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My hopes for women bishops by the Bishop of Gloucester Right Reverend Michael Perham

By The Citizen  |  Posted: April 28, 2014

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FOR the Bishop of Gloucester, the Right Reverend Michael Perham, it’s a time of reaching milestones – quite literally.

He’s about to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his ordination as Bishop of Gloucester.

And on Sunday he reached another milestone – he became probably the first of the 40 Bishops of Gloucester to visit all 380 parish churches in the diocese.

Bishop Michael was ordained a decade ago in a ceremony at St Paul’s Cathedral on May 4, 2004. Since then he has made a commitment to visit every congregation in the diocese, whether that’s at a tiny village, or larger city church.

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On Sunday April 27 he visited the very last on the list; Compton Abdale near Northleach.

“I set myself the target of visiting every single church, and when I get to Compton Abdale I will have been to them all. Of course many I have now been to several times,” he said.

“Parish records show that for a few churches, it’s 30 or 40 years since a bishop last visited, so it feels rather special to have been able to visit them all.”

It’s been a chance to experience the diversity of the county’s churches, from tiny and ancient village churches to more modern urban churches.

“They are all unique, I never get tired of it. There are little villages with great mediaeval churches which are both their greatest joy, and their biggest burden.”

“I love Deerhurst Church, a small Saxon church. The day I was enthroned in May 2004 I went to the early morning service there before the big service at the cathedral, which was a beautiful contrast. And Hailes Church with its mediaeval wall paintings is lovely.

“But twentieth century churches are also rather special.

“St Nicholas at Prestbury, for instance, is just such a good space to use.”

In a few weeks he’ll be passing another milestone. He’s also spent the last decade walking more than 400 miles around the boundaries of the diocese, criss-crossing them too, and will complete the last 80 miles in June

But the Diocese is so much more than its buildings and boundaries. Increasingly the Diocese and wider church community is ‘tweeting’ and sharing on Facebook, and developing its 21st century ways of communicating.

Bishop Michael says he doesn’t have a Facebook account or post on Twitter, yet.

“I’m simply not very good at it. But the church like the rest of the world has embraced social media, and I suspect the next bishops will be a natural,” he said.

“When I preached the sermon at the Cathedral on Easter morning, my daughters and son-in-law were tweeting bits of it. I do think it’s important but it’s partly been a lack of time to get to grips with it.”

He also hints at a degree of wariness.

“If you’re a Bishop you have to use these things with care, but it is important that the church is on board,” he said.

Bishop Michael clearly knows the power of words.

Indeed he suggests it was David Cameron’s choice of words, rather than his sentiment, which has caused controversy when he described Britain as a “Christian country.”

It was a debate he planned on examining in his St George’s Day sermon at the Cathedral, which looked at how to draw distinctions between Christian values and faith.

“My sermon will explore the multi faith context within which religious values and faith have their place.

"I am really glad the Prime Minister spoke of Britain as a Christian country. Perhaps the phrase 'our Saviour' was not the best choice of words for the Prime Minister of a multi-cultural country, but his overall message was a good and welcome one."

While politicians should be wary of getting involved in religion, I ask whether the church is becoming more involved in politics.

He suggest that the wider Church always has been ‘political.’

“There’s no way the Church can avoid being involved in politics, although it should try not to be involved in party politics. It is almost inevitable that any campaigning would be directed at those in power.

“The Church’s current focus is on issues of poverty , benefit cuts and food banks. These issues are not all the fault of the government, the causes are much deeper.”

In the ten years since he moved to Gloucester from Derby, Bishop Michael has sought to be involved in the wider community. He’s been part of the city’s regeneration team, is a Pro-Chancellor at the University of Gloucestershire, as well as hosting regular ‘Bishop’s Breakfasts’ bringing business and civic leaders together.

“Bishops can bring people together in a way that other people can’t,” he said.

While he’s been actively involved in the University, he’s also proud of the Church’s role in education more broadly.

“The 116 church schools are as important as the 380 churches of the Diocese. They are part of what we do, and are popular because they are good schools,” he said.

I start chatting about my own children’s natural curiosity about faith and their challenging questions.

“Like, ‘who made God?” he suggests with a smile.

And, the answer?

“There was never a time when there wasn’t a God,” he says, prompting me to ask him to describe his faith.

“My faith is deeply part of me, I can’t separate if out to identify an extra part that’s called ‘faith.’ It’s not something I can detach. It’s deep in my soul.

“My life is shaped around it and a deep conviction that God and the Christ story convey deep spiritual truths.

“I understand why not everybody shares that.

“But there are a huge number of people who think of themselves as spiritual.

“There’s a Christian church with 2,000 years of experience of spirituality and helping people to explore the meaning of life. Somehow we have to find a way of making those two connect.”

Before he steps down in November, he’s optimistic that the Church of England itself will pass another milestone.

“I’m hoping to see the General Synod finally passing the ordination of woman bishops. I will be delighted if the Synod votes it through.”

So could the 41st Bishop of Gloucester be a woman?

“It is certainly possible.”

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