Bishop of Exeter speaks at Sidmouth Men’s Forum

Bishop speaks of challenges facing the Church in Devon


AN insightful talk by the Bishop of Exeter, the Right Reverend Michael Langrish, to Sidmouth Men’s Forum, began with the “confession” that he grew up in a non church-going home.

He “came to faith” at the age of 17 when, having sensed the happiness and calmness of the calling, he went to church for the first time on his own. It could, however, have been the last because, sitting in a big pew, he hadn’t a clue what was going on. He was about to leave when “this hand came up” and stopped him. ‘Why are you here?’ was the question that, back at the Rectory afterwards, started the dialogue with a “very holy man” that brought him to conversion.

Bishop Michael who, in earlier years, was a teacher in Birmingham and London and a lecturer in Nigeria, spent 20 years as a priest in a variety of parishes.

Formerly Suffragen Bishop of Birkenhead, he was appointed 70th Bishop of Exeter in 2000 and, five years later, a member of the House of Lords where he speaks on a wide range of issues reflecting his interest in young people, education, employment, urban and rural affairs.

In his talk to the Forum on the Role of a Bishop he spoke of the challenges the church faced in a county of such sheer diversity as Devon. Sidmouth was doing well while Ilfracombe had gone into deep decline.

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There were deep differences in culture, too, with some areas characterised by high house prices, others by urban poverty. All were variations that shaped the leadership of a bishop.

Turning to church attendance, Bishop Michael told a large audience that only one in ten of the population in Devon worshipped God week by week.

“That is a huge challenge,” he said. “I don’t believe God is happy when 90 per cent of the population are not hearing the word of Jesus Christ.”

There was now gentle growth. But, in a diocese of 619 churches, 542 parishes, 25 deaneries and four arch deaneries, the church, which needed to face outwards and engage in the community, had a long way to go.

Bishop Michael, introduced and thanked by the president, the Reverend Peter Leverton, spoke of the importance of implementing vision in what was often seen as a public service, publicly funded and run as a charitable organisation.

Another big challenge he faced was how to maintain the level of staffing and service when income of virtually all types was down.

Yet whatever else he had in his life Bishop Michael was and remained a priest grounded in prayer.