New Directions Interview

In the first of two interviews new directions speaks to Bishop Martyn Jarrett

ND Let’s start with a biographical outline of how you came into the world, where, when, why?

I was born in 1944 in inner city Bristol. We call it an urban priority area nowadays; in those days we called it a slum. My father served as a sergeant major with the forces to the Crown and he came home after the war. My first memories of him were working on the Bristol tramway

Current reading – for relaxation?

Thriller after thriller, especially having discovered Ann Cleeves, and I’m reading as much of hers as I can find

system. My mother was at home. I had a brother 18 months older than me. From the start we were associated with the local church of St James, an evangelical church but, strangely enough, I was always brought up to know that we were really High Church because my mother as a girl had been brought up at St Julian’s, Newport.

Sadly, she had been orphaned by the time she was fourteen and had come to Bristol with an older brother. She met my father when she was an usherette and he was the bar manager at the

Current reading – religious?

I’m reading Sarah Maitland’s book on Silence and I’m also reading the prayers of St Augustine and also Timothy Radcliffe’s new book – I rather like reading four or five books at a time

local theatre. I also went to the local Salvation Army street services everySunday evening; also the Plymouth Brethren had what we called The Mission and they had lots of exciting activities for children on weekday evenings. I went regularly. With that background it isn’t surprising that I ended up an Anglo-Catholic.

At about twelve or thirteen I was going to confirmation classes at St James where my attendance and my behaviour were not exactly good so I was refused confirmation: so I

stopped going to church as a result of that. Although if you stopped me in the street and asked me ‘what do you want to do when you grow up?’ I would have said ‘a priest’. My old head teacher of the primary school that I had gone to, who was a great saint, suggested that I went to

Favourite composer?

Dare I say it after your previous interviewee – Elgar

her church, St Mary’s, Tyndall’s Park where therewas a service every Thursday evening. I went along clutching my Book of Common Prayer for Evensong and found there was a service called Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. I just knew I had come home although I hadn’t a clue what was happening. I continued to worship there.

I passed my 11+ and went to Cotham Grammar School. I did A Levels and won a place at

Favourite music – classical?

Gerontius

King’s College London. I was selected by CACTM when I was still at school, in those days not so rare. But what they did ask very sensibly, having been assured a place, was to have a year out. In those days King’s College had a whole faculty intake of boys and young men like myself, some having done VSO for a year. I had worked in a factory for a year, which was part of the Spring Hill Project, a scheme for ordinands.

Favourite author?

Probably Morris West

I ended up as a semiskilled guillotine operator. My friends say that when the time comes they would prefer I wasn’t just semiskilled! Ronald Gordon, who eventually became Bishop of Portsmouth and Bishop at Lambeth was the person who ran the Spring Hill Scheme. It was a transforming influence on my life. In inner city Birmingham I learned about the work and theology of French Mission priests and realized there was much more to Catholicism than I had met so far.

At King’s College Eric Mascall taught me doctrine, the great Sidney Evans was the Dean and

Favourite music – popular?

It’s perhaps not popular but as a boy I sang in the chorus of The Pirates of Penzance. Joan Baez singing We Shall Overcome, that still brings tears to my eyes having heard her sing it in Trafalgar Square during the anti-Vietnam War March of the 1960s

Christopher Evans, who has just died at the age of 102, taught New Testament. Morna Hooker also taught me as did Professor Patrick Collinson who has recently died. In those days he was the Reader in Church History and he was also my tutor for Modern Church History.

After three years at King’s, the fourth year was spent at St Boniface College, Warminster, where the great John Townroe was the Warden and also a noted Spiritual Director. From there I went

Favourite music – Orchestral?

Elgar Cello Concerto

to a title at St George, Bristol, with a rather eccentric parish priest. After some twenty months, the Bishop thought perhaps I ought to move and I went to St Mark’s Swindon which was a wonderful experience and very formative. It was where my real training as a priest took place. It stands in a great tradition of catholic clergy.

The great Trevor Huddleston who was one of my heroes had been a curate there. There were many who still remembered him and told me that they had washed his socks! Even in those days there was an incumbent and three curates. I was in charge of the daughter church of St Luke. I was just twenty-five at the time. There would be well over one hundred communicants on Sundays and, in addition to that, a large Sunday School that came to the Parish Mass and a choir, and much else going on. I used to reflect that perhaps it was more exciting to be the manager of a thriving branch rather than to own my own corner shop.

Favourite book?

The Cloud of Unknowing

ND Did you have quite a lot of autonomy at St Luke’s?

Very much so. Looking back, I realize that Canon Cratchley kept a very watchful eye on me. I succeeded Sam Philpott at St Luke’s. He had married a young lady from St Luke’s and moved to Devon. Yes, I had quite a lot of autonomy. Canon Cratchley really only had two rules. They

Favourite Painter?

Caravaggio

were that you must always be at Mass half an hour before it was due to be celebrated, and that: ‘if you get into any kind of trouble you are to come and tell me first, and the worst that can happen is that I’ll have you shot at dawn’. It was a wonderful time and I was there for four and a half years.

During my second year at King’s when I was at home in Bristol, one day I called on a friend who was the sister of a priest I knew. She was teaching at a school with a lovely young lady

Favourite painting?

Caravaggio’s second painting of the Supper at Emmaus which is in the Gallery in Milan

who was a guest on that occasion; this was Betty. We formed a relationship and in due time we were married just on Easter Tuesday 1968 as I was to be made deacon in June. Our children were born in Swindon and it will always have a special place in our family. I was told that St Joseph the Worker, Northolt, was looking for a priest and it was suggested that I might be the appropriate person.

ND Didn’t it have the reputation for being a modern and outward-looking place? Is that why you were chosen?

What an interesting thought! In those days it was still legally attached to the parish of St Mary’s Northolt. It had been built as a small mission church in the 1940s. Gordon Phillips (later Dean of Llandaff) was the Rector of Northolt and he was interested in Catholic social theology and possibly that is one of the reasons I was asked to go there.

The church as it now is had been built some five years before I went. I had only been there two years when we had to carry out major restoration as this exciting new piece of architecture had all sorts of fabric problems. Yes, it was a very exciting time. I was twenty-nine when I went

What is unmissable for you on television at the moment?

Eastenders, Coronation Street and Neighbours

there and I had only been there two years when it was created as a separate parish and I became the first vicar of the only church dedicated to St Joseph the Worker in the Church of England, which I suppose might give me a footnote in history. When it became a separate parish the Archdeacon said that there was the opportunity to change the name to something more Anglican but the suggestion of St Pius X did not win favour.

Unmissable wireless programme? Any Questions

The parish was very mainstream; it was a large housing estate parish and everyone from an Anglican background who worshipped with us was cared for from a sensitive Catholic position. In my early thirties, I was privileged to have my first parish worker, Ann Coleman, and also a priest colleague called Robert Gussman. They were in their twenties, so we must have been one of the youngest parish staffs in the Church of England. I was there for seven years and it was very exciting time. Then I moved to St Andrew’s Uxbridge for four and a half years which was more difficult.

ND What prompted you to move at that stage?

I had been there seven years, and the Bishop asked me if I would go to Uxbridge, which seemed an exciting move. There were nettles to be grasped at St Andrew’s and one of them was

pastoral reorganization in Uxbridge. After four years or so it was quite clear that that would never happen except under a new broom after the various things I had done. I saw an advert in the Church Times for a Selection Secretary at ACCM. I applied and, somewhat to my surprise,

Favourite Film?

I’m a great Western addict

was appointed. In those days most of the people who worked there were men and women who had done second curacies whereas I had done two incumbencies.

ND Were you older than most of them?

I was older than many of my colleagues and I had trained curates and parish workers, so I guess I brought quite a lot of hands-on experience. I suspect that appealed to Canon Tim Tindall who was the Chief Secretary in those days, himself a very experienced parish priest. I started as the junior Selection Secretary and after three years was asked to become the Senior Secretary, so for about two years I headed up the selection side of things.

What was the last live music you heard?

Madam Butterfly at the Opera North

Of course you didn’t select. You made recommendations and let others make the decisions – that’s quite important as some people think that Selection Secretaries have tremendous powers!

When I went to ACCM I had been in orders for seventeen years and in those days it was usually

Last play you saw?

Twelfth Night with Northern Broadsides

a five- or six-year stay, so when I left I would have seventeen years remaining until I was sixty-five, so it was a mid-ministry experience. I did some modest research and writing about ordination and I think that very much shaped my future ministry.

There’s no denying, of course, the excitement of twelve times a year meeting sixteen people who believed that God might be calling them to ordination and were asking themselves what God wanted them to do with their lives. Yes, that was very exciting.

There was a huge range of people, of churchmanships and backgrounds, which made it all the more exciting and interesting.

ND Was it from there to Chesterfield?

Yes, from there to Chesterfield, thinking I would probably retire from there. It had been a great

Favourite food? Parmaggia

Tractarian parish which in recent years had perhaps lost some of its distinctive Catholic features. There were large congregations and much happening in the church and parish. At the same time it was very much a civic church and there was a strong interaction both with the town and beyond. There were links into industry. It was a very exciting ministry and I had very able colleagues. ND These civic responsibilities. You have a great interest in politics – you are very much interested in political theory and the way politics work. Did you find that particularly engaging?

Favourite drink?

When in Italy prosecco, and elsewhere the red wine Gigondas

Yes, I do have a great interest in Catholic social theology and in how society should be shaped in the light of Faith. I also have a rather unusual hobby of psephology which is about how elections work and that kind of thing. I think it would be a mistake to say that politics is about the latter. I remember Tony Benn once complaining that politics was in danger of becoming a spectator sport!

I am interested both in politics and psephology. Tony Benn was my MP when I grew up in Bristol. He was also MP when I was in my first curacy, and when I was appointed as Vicar of

What annoys you most?

Walking on a wet day when people have their umbrellas up and they all want to take my eyes out

Chesterfield he became my MP again! He was a fascinating character to listen to and with whom to exchange views. He was very interested in theology. I had tea once with him in the House of Commons to find out about Chesterfield; he soon gave me a viva in theology. When

I worked at ACCM my MP had been Rhodes Boyson, almost from the other political extreme, but also a fascinating character with whom I enjoyed exchanging views.

ND So Chesterfield had a large civic responsibility with large congregations but you thought you would see your ministry out there, so Burnley was a surprise.

Well, when I went there we spent our life savings, inasmuch as we had any – we spent them on carpets for the Vicarage and so on; somewhat to my surprise one day the Bishop of Blackburn,

Favourite historical character? Probably St Clare of Assisi

Alan Chesters, said he had to appoint a new Bishop of Burnley and that my name seemed to match the profile he had drawn up. When I was at ACCM, even though there had been no vote on the ordination of women to the priesthood, it had become clear that a number of jobs were being declined to me because of my views on the ordination of women, which then of course was not the official policy of the Church of England.

I shall always be very thankful to Bishop Peter Dawes who was the evangelical Bishop of Derby

Least favourite historical character? Henry VIII

who asked me to go and was so sure that it was the right thing for me that he kept the post open for several months while I hesitated. Once at Chesterfield, I did not seek any future beyond that. At first I did rather miss being at Church House and I did have to rethink and relearn a lot of things about being a parish priest. This was exciting.

The Diocese of Blackburn wanted a Bishop of Burnley who could head up the social responsibility brief. I seemed to fit that profile. The Diocese also wanted a bishop who felt he could not ordain women to the priesthood. Of course the cynics had said that they would never find one that would combine the two. I loved being Bishop of Burnley. My main job was to minister in East Lancashire, which was the sort of community that I just loved and was fascinated by. I was able

to chair the social responsibility board and be involved with the Bishop’s urban concerns. Those were just natural loves of mine, and then at the same time I just loved all the parish life in East Lancashire.

I had never flown until I was fifty, and my first flight was to the Isle of Man. My wife had

Favourite actor? Kenneth Branagh

recently had a change of direction and had trained as a psychotherapist. She had established a practice while we were in Burnley and that was good. Then in 2000 Bishop John Gaisford, who had been Bishop of Beverley, and done heroic work, retired. Archbishop David Hope indicated to me that I was the person that he would very much like to take on the PEV-ship. I took a great deal of persuading.

ND Why were you reluctant? What was going through your mind?

Well, I just loved being a local bishop with a sense of place. I realized that if I became PEV I

Favourite actress? Hannah Gordon

would have to spend a great deal of time on those things, and almost become a trouble-shooter It was a huge decision to take. I did say to the Archbishop that if I agreed to take on the task I should like to continue my membership of the Bishops’ Urban Panel, the Church’s Commission for Interfaith and things like that so that I was operating on a wider scene. He was very gracious about all that.

You become convinced that if God wants you to do something and the Church thinks that this is

If not what you do now, what would you have liked to have been?

I think a scrap merchant.

what youought to be doing, you should do it. And with hindsight I am really glad I said yes because it has turned out to be very rewarding ministry, which isn’t to say that, like every place that God places us, there is not a down side as well. So in 2000 I became Bishop of Beverley. The rest, as they say, is history. ND

Next month: General Synod, women bishops and retirement

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