On the first of February, the Feast of St. Brigid, the Right Reverend Cherry Vann was installed as the eleventh Bishop of Monmouth and I extend, on behalf of the Parishes of Maindee & Lliswerry, the heartiest of welcomes to her.
The Orthodox Churches would say that there is no such thing as the Church without a Bishop and that, conversely, there is no such thing as the Bishop without the Church. By this, they normally mean two things that are two sides of the came coin. On the one hand, the Bishop, as the successor to the Apostles, is key to the preaching of the faith handed down the generations; the celebration of Christ’s sacraments in each place; and the shepherding of God’s people. Yet, on the other hand, the life, role, and even the being of the episcopal ministry depends entirely on the fact that s/he is called out from within: i.e., that the Bishop’s authority comes not from being elevated above the community, but from his or her deep, rich, and full connection at the heart of the community and square in its midst. The Holy Spirit, in other words, builds relationship and wholeness into the very heart of what it means to be the Church — bishop and people together.
Perhaps this provides one means of saying why Monmouth Diocese has struggled so much for the last year and a half. Given the size of the Church in Wales as compared to the Church of England, we have always had the good fortune to have particularly close relationships with our bishops — the chance to know and to be known. And, in the absence of a bishop, although we have sought valiantly to keep the show on the road, there has long been a sense of something missing, even when things in our immediate locality have gone particularly well. Although there is indeed much from the last eighteen months or so for which to give thanks, I cannot help but think that the heart of our common mission as a diocese has not always been easy to see of late, and our direction has seemed ever in flux.
With the arrival of a new bishop, this all changes. There will, of course, be a time of bedding in: Bishop Cherry is new to Wales, and will no doubt want to spend time getting to know us, just as we get to know her. I don’t expect her to lay out a comprehensive vision for the future of Monmouth Diocese just a few days into the job. Nor, for that matter, do I look to the future with rose-coloured glasses. (Hope, yes, but not unnecessarily idealised.) The Bishop will undoubtedly need to grasp some nettles; and we, as both clergy and laity, may need to get used to new priorities and new ways of working. There are still a lot of question marks, as inevitably there must be at the beginning of a new leader’s mandate; but I trust that God will guide us together to the answers in his own space and time.
Yet, even the bedding-in time shows that we are now in a place where, together with our Bishop, we can start going somewhere. If, as I suggested above, the bishop’s fundamental calling is relational, then the process of learning about each other, of building up new healthy patterns of relationship and working-together, will be enough, because it is here that we see God beginning to work; it is here that we see our Diocese resume our journey towards the Kingdom after what feels like a very long and unsure pause. It will be worth our while to take the time to get beyond the snippets of news reports and the diocesan gossip that we’ve heard thus far, so that we may hear Bishop Cherry in her own voice, and to offer her our own authentic voices in good faith and love, and to then trust the Holy Spirit to bring us all where we need to be when all is said and done.
In the fullness of time, we will (of course) invite Bishop Cherry to be amongst us in our parishes and to meet us more closely in person. But, in the mean time, I ask us all please to pray for her well-being, for her strength to be a leader, for her compassion to be a healer, and for her openness to the wind of the Spirit, wherever it leads the fresh new relationship of Bishop-and-Church in Monmouth.