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Thanksgiving Service for Former Bishop of Lichfield

Keith Sutton - portrait by Andrew Festing

Wednesday 12th April 2017

A thanksgiving service for the former Bishop of Lichfield, the Right Revd Keith Sutton, will be held at Lichfield Cathedral at 12.30pm on Wednesday 10 May.

Bishop Keith was installed as the 97th diocesan Bishop of Lichfield in 1984 and served in the role until his retirement in 2003. He died on Friday 24 March at a care home in Surrey aged 82 after living with dementia for many years.

Everyone is welcome to the thanksgiving service. Details about how to get to the cathedral and where to park (there is no parking in The Close around the cathedral) are at http://www.lichfield-cathedral.org/visit-the-cathedral/planning-your-visit

People, including groups, who plan to attend are asked to email kate.durrant@lichfield-cathedral.org to help with organisation.

Tributes from across the world have been sent following Bishop’s Keith death from people including the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, who became friends with Bishop Keith when he was chaplain and tutor at Bishop Tucker College in Uganda between 1968 and 1973. Bishop Keith secured a visa for Dr Sentamu to flee Uganda, under the reign of President Idi Amin, to study theology at Cambridge University.

Dr Sentamu said: “Bishop Keith loved people and was passionate about communicating the Gospel in a language they would understand. He was a pastor, a theological educator, a friend, an encourager, with a big heart for the poor and marginalised. 

“He was sent to South Africa by Archbishop Robert Runcie when Archbishop Desmond Tutu had been put under House Arrest. In defiance of the Apartheid Regime, Bishop Keith said to a vast crowd outside St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town: ‘Anyone who touches you, touches us. And believe you me, the arm of the Rule of Law knows no bounds, colour, gender, ethnicity. Jesus Christ is the only Lord and all in him are one.’

“Bishop Keith and his wife Jean took the people of Uganda into their hearts so much so that he was ‘adopted’ by the Baganda and given a clan name. We give thanks to God for his life, work and ministry. He will be greatly missed by his family here and around the Anglican Communion. May his soul rest in peace.”                                                             

Tom Wright, the Dean of Lichfield from 1994-1999 and former Bishop of Durham, said: “Keith was a wonderful man of God and his kindness and generosity shone out in all directions.   

“He had a keen eye for human folly and failings and was very shrewd in his judgment about all sorts of things. But his love and warmth meant that he was overflowingly gracious to all and sundry. He was not the most organised of preachers but his love for his Lord and for the people to whom he was speaking meant that he was always memorable. I sometimes went with him to licensing services in the far-flung corners of the Diocese and he would always say to Tony, his driver, ‘Tony, we must leave as soon as possible because tomorrow is busy’ but inevitably he was the last to leave the party, always eager to chat to more people and they to him.

“Everybody knew of course about the sorrow with Jeannie; my memory of that was being at a meeting in the bishop’s house and it happened to be their wedding anniversary and someone sent flowers to them, and he grabbed the flowers and ran up the stairs two at a time saying ‘Look darling, so-and-so has sent us flowers! Isn’t that lovely!’ He spoke to her as if they were newlyweds even though much of the time she had no idea who he was or what was going on. A remarkable example of ‘in sickness and in health’; and people knew he was ‘in the mess of life’ along with them, and trusted him in consequence.

“I know I speak for hundreds, no doubt thousands, when I say that being with Keith has left a deep and God-given impression on me for which I shall always be grateful.”

Archbishop Moon Hing, from Lichfield Diocese’s partnership diocese in Kuching, Malaysia, said: “Condolence and deepest sympathy to the Sutton family. The late Bishop Keith Sutton was the bishop who initiated the companion-link with our diocese in 1988. Next year will mark our 30th anniversary of companionship link with the Diocese of Lichfield. The first agreement of companionship link was signed between the late Bishop John Savarimuthu and the late Bishop Keith Sutton. It was during the tenure of the late Bishop Keith Sutton that the St Chad's Volunteer Programme was launched in 2000. Today we have sent more than 20 young people for the SCVP and have received about 10 young people from Lichfield Diocese.”

Bishop Michael Bourke, Bishop of Wolverhampton from 1993 to 2006, said: “It was a privilege and delight to serve under Bishop Keith Sutton for ten years prior to his retirement in 2003. He was first and foremost a truly godly and loving Christian person. He loved people, remembered their names and was interested in them, and they loved him. During the years when his beloved wife Jeannie was suffering increasingly from dementia, this love expressed itself in the spontaneous outpouring of help by many people, and in the never-failing warmth of Keith’s welcome in their home.

“His interests were wide and generous. I think particularly of his love of music and his interest in Russian literature and French and German culture. This 500th anniversary year of Martin Luther reminds me particularly of the joint visit we made to Mecklenburg, and Keith’s deep engagement with the history and spirituality of our Lutheran partners, not least in his devotion to Dietrich Bonhoeffer whose footsteps we followed in the seminary of the Confessing Church at Finkenwalde.

“Keith’s episcopate coincided with the height of the Thatcher years and their aftermath, when many communities in the Black Country and the Potteries suffered de-industrialisation and high unemployment. Despite his sympathy for some aspects of Government policy, his concern was first and foremost for the people who suffered as a result. He wholeheartedly promoted the approach of “Faith in the City” and the many initiatives of practical as well as spiritual mission sponsored by the Church Urban Fund. His African experience made him sensitive to the challenge of racism, and he was an unswerving friend of immigrant communities of the different faiths.

“During these years the diocese began to adopt a more proactive management style, especially in the Decade of Evangelism in the 1990’s. Keith’s overriding priority was to encourage evangelisation in what he described as one of the most difficult mission-fields in the world. But his approach was always personal and rather than managerial, and the stories of individuals and communities took precedence over programmes.”

Bishop John D Davies, Bishop of Shrewsbury from 1987 to 1994, said: “We had never met, however, some colleagues in the Diocese of Lichfield persuaded him to ask me to join his team as Bishop of Shrewsbury and he came all the way from Lichfield to Llanrhaeadr ym Mochnant one Sunday afternoon - quite without warning - to put the question to me. That started a close working relationship. I was always the one who had come in from the outside; but with his experience, like me, of Africa, he was happy with that. Right from the start of my ministry, Bishop Keith was determined that North Shropshire should be a fully recognised episcopal area within the Diocese, and he brought this into effect. There were powerful and attractive voices which urged that Shropshire, or the Marches area, should be broken off from Lichfield to become a separate diocese. Shropshire was too precious for Keith to consent to any such scheme. Because of his affection for his churches here, north Shropshire remains a treasured and inseparable part of Lichfield Diocese.”

Barbara Tame, a Reader at Priorslee St Peters in Telford, said: “Bishop Keith Sutton was very kind to me.  On 24 October 1986 my husband, Bill, and I arrived at a conference where Bishop Keith was due to lead. It was due to be my husband’s first conference as a Christian. As we arrived he collapsed. There was a Dr Summerville, a heart surgeon, close at hand who came to our aid but Bill died immediately but he did all he could to assure me and himself that he had done all he could. Bishop Keith came up, made sure that we were moved into a side room and prayed for Bill and I.  I knew Bishop Keith was due to go to Uganda very soon. What a compassionate and thoughtful man. He wrote me a card at the airport before leaving for Uganda, admiring my faith, and he wrote me another card when he arrived back in this country. I shall never forget Bishop Keith’s kindness to me.  And it was a real honour to me for Bishop Keith to be the one who signed my Licence to be a Reader.”

The Archdeacon of Walsall, the Venerable Dr Sue Weller, said: “Bishop Keith was a Godly and wonderful man who will be sadly missed. He ordained my husband David and I. In the days when areas took it in turns to be priested in the Cathedral, it was Bishop Keith who arranged it so we could be priested together, despite being in different Episcopal areas. He was a very pastoral leader and one of the main reasons we came back to the Diocese on our return from Brazil, even though he had retired, such was the lasting impact he had on us and our ministry.”

Gavin Drake, Director of Communications for the Diocese between 2002 and 2011, said: “Bishop Keith was quite a legend around the diocese – and not just in church circles. He was a bishop who was known and loved by wider society as much as by the church. He was a powerful advocate for the Gospel in society but also for the region in Parliament. He was a bit of a local celebrity and extremely pastorally minded with all he met.

“He was also an incredibly humble man. I will never forget how, during an extended interview with Ed Doolan on BBC WM, he was embarrassed – in a nice way – when Ed played an interview clip of Archbishop Desmond Tutu paying tribute to him for his work in South Africa at the height of apartheid. He was often singing the praises of others; but he found it hard to accept praise himself.”

The Most Revd Dr Tutu paid tribute to Bishop Keith in the Church Times, describing him as a “remarkably comforting man. Learned and sensible, he had a sponge-like ability to absorb the anxieties of others….People were being routinely tear-gassed, beaten, shot, detained, tortured, and maimed. There were funerals every week that attracted more security-force violence. Somehow, when one walked with Bishop Keith, one felt bulletproof.”

Tributes were also made on the day of Bishop Keith’s death by the current Bishop of Lichfield, the Right Revd Dr Michael Ipgrave, and Bishop Keith’s former Lay Assistant David at https://www.lichfield.anglican.org/news/2017/03/24/rt-revd-keith-sutton-rip/

Bishop Keith is survived by his three sons Mark, Paul and Andrew and his daughter Jacqui.

Ends

Media notes

The Diocese of Lichfield covers an area with a population of over two million which includes Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, the Black Country and most of Shropshire.

For media enquiries contact Pete Bate, Director of Communications for the Diocese of Lichfield, 01543 306292 or 07754 785865, pete.bate@lichfield.anglican.org

Diocese of Lichfield: https://www.lichfield.anglican.org/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/DioceseOfLichfield/

Twitter: @LichfieldCofE

 

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