In conversation with the new Bishop of Norwich: ‘I prayed for Norwich City Football Club...’

The new Bishop of Norwich Rt Rev Graham Usher. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The new Bishop of Norwich Rt Rev Graham Usher. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019

He's the youngest diocesan bishop in the Church of England in one of the oldest diocese in the country, a keen bee-keeper and environmentalist and Norwich City Football Club's newest fan – meet the Right Reverend Graham Usher, the new Bishop of Norwich

The new Bishop of Norwich Rt Rev Graham Usher speaks at the Forum. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The new Bishop of Norwich Rt Rev Graham Usher speaks at the Forum. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019

When the Right Reverend Graham Usher first visited Norwich, it was winter and his visit was somewhat of a secret.

The complex process of choosing a new bishop may not involve the iconic white smoke that rises above the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican to announce the appointment of a new Pope, but the selection process is still shrouded in mystery and intrigue.

Great excitement surrounded the announcement of Norwich's new Bishop on Friday, with the press as in the dark as everyone else as to who Bishop Graham James' successor would be: as the clock struck noon, the news arrived.

Bishop Graham's unveiling was, I say to him, a little bit like the announcement of a new actor to play James Bond.

The new Bishop of Norwich Rt Rev Graham Usher with his wife, Rachel. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The new Bishop of Norwich Rt Rev Graham Usher with his wife, Rachel. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019

"It's as terrifying!" he laughed, "I came to Norwich completely incognito but now I am really looking forward to getting to know a new area and the people who live here. The welcome I have already received from people has been so warm and Norfolk is such a lovely place.

"My family is also looking forward to moving to the county, although obviously it is a big change."

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In an echo of his own first visit to Norwich, during the dark days of January, part of his own family will arrive in the dark to ease their transition into a brand new life far from their current home in Dudley: Norwich now has a bee-keeping Bishop.

"I think one of our biggest challenges as a family will be moving our seven bee hives down to Norwich. You have to move them in the dead of night: once they are back in their hives, you travel overnight and they wake up somewhere new thinking 'where are we?!'" he laughed.

"In many ways, bees and the honey they make reminds me of God's creativity and the joy of creation. When I get amongst my bees it lifts my spirits."

A father-of-two teenage children, Chad and Olivia, Bishop Graham, 48, is currently the Bishop of Dudley and is married to GP Rachel Thomson – he has previously joked that between the pair, they treat body and soul.

Prior to Dudley, he was Rector of Hexham in Northumberland, following his time working in Middlesbrough. He has also spent time living and working in Ghana, Africa, where he grew up.

An ecologist, Bishop Graham once chaired the North East Advisory Committee of the Forestry Commission and spoke at the Church Times Festival of Faith and Literature last year about trees in scripture – he studied ecological science at the University of Edinburgh and theology at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

He is a member of the International Commission for Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue and a board member of the Human Tissue Authority, the regulator for human tissue and organs. Bishop Graham trained for the priesthood at Westcott House in Cambridge, was ordained in 1996 and his title parish was in the diocese of York.

"I think that climate change and how we care for God's planet and our home is hugely important. Here in Norfolk you can actually see the effects of climate change with rising sea levels, so it's an issue which directly affects us all," said Bishop Graham, who has visited Norfolk on a family holiday to the coast ("we stayed near Horsey, I remember the windmill").

Top of the list for the new Bishop will be to discover his diocese: "I want to listen, and listen well and to look and look well. I have got a lot to learn. It is a privilege and an exciting challenge to serve here and to live out Jesus Christ's call to love God and our neighbours.

"I have already seen incredible examples of how the church works in Norfolk: here in Norwich how Syrian refugees have been welcomed by the community and church members, in King's Lynn where churches are feeding people who have nothing and in Blakeney where coffee mornings tackle loneliness.

"I feel passionate that the Church of England and people of God should be there for the least, the lost and the lonely."

Following in the footsteps of Bishop Graham James, who left Norwich at the beginning of the year, was a "daunting task", said his namesake: "To be following Bishop Graham's incredible ministry here is a privilege. His influence in Norfolk has been wonderful. I am keen to continue his work and trying to bring hope to the diocese.

"Working with the clergy and people of Norfolk I believe that we have an incredible story to tell as we share the life of Jesus and, in partnership with others, look to ways to daily bring God's love to the communities we serve. I also hope to reach more young people to see how we can encourage them and look towards the future of the church."

Bishop Graham will be officially enthroned at Norwich Cathedral in the autumn.

When asked, Bishop Graham admitted that he would be excited to move to Norwich just as the Canaries brought Premier League football back to the city.

"I prayed for Norwich City and I'm glad to say that God answered," he said, tongue firmly in cheek.

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