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What's the buzz about our new bishop?

PUBLISHED: 16:04 03 October 2019 | UPDATED: 10:28 04 October 2019

The Rt Rev Graham Usher, Bishop of Norwich  Picture: Diocese of Norwich

The Rt Rev Graham Usher, Bishop of Norwich Picture: Diocese of Norwich

Diocese of Norwich

The new bishop of Norwich talks about science and religion, politics and prayer, caring for the planet and the poor - and churches full of people and hives full of bees.

The new bishop arrived in Norwich with his wife and their two teenagers, two springer spaniels - and 350,000 bees.

They, the bees, not the rest of the family, had to be brought in under cover of darkness to keep them calm and nine hives are now set up in the bishop's beautiful Cathedral Close garden, with the latest Bishop Graham and family installed in the adjoining house.

The new bishop has settled into his home in Norwich Cathedral Close with his wife, their two teenagers and two springer spaniels - and installed 350,000 bees in the gardens. Five welcome services will be held across Norfolk for the Rt Rev Bishop Graham Usher next month.

Bishop Graham, not to be confused with Bishop Graham James, who retired earlier this year after 20 years as Bishop of Norwich, is, like his predecessor when he arrived, one of the youngest bishops in the Church of England.

The two Bishop Grahams have many more similarities, and not just the mitres and propensity for wearing purple which come with the job, but a love of welcome - both gratitude for being welcomed and desire to make others welcome. They also both have wives with medical careers. Dr Rachel Usher is a GP while Julie James nursed at the Priscilla Bacon Lodge hospice for many years.

The new Bishop Graham has a science background himself, taking a degree in ecology before moving on to theology.

And he sees no conflict between faith and science. Both explore worlds beyond what can be immediately perceived. "I've spent many hours looking down microscopes and for me that just contributes to the wonder of God's creation," said Bishop Graham.

It also fuels his anger at the way we are treating our world. He is one of three bishops with a particular environmental ministry. "I worry about what we are doing to our planet and I worry deeply about climate change," he said. "It's about caring for God's creation and treading more gently on this wonderful planet home of ours."

Already he has shown he is not content to stand on sidelines or confine his thoughts to Sunday sermons.

He has joined other bishops in warning of the risks of a no-deal Brexit and asking politicians to moderate their language, and tweets regularly as @bishopnorwich.

"I'm deeply worried at the moment about our politicians failing to bring us together," he said. "The best politics is never about them and us, and I'm right and you're wrong, but it's about trying to find common ground."

He sees his role as leading, supporting and contributing. "Being a bishop is about leading the Church of England in Norfolk and Waveney. It involves supporting clergy and people in parishes, it's about contributing to the life of the area and it's often about building bridges between people and helping people see bigger pictures. And fundamentally it's about a ministry of prayer, so every day I'm praying for the people of Norfolk and Waveney, and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and his works."

He felt a call to ministry early. "From about the age of 12 or 13 I wondered whether God was calling me to be a vicar," he said. Brought up by Christian parents, partly in Ghana where his father taught ecology at university, he stopped going to church in his late teens, but then returned.

"This sense of God's call in my life. This tug of the heart. It's something I have never ever regretted. When you find your vocation in life, whatever it is, you don't regret it, every morning I get up and look forward to the day ahead."

"It's absolutely natural to have doubts. I have doubt and uncertainty but I find that enriching because it makes me ask questions. Even when the light is dull it never goes out. It's there and I sense God.

"The opposite of doubt is certainty and I think blind certainty is very dangerous."

One of Bishop Graham's first postings was to a poor parish in Middlesborough where he had to pick discarded drug needles from the garden before the children could go out to play. "I haven't always lived in a palace!" he said. "I'm not used to all this at all. It's all very scary, a kind of an ecclesiastical Downton!"

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He is acutely aware of the problems people face. "These social ills are with us in our community and have been since time immemorial and as I read the pages of the scriptures a huge amount about how we should care for the poor, the vulnerable, the refugee, the stranger. I passionately believe we should follow that example of caring and building up people's lives. Many charities, often launched by Christians, are providing reach-out and care and trying to be alongside people for the long-term."

One of his first duties was to host refugees in the Bishops Garden. A gardener himself, he already loves the garden and will be carrying on sharing it with people to raise money for charities and good causes, expanding Bishop Graham's openings with quiet garden days for people to come and read or paint or simply enjoy the peace of the gardens.

It continues Norfolk's tradition of welcome that goes back centuries.

"It's a very welcoming place. People have been immensely welcoming. I'm really impressed by our clergy and how they are serving their communities. I'm really impressed by the sense of welcome to the outsider and the work that goes on to support the homeless and those struggling with their mental health and refugees."

He barely knew Norfolk when he was told that he had been nominated as a potential bishop of Norwich. "It's something that rather came out of the blue," he said. But after some serious sounding out, and even more serious interviews, including one with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the former Bishop of Dudley was the new Bishop of Norwich.

"I'm really looking forward to getting out and about in the county, getting to know the people and places and celebrating the life of the church in Norfolk," he said. "The Church of England is growing in Norfolk. More people are coming to church. I think it's because we have got some absolutely brilliant clergy, and we have got some fantastic lay people. They are creating, in many places, communities of love and care that become infectious. People want to be part of them. People want to be involved. Overall it's a really good news story and I'm keen to foster that."

Although his official welcome, at five services across the diocese, is not until November, Bishop Graham arrived in Norwich in a week the cathedral was making international headlines. "I loved the helter skelter. The thing that really amazed me was the demographic of people coming in. It was here for the people of Norwich, not for the clergy."

He sees all the churches of the diocese as community hubs - as well as architectural and historical. "All of our churches are treasures. They are full of community memories and amazing architecture. I hope they will be loved, looked after and enjoyed."

When he is not out getting to know his diocese, one of the ways the new bishop relaxes is beekeeping. "I think beekeeping is a very prayerful activity," said Bishop Graham, who follows the beekeepers' tradition of talking to his bees. He has brought his hives with him but another hobby is climbing mountains. He has not, as yet, managed to move mountains to Norfolk."

WELCOME BISHOP

The new Bishop of Norwich will be welcomed at five special services across Norfolk in November.

The Rt Rev Graham Usher will begin his public ministry as the 72nd Bishop of Norwich at a service for invited guests at Norwich Cathedral on Saturday November 9.

Four more services are open to all, with no need to book, at:

Great Yarmouth Minster on Monday November 18 at 7pm.

St Peter and St Paul's Church, Cromer, on Sunday November 24 at 4pm.

St Cuthbert's Church, Thetford, on Monday November 25 at 7pm.

King's Lynn Minster on Wednesday November 27 at 7pm.

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