Brighton and Hove’s new bishop spells out his mission

Posted On 26 Mar 2014 at 8:29 pm

The Reverend Richard Jackson is riding into Brighton and Hove on his Harley Davidson on a mission to revive the area’s churches.

The new Bishop of Lewes will be installed in May when he will take responsibility for supporting dozens of Church of England ministers and their parishioners.

They face a raft of challenges including – perhaps most pressing of all – financial survival.

Not every church is in dire financial straits but many have had to rely on dwindling reserves to stay open.

And the Diocese of Chichester – the division of the Church of England which includes Brighton and Hove – is also trying to balance its books.

Bishop Richard Jackson on his Harley Davidson

Bishop Richard Jackson on his Harley Davidson

While finance is not central to his job description, Mr Jackson, 53, will find it hard to avoid questions of money. He said that clergy and congregations could expect “an unfolding strategy”.

He said: “A consultation is starting in the summer. There is no doubt there will be some hard decisions over the next couple of years.

“We want to keep worshipping communities and to keep vibrant churches open.”

Where congregations and incomes have fallen, some churches have closed. Others have been placed under the responsibility of a minister or team of ministers serving more than one church.

It is rare to see a more imaginative approach – such as when a team from Holy Trinity Brompton in London took over and revived St Peter’s in Brighton when closure looked likely.

Mr Jackson, a married father of three, is currently the mission renewal adviser and leader of the church growth team in the diocese.

His optimism reflects an optimism in some quarters of his patch which includes the whole of East Sussex including Brighton and Hove.

It follows a dark period when issues such as child abuse brought unwelcome headlines, court cases and critical official reports.

Mr Jackson said: “We are all only too aware of our historic failings with regard to safeguarding. We can’t forget about the past.

“The institutional failings are very clear from various reports. And there are survivors who need care.

Bishop Martin Warner with Archie Coates, the Vicar of St Peter's in Brighton

Bishop Martin Warner with Archie Coates, the Vicar of St Peter’s in Brighton

“The senior team remain committed to … offering the best pastoral care to those affected. We have an excellent team of professionals working on this on the diocesan staff to ensure that safeguarding is embedded in our culture.

“As Bishop Martin (the Bishop of Chichester Martin Warner) has said a number of times, ‘we want our diocese to be a place, not just where children feel safe, but are safe.’

“I am personally committed to working closely with all of the statutory authorities to ensure that remains a foundation for all we do.”

Mr Jackson promised to be “unashamedly local”, saying: “My primary focus is going to be the priests and people of East Sussex.”

And with something approaching masterful understatement he said: “The area that I’m looking after is very diverse. I’m hoping to be a bishop for everybody.”

He was direct in addressing one topic that has long proved thorny for the church locally and further afield.

He said: “I will be ordaining women to the ministry. I’m very much looking forward to the first ordination of women priests by a serving bishop in the diocese in June.”

He stepped deftly around another tricky matter for the Anglican movement but one which is more relevant in Brighton and Hove than in many places – sexuality. Gay marriage and the sexuality of ministers have both attracted a great deal of attention.

He said that he would be listening to people’s views, adding: “Within the church in Brighton and throughout Sussex there are people and priests of different sexualities. It’s important to add though that the church welcomes everybody.”

Given the warmth of the reception when his appointment was announced, the welcome runs both ways.

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