While Bishop Richard said he is ‘blessed’ to be in a part of the country he knows, his immediate plan is to get to know the diocese better – and that means a lot more travelling, although, rather than Camp Bastion, his visits will be throughout Sussex and Surrey.
Asked what he saw as the priorities for A&B, Bishop Richard said: ‘I am looking forward to getting around and meeting everybody, getting a feel for everything…The key thing is to listen for a while.’
While acknowledging that vocations to the priesthood are an issue, he said: ‘It is key for any bishop…For me it applies across the board and also involves supporting marriage, the religious life and fostering people who think God is calling them to a single life.’
Bishop Richard will be installed at Arundel cathedral on 28 May and is very much looking forward to the 50th Jubilee celebrations in July.
‘It is a wonderful opportunity for the diocese going forward,’ he said. ‘We must be open to the influence of the Holy Spirit coming out of the Jubilee.’
The 56-year old bishop said he has been ‘overwhelmed’ by the welcome he has received, since his appointment was announced.
‘I’ve had a fairly huge amount of correspondence,’ he said. ‘And I have been made extremely welcome. It has been quite overwhelming.’
Bishop Richard was born in Zambia in 1958, when it was still known as Northern Rhodesia. His father worked there for Anglo American, the mining concern. But the bishop actually grew up in Edenbridge, Kent, just over the border in the archdiocese of Southwark.
The young Richard attended the prestigious Judd grammar school, in nearby Tonbridge, from 1979 until 1976. He was keen on the arts, rather than the sciences, and his favourite subjects were history and English. But he knew from the age of 13 that he wanted to be a priest and, rather than going to university, he went straight from school to the seminary.
‘I finished at the Judd in the July,’ he remembered. ‘And I went to St John’s seminary [Wonersh] in the August.’
According to Bishop Richard, he had been greatly influenced by their local priest in Edenbridge: ‘He was such a good example.’
An 18-year old would not be accepted today, would they?
‘I think it is important to look at each individual,’ said Bishop Moth, who was formerly vocations director for Southwark. ‘Sometimes, people have said someone is too old. I think it is right to look into each case. It is not just teenagers, we should be open to older people and to those interested in the religious life.’
He also emphasised how essential it is for all those in religious life to offer a good example for those considering a vocations.
Bishop Richard’s parents accepted that the priesthood was ‘right’ for him, although he was an only child and it meant there would be no grandchildren.
At Wonersh, Bishop Richard particularly enjoyed canon law – taught by Fr Peter Smith, who would go on to be Archbishop of Southwark and was, until recently, apostolic administrator of A&B. After Ordination, the then Fr Richard worked in parishes in the London area – first at Clapham Park. He was to go from there, after two years, to study canon law in Ottawa. This led to Bishop Richard’s long involvement in marriage tribunal work: the process of applying for annulments through the Church. And when he returned to a parish in Lewisham, he also worked as a canon lawyer.
From there, Bishop Richard went to be secretary to Michael Bowen, the then archbishop of Southwark. He was very much a jack-of-all-trades during this period, acting as vocations director, press secretary, vice-chancellor and president of the appeals tribunal.
After his time as secretary to Archbishop Bowen, Bishop Richard became vicar general of Southwark, then chancellor of the archdiocese until in 2009, until he was called to be the bishop of the forces. It is an unusual position, he explained: ‘It is an Ordinariate, canonically. It functions like a diocese but it is defined by its people rather than by physical boundaries. Wherever British forces are, that is the diocese.’
It was during this period that Bishop Richard’s travels really began. He visited Germany, Cyprus, Gibraltar, the Falklands, Afghanistan, America and the home nations. He also spent time on HMS Illustrious, as a guest of the Royal Navy.
Bishop Richard said he felt privileged to work with the forces and their chaplains: ‘It’s a fascinating work to do, there are examples of great faith…I learnt a lot.’
He maintained that ‘chaplains are held in high esteem’ by everyone connected with the armed forces – whether are people of faith or not.
‘It was wonderful to see the support that the armed forces received from their chaplains,’ he said. ‘At all sorts of levels, the support is there, from somebody to chat to right up to the sacramental role. Chaplains are living alongside service personnel.’
Although leading a conventional diocese has different challenges, Bishop Richard rejected the idea that civilian society does not have as much time for religion or religious values. He said: ‘I tend to feel, in the grand scheme of things, that there is a recognition of the value of religious life, even if that is something people cannot articulate. People are still searching for something.’
In addition to his ‘day jobs’, Bishop Richard has long been involved with two other faith organisations which have been and still are influential in his spiritual and personal life. During his time with Archbishop Bowen, Bishop Richard was made a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre. This has seen him travel some 27 times to the Holy Land with pilgrimages of the order and he is hopeful that, maybe, this might be a future destination for an A&B group.
And, since his days as a seminarian, Bishop Richard has also been linked to the Benedictine religious order for 37 years as an ‘oblate’ of the Scottish monastery of Pluscarden. According to Bishop Richard: ‘I have found it a huge benefit to have the support and prayers of the community and to feel part of it. To live something of the Benedictine Rule [St Benedict’s guidance to monastic communities] is to have a sense of family. It has been a huge support. It is a place I go on retreat and I know the community well.’
He maintained that it comes into his life in many ways – and quite often into his homilies as well!
‘The Benedictine Rule is a very balanced, insightful document…I hope it gives a sense of balance to the way I live my life,’ said the bishop. ‘It is not uncommon for diocesan priests to be oblates of monastic communities. I have often come across similar kinds of attachments.’
Looking ahead, A&B’s new bishop said the next few months are going to be ‘hectic’. But, it is clear, Bishop Richard is bringing with him a military energy and a monastic commitment to his new role in Arundel and Brighton.