Ecce Sacerdos Magnus

Oliver Coss reflects on Bishop Martyn Jarrett’s recent announcement of his retirement in September 2012

One of the few regrets I have about my move to Birmingham, earlier this year, was that it took me out of the Northern Province and, sadly, beyond the jurisdiction of the Northern episcopal visitor, who today announced his retirement. During my three and a half years of curacy in York Diocese, which fell during the period of sede vacante in Whitby, it was to Bishop Martyn Jarrett that many clergy turned. Before the very welcome appointment of Bishop Warner, and during some highly troubling years, his support and guidance to the catholic constituency in York Diocese, as well as to me personally, was an immeasurable asset. When the former finally arrived, York clergy thoroughly enjoyed praying for ‘+Sentamu our archbishop, and Richard, Martin, Martyn, and Martin his assistants.’

Level-headed and reflective

It is, however, more than the mere spelling of his name that distinguishes the Bishop of Beverley: having served previously as Bishop of Burnley, Martyn was the only provincial bishop who had previously served as an institutional bishop. Through his extensive work in so many areas of importance and concern in Anglican life, he has been a bishop who spoke with authority within the institution, because people trusted that he, along with so many of us, had pledged his troth to the CofE. He was not about to ditch rashly the girl who brung ’im in favour of a better date. Consequently, and this is particularly important, his level-headed and reflective way of processing the various goings-on have provided catholics with an effective barometer which told us where we stood. Few were not of the opinion that when the chips really were down, we would know it because of the Bishop of Beverley. It makes these words, spoken by the bishop in General Synod in 2010, particularly hard to bear: ‘That honoured place has been taken away by the provision Synod has chosen not to make. If I have a broken heart, I also have a pension; but remember those who were foolish enough to believe the promises and assurances I gave them in Synod’s name, and do the right thing by them.’

Stormy weather

The barometer was pointing to stormy weather, it was as much proof as was needed to enforce the reality that some could not stay any longer: for others, it felt like Bishop Martyn – who has always put a good catholic face to the institution, being also a good institutional face to the catholic – had finally seen the writing on the wall which had, for so long, been all too evident. After July 2010, pursuing the catholic cause seemed improbably like walking on water, and it took the weight of a sincere pastor to remind his clergy that God is faithful and if walking on water was what he called us to, we were, like St Peter, not to doubt. The bishop will leave the Northern Province’s catholic parishes in very good shape, and we will be left to ponder the sort of shape the CofE might be in had it not been for his ministry. In other circumstances we might have hoped that the priory church at Worksop would soon be at the centre of a new diocese in the North. It was not, and probably never was.

Mirth

During my time as a junior priest in the North, the junior catholic clergy would be invited up to Roundhay for the day each autumn. Fond, often in equal measure, of being the centre of mirth as well as the purveyor of it, Martyn and Betty’s dining table was never sombre – even in difficult times. On those occasions, he would invariably recall a Eucharist, at which we both were present, celebrated by the Bishop of Peterborough at Swanwick. During the purchase of offerings for the mass, some less than wise fellow had drastically overestimated the amount of tiger-bread from Tesco that would suffice for the holy sacrifice. Present at the service would be about 300 people, many of whom were from other communions and who would not communicate anyway. After communion I, and the others who had been asked to administer the sacrament, trotted to the sacristy and after a moment of confusion, the secretary of the CCU, in a spectacular moment of canonical ignorance, uttered ‘So what do we do with all this, then?’. Barely microseconds elapsed before the sacristy door flung open with a flourish, to reveal the Bishop of Beverley, flanked by Fr Philpott, ready to do the right thing – ensuring that Our Lord didn’t end up as someone’s toast in the morning.

A new future

The timing of all this is apposite and proper, but will certainly not be last we hear of him. When September 2012 comes he will, as a man of Synod and a catholic bishop, have seen the completion of the greater part of his work over the last two decades. After September (and we pray a new bishop is consecrated before the ensuing nonsense becomes law) we shall face a new future and a different way, whatever the outcome of the vote. In this we will continue to have Martyn’s fellowship, prayer and support: but, most of all, we shall have arrived – safely – at this point because of him and others like him. ND

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