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General Synod Farewell to the Bishop of Wakefield

The Bishop of Wakefield, The Right Reverend Stephen Platten

Wednesday 12th February 2014

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, today gave a Farewell Speech at General Synod to the Bishop of Wakefield, The Right Reverend Stephen Platten. His speech follows in full...

 

What is ‘a platten’? The verb, ‘to platten’ comes from glassmaking. It is about making plate glass, under extreme heat. It is a high energy, high intensity operation – but its result is a highly desirable clarity and transparency.

Glasses are of course become essential to most of us at a certain stage of our life, but they have an unerring habit of not being where we want them to be. Bishop Stephen is famous in the House of Lords for not being able to find his spectacles. He has been seen anxiously looking for them, only to discover they are already on his head. In the Diocese of Wakefield, a number of parish vestries treasure, amongst their relics, a set of Bishop Stephen’s spectacles.

There is another meaning of the word ‘platten’. It is, apparently, an old Norfolk word for a whirlwind. The Bishop of Norwich mentioned this when welcoming Stephen as Dean of Norwich – but one priest got this wrong and told Bishop Stephen he had heard he had been called a whirlpool.

Born in London Bishop Stephen was educated at the Stationers' Company's School in Hornsey, at the University of London, then at Cuddesdon and Trinity College, Oxford. He worked for Shell before ordination, and served as a priest in Oxford, Lincoln and Portsmouth, becoming Archbishop of Canterbury's Secretary for Ecumenical Affairs in 1990. In 1995, he became Dean of Norwich and, in July 2003, he was enthroned as the Bishop of Wakefield.

In Wakefield Bishop Stephen has established a number of traditions. Amongst them are the Harold Wilson Lectures, a series run jointly by the University of Huddersfield and the Diocese, looking at social and ethical issues. Also the monthly Bishop's Breakfasts in Wakefield, Barnsley, Huddersfield and Halifax, engaging a wide audience with vital questions on welfare and the economy. And regular Diocesan celebrations in York, Nostell Priory and Cannon Hall have been a real encouragement to everyone including at open air evangelistic events.

A prolific reader, writer, and editor, he has urged the clergy to take their learning seriously, setting up regular Bishop's Study Days. Across the Diocese he has promoted Lenten Study Courses – like last year’s course, ‘Growing in Christ: bearing fruit by our life together’.

In the House of Lords Bishop Stephen has been lead Bishop for Defence and the Military, and takes a keen interest in international affairs and development.  He has focused much of his attention on the Great Lakes region of Africa, speaking about the concerns the Church there has with the prevalence of sexual violence and continued tribal struggles.

He often speaks about Georgia – a country where he has made many friends.

At a dinner with religious leaders in Tbilisi, where there was some beautiful singing of Georgian folk songs, the Bishop was invited to sing.  His rendition of all three verses of Flanders and Swann’s ‘Hippopotamus’ - ‘Mud, mud, glorious mud’, has become part of Georgian folklore. News must have reached Lambeth Palace because Archbishop Justin has asked Bishop Stephen to continue as lead bishop for Georgia.

Nearer home, Bishop Stephen is one of very few Bishops ever to have joined a picket line. He was protesting about the low price of milk paid to dairy farmers, seeking a fair deal for farmers against costcutting corporate greed. Bishop Stephen dedicated himself to issues representing his local community in Parliament with dynamism and energy.

In Parliament one of his final debates will be on the humanitarian situation in Syria.

In the Bishop’s office heroic diary management has enabled him to balance Diocese, Parliament, Chairing the Liturgical Commission, Hymns Ancient and Modern, with so many other events. One recent event was a particular delight: the Blessing of the new Wakefield Station.

Bishop Stephen has been a governor of the Anglican Centre in Rome for almost 25 years, as Chairman since 2001 – a remarkable contribution. He does however have extremely bad luck in his travel arrangements when going to Rome…but you’ll have to ask him about that.

Bishop Stephen’s wife Rosslie is a teacher. She has always offered a wonderful welcome and hospitality, and I have stayed at their house, I think, four times – massively appreciated within the Diocese, as before in the Deanery at Norwich. There she even managed to serve tables when Dean Stephen occasionally forgot to tell her about the guests he had invited. At Portsmouth Cathedral he invited the choir back to supper one Sunday evening but only remembered to tell Rosslie just before evensong.  One hour later a meal for twenty had been prepared. Was a lad with five loaves and two fishes seen in the cathedral precinct that evening?

Both their sons, Aidan and Gregory, are now ordained priests. Bishop Stephen was driving home from a service with one of his sons, both wearing cassocks. They spotted a notice saying, ‘coal for sale’. They stopped - supplies at Bishop’s Lodge were running low. They knocked at the door, and a young man answered.

“We would like to buy some coal please” said the Bishop.

“Fred is not here, he’ll be in later this afternoon. Can you come back later? I’ll tell him you called”.

Later, father and son returned. Fred answered the door.

“We have come back to buy a sack of coal please”.

Fred looked surprised. “Are you the two gentlemen who called earlier wearing skirts?”

“They were cassocks” replied Bishop Stephen.

“Black and purple?” enquired Fred.

“Yes”, replied Bishop Stephen.

Picking up the sack of coal Fred shook his head and muttered:

“Long frocks - they were long frocks they were”.

What I don’t know is whether Fred gave them a discount!

Bishop Stephen is rightly proud of his sons, as I have no doubt his own father, George, a former Captain in the Royal Marines, would be of Bishop Stephen today.

May God bless you, Stephen and Rosslie, as you move to your new ministry in the City of London. I am sure the Lord has plenty in store for you. We thank you, and we pray for you in all the future holds.

“For all that has been – Thanks,

For all that shall be – Yes!

Thank you and may God richly bless you both."

 

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