Thursday 3 July 2014 – the Feast of St Thomas. I was deaconed in 1994 and priested a year later. My first Eucharist was celebrated at Fornham All Saints nineteen years ago today, so I had arranged to celebrate there again today.
I ended up in Suffolk after my three years at Lincoln Theological College. My sending Diocese – Ely – had the first call on me. They suggested Wisbech St Mary as a curacy; that was a long way from nowhere. In those far-off days dioceses that could not fill their places sent them to the Colleges, and Bill the Warden had a shoe box. I went through Bill’s shoe box and found the details of Fornham All Saints, Fornham St Martin cum St Genevieve, Timworth, Flempton with Hengrave, Culford with West Stow and Wordwell, and Lackford. Seven active churches, two used occasionally, and a ruin. We moved with three kids (aged 6, 4 and 2) to work with Robert and his smashing wife Sian. After a year of me they moved to Orford (actually, the Bishop moved them) and I did another couple of years running it myself. New vicar arrived, and I went off to the Cockfield Benefice for three years. I was then offered a post as Chaplain in St Edmundsbury Cathedral, then became Canon Pastor through until 2008 when I moved north.
All of this in the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich – a diocese celebrating its centenary this year. The diocese is roughly equal to Suffolk, and was carved out of Norwich and Ely. The churches in Lowestoft remained in Norwich – apparently they wrote to the House of Lords’ committee with a copy of Bradshaw’s Railway Timetable pointing out how long it took to get from Lowestoft to Bury St Edmunds. In 2000 the Cathedral wrote to every parish in the Diocese asking for a donation for the new Tower. One parish sent a cheque to Norwich … . The Dean of Norwich thought it was hilarious!
The first bishop was Henry Hodgson, enthroned in March 1914. He went to Suffolk from Newcastle, where he hard been Archdeacon of Lindisfarne for ten years. His pectoral cross was given to him by St Nicholas Cathedral in Newcastle. His son, Lt Noel William Hodgson, was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. His poem ‘Back to Rest’ was published under the pseudonym Edward Melbourne, was written soon after the Battle of Loos. His picture and cross are currently in the Cathedral Treasury, and the picture of proper clergy is on a Diocesan display board.
The Diocese has done a lot of work on tourism – have a look at their Angels and Pinnacles website – and either be impressed (or be depressed if your diocesan tourism website doesn’t match up. That’s probably 40 dioceses feeling inadequate!). Some smashing leaflets and trails. They also have an excellent set of resources for parishes – http://www.cofesuffolk.org/index.cfm?page=yourchurch.content&cmid=452 – which any parish (or DAC) anywhere can download or get their hands on. May I recommend “What happens here? Church buildings for everyone”.
I also recommend the website which I always think of as Simon’s Suffolk Churches – now it’s most of the churches of East Anglia. Do explore!