Bishop of Durham announces plans to retire


On the 14th July 2023, Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, announced his retirement. It will become effective at the end of February 2024.

The Right Reverend Butler was confirmed for the position of Bishop of Durham, one of five Lord Spiritual ex officio and the fourth highest in the Church of England’s hierarchy, on 20th January 2014, succeeding the now-Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

A farewell service was held on 27th January at Durham Cathedral. It was attended by both civic and Church leaders, as well as being open to the public.

Bishop Butler has previously served as both Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham (2010-2014) and Bishop of Southampton (2004-2009).

In a statement to Palatinate, Bishop Butler reflected on his greatest achievements during his tenure as Bishop of Durham. He stated that he believed his greatest achievement was “the simple reality of continuing to follow Jesus Christ and be a disciple from whom others have learned and discovered more of Jesus.”

He also took the time to lay out the strategic vision of his tenure, with the four core priorities of “energising Growth; Challenging Poverty; Caring for God’s Creation & Engaging with Children, Youth and the 18s-25s.” He continued to say that they “work this out flexibly recognising that every day Christian ministry is worked out in parishes, chaplaincies and schools not by a central Diocesan team.”

“The church is one of the very few remaining bodies that at its best is truly intergenerational. We need a greater sense of mutual support across the generations”

the right reverend paul butler

The Bishop has shared his belief that all major political parties in the UK have failed to tackle child poverty rates, particularly in North-East England, where they are amongst the highest in the country.

Writing to Palatinate, he said that would like to see child poverty looked at “as not simply a financial matter. It is about social, spiritual, cultural poverty – and poverty of opportunity too.” In regard to the Government’s two child limit on universal credit, he said it “is the greatest driver of the growth in Child Poverty numbers. It needs to be removed.”

He went further and outlined some strategies to alleviate child poverty: “We need to see businesses paying the Real Living Wage and ensuring employees have the adequate hours that they want to work” adding that “zero hours contracts work okay for young people and students but not for parents seeking to work to support their children adequately” and that he “would love to see Coram’s Charter for Children adopted across all Local Authorities as well as national Government – and then given serious weight to its implementation.”

He finished his statement on child poverty by saying “As a nation we need to recover a commitment to our children, for their health and wellbeing now, ensuring that they can grow and develop into the best human beings that they can be.”

He also wrote on the importance of the Church in modern life: “The church is one of the very few remaining bodies that at its best is truly intergenerational. We need a greater sense of mutual support across the generations.”

In response to one of our questions surrounding how the Church fits into modern life, he chose to highlight the good that it does in local communities across the North-East: “The majority of foodbanks have some link with local churches; so too many carer and toddler groups; luncheon clubs and other support groups.”

“I am convinced that the church will keep going – what it looks like though may be very different in the years that lie ahead”

The right reverend paul butler

It is no secret that the church attendance is dwindling in the modern world, and that more and more people in the UK no longer identify with the Church of England. The Bishop addressed this crisis of faith in his statement : “There is a growing awareness that life consists of far more than simply working, or going out enjoying ourselves. It consists of so much more than owning more and more stuff. There is a recognition that all of us are people who have a spiritual life and reality.

“We are more than isolated individuals. We belong together in society and the world. We belong together with all God’s creatures and this extraordinary planet on which we live.”

To finish his statement, he wrote about the growth of the Church in recent years and its future: “Across the globe, the Church is continuing to grow. In this nation, there are churches that are growing, including Anglican ones. I am convinced that the church will keep going – what it looks like though may be very different in the years that lie ahead.”

Bishop of Jarrow, the Right Reverent Sarah Clarke, will be leading the Diocese of Durham until Bishop Butler’s successor is appointed.

In a statement to The Northern Echo, she looked back on Bishop Butler’s tenure: “Bishop Paul will be very missed across the whole Diocese, but we will be so thankful for his wise and challenging strategic leadership, prayerful care and utter commitment to us since coming to our Diocese in 2014.”

Image: Roger Harris via Wikimedia Commons

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