songs ( which she did in York) is Proud and Humble. I think it’s really a prayer in which, with her extraordinary voice and cracking band, she wrestles with the attempt to live right while also trying to make life happen for herself. Addressing herself to God, she recognises where she fouls it all up, but pleads that at least she’s trying to get the most out of the life God has given her in the world which he created and loves.

And my point in this morning’s script is that I think this hits the button. We all need to own up to our failures, but not fail to celebrate the good stuff. We need both.

I think this is why the two gigs last weekend were full of joy. (I tried to find a less cheesy word than joy, but I couldn’t.) Even songs about loss and longing made the audiences dance – perhaps because somewhere in us there is a deep recognition that, as Bruce Cockburn once sang, ‘joy will find a way’. It comes when we know we’ve got nothing to fear – because the God who made us still knows us, beckons us, loves us, still holds open the possibility of a new start.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: music hits the soul and demands a response. I concluded my script with the following profound observation: Several thousand years ago a Psalmist wrote: “You turned my grieving into dancing.” Many of us know the feeling. Even though, I fear, my dancing would have made him grieve.

And that’s when Chris asked me to demonstrate. And then played Genesis’ I can’t dance. Very funny. And very accurate. How sad is that?

(Chris also clearly knows Bradford and bigged it up. Good to hear such positive stuff about the place.)

We live in interesting times (again). Italy now has a government without a single elected politician in it. And Italy might not be the last.

Europe has considered itself to be the cradle of democracy – systems of government in which elected politicians set the policy direction and the technocrats do the economic plumbing. Now the impotence of elected politicians has led to the technocrats running the show while the elected representatives watch from the sidelines. Maybe they are relieved. The hard decisions needed in tough times are better taken by people who don’t have to worry about constituencies or getting re-elected by people who are upset with you for spoiling their life.

However, it also calls into question the competence of elected ‘lay’ people to direct highly technically complex financial and governmental organisations. At what point will the technocrats decide that their job is done and power can be handed back to the politicians? It’s an intriguing question.

If the same move was made in the UK, I wonder who might form the government of the technocrats?

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