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Former Bishop of Norwich dies aged 84

PUBLISHED: 12:49 22 August 2018 | UPDATED: 10:12 23 August 2018

The Right Reverend Peter Nott, who has died at the age of 84. Pic: Denise Bradley
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The Right Reverend Peter Nott, who has died at the age of 84. Pic: Denise Bradley .

The Right Reverend Peter Nott, former Bishop of Norwich, has died at the age of 84.

Millions of television viewers across the globe watched as the Right Reverend Peter Nott conducted the marriage ceremony of Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones in 1999.

But to people in Norfolk, the Rt Rev Nott was already a very familiar face - the Bishop of Norwich since 1985.

Born in Belfast in 1933, he attended Bristol Grammar School and Dulwich College before going to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in Berkshire. He was commissioned to the Royal Artillery and served for four years in the regular army.

But he left the army in 1958 and started his theological training at Westcott House in Cambridge, also taking a theology degree at Fitzwilliam House.

Prior to his arrival in Norfolk, he was curate of Saint Nicholas Church in Harpenden in St Albans from 1961 to 1964.

He then went back to Fitzwilliam in 1964, where he was a fellow and chaplain. He was also a chaplain at New Hall in Cambridge.

In 1969 he was appointed Rector of Beaconsfield in Buckingham and seven years later, he became Bishop of Taunton. During his time in Someset, he was involved in a battle to stop cuts in musical education and was the founding president of the Somerset Rural Music School.

He arrived in Norfolk, as the 70th Bishop of Norwich, in 1985, succeeding Maurice Wood and 14 years of high-profile conservative-evangelical leadership.

It marked a significant change in theology, churchmanship, politics and style. In his first interview with the Eastern Daily Press after his arrival, he spoke of his support for women priests.

He said: “I am strongly in favour, although I did not used to be. My mind was changed not by arguments, but by the experience of working with a woman minister.”

In the same interview, he spoke of the church’s place in politics. He said: “If there was no tension between Church and Government, one would suspect that the church was not doing its job.”

He proved true to his word, criticising the government for rural policies, over changes to Sunday trading laws and for failing to do more to tackle what he described as “the tragedy” of homelessness.

He was president of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association in 1996 and served as vice-chairman of a Commission for Rural Areas, looking at aspects of the church in the countryside.

Bishop Peter’s time in Norfolk was not without controversy.

He had to grapple with what he described in 1992 as “the most serious financial crisis this diocese has ever experienced”, with a plea for churchgoers to give five per cent of their take-home pay to the church.

And, in 1995, he was criticised after he sacked twice-divorced Hilborough priest the Rev Kit Chalcraft.

Mr Chalcraft had revealed plans to marry for a third time and lost his licence to officiate.

It led to five congregations breaking away from the Diocese of Norwich, but Bishop Peter said he had “no regrets at all” about what he did.

Happier wedding news came when was invited to officiate the marriage of Prince Edward and his bride Sopie Rhys-Jones in 1999.

He had first met Prince Edward at a Christmas weekend at Sandringham in 1985 and was thrilled to be invited to conduct their marriage.

He said at the time: “They are lovely people, with a great sense of warmth, kindness, humanity and humour, and a deep seriousness about this. It has been a privilege to be part of it.”

Bishop Peter retired in 1999, succeeded by the current Bishop, the Rt Rev Graham James.

Three years earlier he had published Bishop Peter’s Pilgrimage: His Diary and Sketchbook, which charted, in words and pictures, his year-long pilgrimage of his diocese.

The Open Door pilgrimage, which coincided with the diocese’s 900th anniversary, saw him visit every deanery, using transport including a tank, a wherry, a helicopter, trains and bicycles.

He joined in with dance groups, visited schools and saw the work done by organisations and charities across the county.

He said at the end: “Through this year, my faith in the risen Christ has been strengthened and deepened by your love, by your generosity and by your courage.”

Following retirement, he served as an Honorary Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Oxford.

Bishop Peter died on Monday, leaving his wife Betty, son Andrew and daughters Joanna, Victoria and Lucy.

Funeral details are yet to be released.

The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James said: “I got to know Bishop Peter well during the 1988 Lambeth Conference, and he’s been a gentle support to me throughout his busy retirement.

“I will be one of many who will miss his gentle pastoral wisdom. A gifted artist, he was a man who observed the world around him carefully, and who frequently taught the value of silence and contemplation.

“He had a close and supportive family and Betty, his wife, will be very much in our prayers.”

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