Bishop announces retirement plans

CELIA WIGG The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, spiritual leader of Suffolk's 20,000 worshippers and the county's clergy, has announced his retirement.

CELIA WIGG

The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, spiritual leader of Suffolk's 20,000 worshippers and the county's clergy, has announced his retirement.

The Rt Rev Richard Lewis, who is 63 in December, has told the bishop's council that he will be stepping down at the end of next June.

And he revealed that he and his wife Sarah are planning to move to Norfolk upon retirement because they have "fallen in love" with the region.

He said: " Next year will mark my 40th year since my ordination and my 10th as Bishop in Suffolk.

"A quarter of my working life has been spent in the county though it feels more like 10 minutes," he said.

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"It's amazing how quickly the time has gone and the measure of that is it's been a very happy time, and a very nice bunch of people to work with."

Bishop Richard said the 2008 Lambeth Conference - a gathering of all Anglican bishops across the world which takes place in Canterbury every ten years - was key to his decision.

"I have always resisted the idea of someone going to such an important gathering as a swansong.

"I need to give my successor sufficient time to prepare for the conference, and for that person to come back to Suffolk and work through all that is discussed and decided about the future of our church.

"Lambeth also offers the opportunity to meet colleagues from partner diocese around the world to gain some idea of the size and complexity of the Anglian Commission."

Bishop Richard has never shied from controversy, and has served as a clergyman through some historic changes including the Church of England's decision in 1992 to allow women to become priests.

He was very critical of the decision to invade Iraq, though he always supported the forces in carrying out their orders.

And he risked the wrath of evangelical and fundamentalist Christians by supporting the rights of gay worshippers and homosexual priests, including speaking out in support of their ministries.

He was installed as the ninth Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich on March 15 1997 and came to the county

after serving five years as the Bishop of Taunton in the Diocese of Bath and Wells.

He added: "From the earliest times I have enjoyed woodworking and have made quite a bit of our furniture.

"One of the things I want to do when I retire is to build myself a really decent workbench."

The process to appoint his successor will begin immediately, although the Prime Minister's Office is unlikely to announce the church's new leader in Suffolk until well into the New Year.