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Lords Diary: Lord Bishop of Leeds

Bradford Cathedral | Image by: Monica Wells / Alamy Stock Photo

Bishop of Leeds

Bishop of Leeds

4 min read

A time of reflection on language, integrity – and joy

Just before Easter I was booked to do Thought for the Day on Radio 4’s Today  programme on a Tuesday, and then Pause for Thought on Radio 2 the following morning. I covered the Russian elections one day and Taylor Swift (it’s a granddaughter thing) the next. The change in channels demanded a shift in language, style, register and voice. This range is the element that I enjoy, though the occasional backlash any “thought” engenders is always a pain.

I have spoken in the House many times about language and languages. Language learning in the United Kingdom has become seriously impoverished at the very time we need to be listening to how other people in other countries understand us. The numbers of children learning German has plummeted in the last decade. I recall the English businessman in a Berlin hotel some years ago who told me that he didn’t need to know any German because all the business was conducted in English. His German colleague said: “You don’t know what we’re saying behind your back, and that’s where the deals get done. But we know what you are saying behind our backs…”

Easter is busy for bishops and recess doesn’t mean “holiday”. Witnessing the horrors going on around the world I was brought back to the Czech Roman Catholic academic Tomáš Halik who, in one of his books, quotes Jan Patočka’s phrase “the solidarity of the broken”. These are words that haunt me. As we look forward to a general election later this year – and some of the massive challenges and choices this country now faces – I will be asking which policies and what sorts of rhetoric start from a “solidarity of the broken”. This term assumes the humility that every human being is broken in some way; it’s just that some are more broken than others, some just hide it better.

It is a term that resonates through the Easter narratives. The friends of Jesus – especially the men who are impressed with themselves – find their illusions of ego-strength stripped away as they don’t live up to their pretensions. Of course they also find post-resurrection an honest freedom to start again. With this in mind, Easter was a glorious celebration in the parishes and cathedrals of the Diocese of Leeds.

It has become increasingly clear... that the government is not happy with the Lords Spiritual

I mention “cathedrals” – plural – as, uniquely in the Church of England, I have three: Bradford, Ripon and Wakefield. A trinity of buildings, communities, and histories. All three work together closely while attending to the particularities of their context. It also means that I get great and glorious variety as I celebrate in each one over Christmas, Easter, and other times of the year. As the Diocese of Leeds reaches its 10th birthday on 20 April, this is one of the innovations for which there was no template – but that has worked remarkably well. Here’s to the next 10 years of discovery.

It has become increasingly clear over the last few years that the government is not happy with the Lords Spiritual. The reasons have been well-rehearsed. Although ministers are unfailingly helpful, courteous and constructive, in personal discussion there is a clear frustration with how the bishops think, speak, and vote. I have thought a lot about this. The problem is that bishops do not form a party and are not whipped. We don’t follow any party line. The bottom line is that the Lords Spiritual (the clue is in the title) bring to the scrutiny of legislation perspectives and convictions that are rooted not in political pragmatics, but in basic understandings about what a human being is and what a rightly ordered society might look like. Integrity matters.

I read recently that joy is not a sign that all is well but emerges often when things are bad. This will encourage Man Utd fans. As a Liverpool man, I feel joyful anyway.

The Lord Bishop of Leeds is a member of the Lords Spiritual

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