Q&A: Rt Rev Graham Usher, Bishop of Norwich

Bishop Graham in his study

Bishop Graham in his study - Credit: Diocese of Norwich/Luke W Bryant

The Rt Rev Graham Usher, Bishop of Norwich since the summer of 2019, initially studied ecology at Edinburgh, then theology at Cambridge, being ordained in 1996.

Prior to moving to Norwich, he was the Bishop of Dudley.

This environmentally friendly bishop brought his bees with him and is enjoying applying his varied ministry experience to the spiritual and administrative life of the Diocese of Norwich across Norfolk and Waveney.

For many Christian churches, Easter is the joyful end to the Lenten season of fasting and penitence. Here Bishop Graham talks to Gina Long.

What’s the impact of Covid-19 and how are you adapting?
Everything changed overnight and my life became confined to home rather than a lot of travel, either in the diocese or to London for meetings.

Like others, I had to learn to use Zoom and to live-stream worship.

It is incredible how the church has adapted to online worship and upped its response to love and serve our neighbours.

However, I can’t wait to get out more visiting our parishes and have those physically present interactions with people.

Bishop Graham in his garden

Bishop Graham in his garden - Credit: Diocese of Norwich/Luke W Bryant

What is your connection to East Anglia?
Apart from three years studying theology in Cambridge, the link is very slight.

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That has been the pattern to God’s calling in my life – always unexpected and to somewhere new.

What is your East Anglian Heaven?
It’s the landscapes, whether Dersingham Bog, or the coast at Sea Palling, or seeing swallowtail butterflies at Horsey Mere.

What is your East Anglian Hell?
It takes a long time to get back up north where family and friends are.

What are your favourite East Anglian restaurants?      
Sorry, lockdown has prevented any discoveries. I’m open to invitations!

What’s your favourite East Anglian landmark?
Norwich Cathedral – how could I say anything different?

A ‘cathedra’ is literally the seat of the bishop and is where I regularly say my prayers and where the community holds me in their prayers.

I find both vital, and I have the added privilege of looking out on the cathedral spire from my study window and often pause to watch the peregrine falcons coming and going from their nest.

Bishop Graham with his bee hives

Bishop Graham with his bee hives - Credit: Diocese of Norwich/Luke W Bryant

What’s the best thing that happens in East Anglia every year?
The opening of the King’s Lynn Winter Nightshelter in October.

It’s a symbol of such hope to desperate people and one of the happiest evenings I’ve spent was with them on their first night.

What's your specialist Mastermind subject?
I’m a beekeeper, and very privileged to have just been asked to be the vice-president of the Norfolk Beekeepers’ Association, so I would give ‘bees’ a go, though would get many answers wrong.

What is always in your fridge?

What’s your simple philosophy of life?
Love God and love your neighbour.

You can’t get better than what Jesus said and it’s the key to how to live well.

What’s your favourite film?
I’m hopeless on this.

It’s usually one I’ve recently watched, and, of those, I loved Edie staring Sheila Hancock, a beautiful story of overcoming loss and age to climb Suilven, one of my favourite mountains, which a beautifully filmed and full of hope.

What was your first job?
A white van delivery driver in the Scottish Highlands delivering tourist brochures.

What is your most treasured possession?
Life, kept going by the miracle of a heartbeat.

But it’s really more of a gift than a possession.

The Rt Rev Graham Usher wearing the historic Birkbeck Cope for his enthronement as the 72nd Bishop of Norwich

The Rt Rev Graham Usher wearing the historic Birkbeck Cope for his enthronement as the 72nd Bishop of Norwich - Credit: Norwich Cathedral / Bill Smith

Who do you admire most?
Norma, one of my first parishioners in a community of huge economic disadvantage in Middlesbrough, who lives such a saintly life of kindness and generosity.

What is your biggest indulgence?

What do you like about yourself most?
Others say that I’m caring.

What’s your worst character trait?
I can focus too much on the detail and not see the blindingly obvious in the big picture.

Where is your favourite holiday destination?
The far northwest of Scotland with its aquamarine sea, empty beaches, and glorious mountains – when it’s not raining.

Best day of your life?
Can I have two? The days our children were born.

What’s your favourite breakfast?
Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs.

What’s your favourite tipple?
Gin and tonic.

What’s your hidden talent?
I dabble a bit with a paintbrush, but really only on holiday and when totally relaxed.

What’s your earliest memory?
Sitting on a huge log in Ghana where I grew up when I was 
very young, butterflies all around me.

Tell us something people don’t know about you?
I canoed along part (a very small part) of the Amazon.

What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?
A stranger saying, “I hate you and the church”.

That took some patient listening and unpacking.

Tell us why you live here and nowhere else?
It comes with the calling to be Bishop of Norwich and that means living life in all its fullness amongst the people who I am called to serve.

What do you want to tell our readers about most?
The message of Easter is one of new hope.

This time will pass.

There are brighter tomorrows and together we can build back a much better and more sustainable and caring life.

Many of our churches are holding physical services again from Easter weekend – the best way to check is via www.achurchnearyou.com.  

For details of online services available across Norfolk and Waveney, please visit www.dofn.org/live-streams

If you have a story, email gina@hallfarmfornham.com or follow Twitter: @geewizzgee1 Instagram:@ginalong_geewizz