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Farewell Speech for Bishop Nigel McCulloch

Archbishops of York and Canterbury with Bishop of Manchester

Wednesday 21st November 2012

The Archbishop of York gave a farewell speech for The Rt. Revd. Nigel McCulloch, Bishop of Manchester at General Synod. His speech follows in full...

The Bishop of Manchester, when consecrated, was the first bishop known as Nigel in the Church of England since Bishop Nigel of Ely in the 12th century. According to Bishop Nigel his earlier namesake is said to have caused such trouble that the church steered well away from Nigels for centuries! You have remedied the situation, sir.

However, once the divine sat-nav located him, it led him on a circuitous route to his present destination. First to Christ’s College, Cambridge, where as Chaplain he overlapped for a year with a brilliant young theologian by the name of Rowan Williams.

Appointed by the veteran evangelist, Bishop Maurice Wood of Norwich, to be Diocesan Missioner, or as the job description at the time put it “a fisher of men”, the first thing he did was to fish his wife, Celia, a vicar’s daughter descended from ten generations of Irish clergy. Their wedding was filmed by the BBC in the Norfolk village of Lyng for John Betjeman’s television presentation “A Passion for Churches”. As the Betjeman biography records, the BBC team gave them as a wedding present a coffee percolator – to which, in his own hand, Betjeman attached a specially composed verse:

Let all the bells of Norfolk ring

On this your wedding day in Lyng

Nigel and Celia may you be

Fonder of coffee than of tea!

Soon, with their two daughters, they moved to Salisbury where Bishop Nigel combined his role as parish priest with being a much loved Archdeacon of Sarum.

Bishop Nigel’s appointment as Suffragan bishop of Taunton was announced on the day before the Faith in the City Report was published. Across the Diocese of Bath and Wells he gained the reputation for being a caring pastor, wise reconciler, and a versatile, thought-provoking and engaging preacher.

Twenty-one years ago, Bishop Nigel became the diocesan bishop of Wakefield – and soon became the Church of England’s leading media bishop.  Since his first broadcasts over forty years ago on Thought for the Day, he has occupied each and every one of the different religious slots, as well as many others, on radio and television. He is also a frequent columnist in the national press.

As a broadcaster he can do what few achieve – he can deliver a crisp and salient point live to camera amid strong debate, and manage it within time and without fluffs.

Throughout his ministry, wherever he has found himself, he has taken time to get alongside clergy and congregations and the local community. During the sad days of the pit closures in West and South Yorkshire, he publicly supported the miners, marching with them, and conducting their brass bands.  On Songs of Praise, an accomplished musician, he conducted the Black Dyke band, together with the largest-ever ensemble of brass and silver band players - in a rousing rendering of “For a Thousand Tongues” to the tune “On Ilkley Moor bar tat”. I commend it to you by the way - it was written with that tune in mind.

Wearing a miner’s hat, he preached an inspirational sermon in Westminster Abbey at an emotional service for schoolchildren from the 31 pit villages to be closed.

Just over ten years ago he returned to his North Western roots to be Bishop of Manchester. He is believed to be the first bishop there to have Mancunian blood. His great-grandfather was born and brought up during the 1830s in Ancoats – an area described by Engels at the time as one of the worst urban slums in the world. His Victorian forebears, one of them a roof-tiler, would never have imagined that their direct descendant would one day hold such high office in that great city.

Once again, here Bishop Nigel quickly got to know his clergy, visiting them all, sharing their joys and sorrows, sending cards and notes of support, thanks and brotherly affection.

Then he made his pilgrimage to each church and parish, taking with him the baton used for the opening of the Commonwealth Games. His constant message was, “Run the Race. Look to Jesus. And pass on His Faith, Hope and Love”. Wherever he went he led a mission service during which he invited people to come forward individually, to receive a blessing and a commission to hand on the Gospel baton. During these mission services, something like 50,000 people came forward. For many of them, those few moments were life-changing.

There were thoughts that in his final two years he should do a 4th missionary journey around the diocese. This he resisted on the grounds that it would be immodest to try and out-do St Paul!

A wise pastor, skilled reconciler and able speaker, he has drawn the Manchester diocese together as one family  – and has gained respect from all sides over issues such as human sexuality and the ordination of women, without ever compromising his own principles.

Last year local MPs from all parties asked him to chair a Commission on Poverty in Greater Manchester which will publish its recommendations in January 2013.

Held in high regard by people of all faiths, and elected as their Convenor, he has spoken up especially on behalf of the Faith Community leaders in Greater Manchester; and exercises a significant and widely respected role in Jewish-Christian relationships both locally and nationally, at a difficult time.

In the House of Lords Bishop Nigel has played a significant role, particularly in helping to ensure the requirement for religious broadcasting and acts of worship was contained in the Communications Act of 2003 - one of the largest pieces of legislation in modern times. Shortly afterwards while serving on the Select Committee to review the BBC Charter, his courtesy, warmth, and firmness ensured that a major chapter was included on the importance of religious broadcasting by the BBC – despite the initial resistance of some members. 

Recently Bishop Nigel was asked about the power of a bishop – and what it feels like to lead a diocese. He replied by describing the first time he conducted the famous Brighouse and Rastrick Band. “It’s just like running a diocese” he said. “I picked up the conductor’s baton - and the euphonium player whispered to me: ‘don’t you worry about us, Bishop. We’ll just carry on as usual’”!

He was also asked what has been the most memorable moment in his episcopal ministry. He replied that, for him personally, the most moving occasion had been ordaining his wife Celia.

Bishop Nigel has accomplished the rare hat-trick of being, at the time of appointment, the youngest archdeacon, the youngest suffragan bishop, and the youngest diocesan bishop, in the Church of England – an achievement he has now trumped by being the oldest and longest–serving among the current crop, since the introduction of the retiring age of 70! But he has had good reason. As Chair of the Revision Committee on the Ordination of Women to the Episcopate, he wanted to see it through. I hope he will not have to wait too long in retirement before seeing his work come to fruition.

Bishop Nigel, we thank you and salute you. We offer our very warm appreciation for all you are and all you have done.

We pray that you and Celia may be blessed with the long, happy and healthy retirement that you now so richly deserve.  Thank you.

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