Sunday, January 26, 2014

Is the Bishop of Bath and Wells a person, or a tourist attraction?

update 10th Feb. Two important pieces
Stephen Lynas, Bishops Chaplain in Wells on why Diocesan reps are now taking this to General Synod this week
A Statement from the Church Commissioners released today, which claims they did consult, and sets out more of their reasoning.

update: another piece on the evolving pickle, the Bishop of Taunton calling for more consultation, and there'll be a question at General Synod. I despair, our membership is in freefall, and the main topic of conversation in the Diocese is whether the Bishop gets to live in a palace or a £900k property.

The saga of the Bishops Palace takes another turn. There was a public meeting yesterday in Wells to protest at the decision that the new Bishop of Bath and Wells should not live in the Palace, but in a 'normal' residence. The BBC report also mentions a statement by the Diocese itself, to the effect that they weren't properly consulted, don't support the decision, and haven't heard a persuasive case for moving the Bishops residence.

I blogged about this a couple of weeks back, noting that having a front garden which the general public were free to wander around probably wasn't great for work-life balance. To me, the fact that all this is news makes the case very powerfully for moving the Bishop out of the Palace. If your personal living arrangements are considered the stuff of press articles, public meetings and campaigns by the local MP, then how on earth is a Bishop supposed to carve out time away from it all to remain sane and properly rested? How on earth is the Bishops family supposed to feel when the location of their own front door is something that everyone feels they have a right to comment on?

Even though it's a Palace, it's possible that living under the shadow of Wells Cathedral, with tourists wandering round outside your house on a daily basis, might be considered a rather strange and oppressive working environment. Yes if you're a parish priest  you need to live in the parish to be most effective, but that doesn't apply to bishops, they have the whole county to play with. And if your work/life triangle consists of a Palace, the House of Lords, and the House of Bishops, how exactly are you supposed to stay in touch with reality? Spending nearly £3/4m on a house seems excessive, (especially as it's only a temporary residence!), but I would rather have a church where the living arrangements of clergy, including bishops, are no longer public property, and we recognise that clergy are people too, who don't wear their dog collars 24/7.

The Church Commissioners may be consulting too little and too late, but speaking from the wilds of Yeovil, I find it slightly embarrassing to have our senior clergyman living in a palace (and called a 'Lord', for that matter). Nobody should have to live in a visitor attraction, which is what the Bishops Palace in Wells now is. The Bishop of Bath and Wells is not some National Trust guide-in-a-period-costume stuck in the corner to add a touch of humanity and authenticity.

I'll repeat myself: if the Bishops living arrangements are seen as public property, then that is neither right nor healthy, and that will only be resolved if he lives away from the Palace.

Update: here's the statement from the senior staff of the Diocese in opposition to the move. Strange, it's dated Friday but I'm sure it wasn't on the website at the weekend. I'm assuming these representations have already been made to the Church Commissioners. It's a difficult line to tread, with the issue now being a matter of open debate, but conducting your disputes in public is never a great idea, if it can be avoided (he says on his blog #hypocrite).


  1. "The Bishop of Bath and Wells is not some National Trust guide-in-a-period-costume stuck in the corner to add a touch of humanity and authenticity." But that's exactly what the locals want!

  2. They'll be opening up Buckingham Palace next and turning the Queen into a tourist attraction!

  3. David Yates, churchwarden5/2/14 8:00 pm

    Master of Colleges in Cambridge reside in the Master's Lodge, despite colleges being open to the General public, and thrive on being on site to deal with everyday problems with their students. Bishops are shepherds to their flock, and driving off at the end of the day gives a poor signal to their colleagues. The £900.000 being spent on buying back a Georgian manor that was declared unfit for purpose by the then Archdeacon who lived in it similarly gives a poor signal to the parishes in Bath and Wells whose Parish Share increases year on year, despite falling attendance at churches. The Church Commissioners would do well to reconsider their position.