Emotional farewell as Bishop James retires

Emotional farewell as Bishop James retires

There was joy and sadness as the Diocesan family said 'goodbye' and 'thank you' to Bishop James and Bridget, after 10 years of ministry in the Diocese, at a special service held in Rochester Cathedral on Saturday 3 July

Due to ongoing Covid restrictions, attendance at the service had to be restricted.

However, a livestream of the service, with full pre-service build-up, commentated on by the Rev Canon Chris Stone, a former chaplain to the Bishop of Rochester, and the Rev Jonathan Jennings, member of the ministry team at St Margaret’s in Rainham, allowed people from across the Diocese and beyond, to be part of the day.

For the past few weeks, parishes had also been contributing video messages of thanks which were compiled into a set of montages and then given to Bishop James and Bridget before the service. These were also shared on social media during the day of the service itself. Watch them here

During the service, which included music specially chosen by Bishop James, a series of reflections were offered by contributors from within the Diocese, highlighting areas that have held particular significance for Bishop James over his 40 years of ministry and in his 10 years as the Bishop of Rochester.

These included: community engagement and chaplaincy, diversity, lay ministry, vocations, and the Diocese's overseas links which included a video contribution from the bishops of the Anglican dioceses of Harare, and Mpwapwa and Kondoa in Tanzania.

Read the reflections here

Picture shows: Rev Belinda Beckhelling, Curate of Rochester Cathedral speaking about Bishop James' support of vocations

The Lord Lieutenant of Kent, Lady Colgrain, also offered her own tribute, speaking of Bishop James’ commitment to building relationships between the Church and the community across the region, as well as other denominations and faiths.

Alongside this, the vicar of St Mark’s, Gillingham, the Rev Saju Muthalaly, conducted an interview with Bishop James. When asked, what do you wish you had been told when you started off as a bishop, Bishop James said laughingly, “Don’t do it!” But he continued:

"I think what I would say is, treasure those occasions when you can be close to ground with the people of God, and in our communities. And also, don't take yourself too seriously." 

In a moment of particular poignancy, Bishop James removed his mitre and cope, and formally handed over his crosier to the Bishop of Tonbridge, where it was placed on the High Altar, to await the next Bishop of Rochester.

Then, as a sign that his retirement is just a new phase of his journey of faith, the Dean of the Cathedral presented Bishop James with a specially designed and crafted pilgrim's staff.

The pilgrim’s staff had been fashioned from a piece of rosewood, pruned from a rose near the Bishop’s Gate in the Cathedral’s Cloister Garth. The staff was crafted by Graham Huckstepp (Cathedral Head Gardner) and Geoffrey Huckstepp (Garden Volunteer), and was engraved on its handle by Kay Williams (Dean’s PA), with the coat of arms of the Diocese which includes a scallop shell, the traditional symbol of pilgrimage.

Following a presentation of a gift from the Diocese, Bishop Simon gave a short tribute to Bishop James and again gave thanks for his forty years of ministry:

"Those who have been in ordained ministry for any length of time will know how energy sapping those forty years must have been.  And those who work around him will know how hard and often lonely the role of Diocesan Bishop must be. Yet throughout it all, he has shown great character.  Lots of kindness and gentleness, heroic self-control, and a good sense of humour that ensured people stayed grounded."

He continued:

"The pandemic has made this the strangest of ends and not allowed us to do the things both Bishop James and Bridget deserved, especially given the levels of hospitality they have offered us over the years, but God knows, and we hope they both sense the love felt across the diocese for them right now."

Giving his final blessing, the Bishop and Bridget then left the Cathedral to rapturous applause - and the odd appreciative whistle - marking the end to Bishop James’ public ministry as the Bishop of Rochester.

Bishop James and Bridget now prepare to move to Birmingham where they will spend their retirement.

  • Enjoy a full gallery of picture from the occasion here
  • View the service sheet here
  • You can view the livestream (divided across 3 videos) here
  • Catch up with some highlights broadcast on BBC Radio Kent's Sunday morning programme here