THE new Bishop of Durham challenged the church to leave behind a mindset of decline or maintaining the status quo and ‘expect growth’ as he was enthroned on Saturday.
In an uncompromisingly upbeat inaugural sermon, the Right Reverend Paul Butler told a hundreds-strong congregation at a packed Durham Cathedral: “We need to look to God to keep His promises that when the seed of the Kingdom is scattered, it will grow.”
Re-stating his three priorities of tackling poverty, engaging with children and young people and growing the church, he urged his audience not to “underestimate the small”, whether that meant a child, a project or a congregation.
Growth would not always mean more numbers in churches, he said, but added, pointedly: “It’s more likely when we engage with communities than when we try to be a holy club.”
Earlier, the new 74th Bishop of Durham, successor to Justin Welby – now Archbishop of Canterbury – and holder of the Church of England’s fourth most senior job had processed to the 900-year-old Cathedral from nearby Durham Castle, the home of his predecessors until the 19th century, before – following tradition – knocking on its iconic North door with a staff to request entry.
In a two-hour service which mixed centuries-old legal procedure, the highest church ceremony and modern songs with drums and guitars, the married father-of-four, sparkling in a golden mitre and green robes with red flames, made a series of promises, led prayers, was enthroned in his bishop’s seat and received his bishop’s pastoral staff.
In his 20-minute address, 58-year-old drew on childhood memories of growing runner beans and a Biblical story in which Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed to raise the expectations and hopes of his faithful flock.
Picking up on his condemnation this week of the Government’s welfare reforms as forcing people into food and fuel poverty, he said poverty – economic, social and spiritual – was a “scourge” that the church must play a key part in tackling.
Drawing on the region’s Christian heritage, he referenced St Cuthbert, the Venerable Bede, St Aidan, St Hilda and previous Bishops of Durham Joseph Lightfoot, William Van Mildert and Joseph Butler and urged his listeners to be welcoming to people of all nations and offer a place of security to the lost, hurt, abused and refugees, assisting in “transformative renewal” for both abusers and sufferers.
He also prayed for Helen-Ann Hartley, originally from the North-East, who was enthroned as Bishop of Waikato in New Zealand on Saturday, making her the first woman ordained in the Church of England to become a bishop.
The service ended with the new bishop exiting the Cathedral to bless the city and diocese.
This week, he will hold three prayer days in the Durham Diocese’s three archdeaconries: Durham, Auckland and Sunderland.