Bishop James Bell, who retires this weekend (April 30), has called for greater lay leadership in rural churches during an Easter Day national radio debate on the future of the rural church.
In a special Easter Day edition of Radio 4’s Sunday programme, Bishop James, the Bishop of Ripon, who is a lead bishop on rural affairs, also called into question multi-parish benefices which he described as a “knee jerk response to reducing numbers of stipendiary clergy”. It had, he said, been introduced “top down … We are realising now that that has been a rather bad way of going about things.”
(Pictured right: Welcoming the Risen Lord on Easter Day, Bishop James joined parishioners at All Saint’s, Kirby Hill near Boroughbridge for their outdoor Sunrise service at 6am. Later he led the Easter Communion service at All Saints and was presented with a retirement gift “as a token of his friendship and guidance to our benefice communities over many years.”)
Also taking part in the programme from Skipton Cattle Market was Vicar of Holy Trinity Skipton, and Chaplain at the Cattle Mart, Revd Veronica James who talked about her own ministry. (You can see a short film about Veronica here)
In the debate with Professor Linda Woodhead of Lancaster University, Bishop James said more needed to be done to encourage lay leadership. “It seems to me that if we’re going to be faithful to the calling of the Church of England to be the church of the parish the church which is there for everybody and everything in that geographical area, then we have to rediscover the model of being the Body of Christ – in other words, enabling everybody who owns an association with the church to play their part and to be the Christian presence in that place.”
He added, “In our own area, Ripon area, we developed a couple of years ago the lay worship leaders programme. This invites people locally to identify those who might have gifts of leading worship, giving addresses, leading contextually related worship, worship that connects with people’s lives and communities.”