How Norfolk’s Rocking Bishop got his name
- Credit: Matthew Usher
A Christmas message, rock’n’roll, religion, rides - and a question for a Bee Gee from the Bishop of Lynn
The Bishop of Lynn, the Rt Rev Jonathan Meyrick, is a surprising man. The first surprise is that although he is Bishop of Lynn, he does not live in King’s Lynn, but in Castle Acre. A previous bishop lived in Stiffkey and the next might well be based in Dereham.
A list of fascinating facts about Bishop Jonathan would continue with:
He is known as the Rocking Bishop.
He has sung live on Radio One.
He felt called to become a priest when he was just 15.
Before that he wanted to be an actor.
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He loves dodgem cars.
He took the final slide down the helter skelter in Norwich Cathedral last year – after preaching from the top.
He often spends Christmas in prison.
His uncle founded the Russian Orthodox chapel in Walsingham.
He has a burning question for Bee Gee Barry Gibb.
In January Bishop Jonathan will retire. He has loved his time in Norfolk. Of all his homes around the country as a rector, chaplain and cathedral dean, this has been his favourite. It’s easy to see why. It is at the heart of one of England’s loveliest villages, with the magnificent ruins of Castle Acre Priory leading down to the River Nar, quaint cottages clustered around the green and impressive flint gateway, and the vast ramparts of the Norman castle.
But what he will miss most when he leaves Norfolk, after 11 years as Bishop of Lynn, are the people.
He did not arrive with particular objectives. “My objective is to be part of the local place,” he said. “To love it for its own sake for its people and to express in whatever way I can God’s love for the local place and at its best that’s what the Church of England is about. That’s always been at the heart of it.”
It has taken him from prisons (in his role supporting the county’s prison chaplains) to fun-fair rides (he opens the Lynn Mart funfair every February.) “I love doing it because the fair is fun and being on the dodgems is fun but I mostly love it because it’s an important moment in the life of the local community, and it’s the flourishing of local community that matters.”
Getting involved in the community has also taken him from the pulpit to the stage.
Years ago he found himself singing live on Radio 1 after telling DJ Dave Lee Travis how as chaplain to the local Young Famers one of his duties was to sing at their annual dinner dance – and he sang Wild Thing by The Troggs because it was the only song both he and the band knew. He later reprised the performance on ITV’s Stars in their Eyes.
He has always loved singing and acting and here in here in Norfolk has acted in pantomimes and plays – and become known as the Rocking Bishop. It began when a chance meeting on the train to London led to an invitation to sing at the launch of that year’s Festival Too in King’s Lynn with local 60s tribute band The Yesterdays. “I’m very much a 60s animal,” he said. “The Troggs, The Stones, Small Faces, The Bee Gees...”
In fact he has a question for Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees.
“The song that I most enjoy singing is the Bee Gees’ Words. It’s a beautiful love song but it’s got a depth to it.”
He reads it as a Christian song with its themes of everlasting words and a reborn world and wonders whether that is how Barry wrote it.
“To me it’s not just a love song sung by a man to a woman but by God to all of us,” he said.
He was just 15 when he knew that he would become a priest. It was awkward because he had spent the past six months convincing his parents to allow him to pursue his dream of becoming an actor.
“Actually, being an actor and a priest both involve being able to perform and both involve giving of yourself to other people,” he said. “I was really, really lucky to receive a very specific bit of calling that I knew was God crooking his finger to me. There was a group of about five or six or us, drinking coffee, playing records, telling schoolboy jokes. A very ordinary situation. In the middle of that I drifted off.
“When I came to everybody had gone except the boy whose study it was and I knew God had said to me ‘I need you to be a priest.’
“I felt a bit idiotic because I had just spent six months persuading my parents to let me be an actor.”
Later his brother, who had been with him, asked what had happened, telling him: “We had to go, there was somebody else in the room and we had to go.’”
“That gave the episode an objectivity,” said Bishop Jonathan. “I have never doubted God’s existence and I have never doubted that he wants me to do this.”
Bishop Jonathan’s wife, Rebecca, has also been deeply involved in west Norfolk. A community palliative care nurse, she helped set up the Tapping House hospice at home scheme to provide care in people’s own homes towards the end of their lives.
When Bishop Jonathan released a fundraising album of 1960s hits it raised money for the Tapping House appeal to set up its Hillington hospice, and for the restoration of St Nicholas Chapel in Lynn.
The couple have three children and three grandchildren. Their son has just been ordained as priest, continuing a family tradition stretching back at least as far as two of Bishop Jonathan’s great grandfathers. He writes hymns too, including the hymn Go Forth – Make People Mine which is often sung at ordinations in the diocese.
His ministry has also included three years in Barbados, and in Norfolk he has responsibility for links with the church in Papua New Guinea, loving the experience of a different way of expressing the Christian faith. He treasures gifts from Papua New Guinea including an elaborate cross made of shells, coral, berries and fearsome-looking wild pigs’ teeth.
This Christmas Bishop Jonathan will be taking a Christmas Eve carol service at Norwich Prison (“Most years I go to prison on Christmas Day!”) midnight mass at Little Dunham and then the Christmas morning service at Aylsham.
The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham Usher, said: “Bishop Jonathan has served the diocese of Norwich with much energy, wisdom and dedication, together with his own unique and joyous style.”
There will be two farewell services, at Lynn Minster on Sunday, January 17 and at Norwich Cathedral on Sunday, January 24. Both must be booked, and will be streamed for people unable to attend in person.
Favourite hymn: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
Favourite pop song: Words by The Bee Gees
Favourite fairground ride: Dodgems
Favourite Norfolk churches: “The ones that I love are the ones that speak of simplicity and holiness. That sometimes goes hand in hand with grandeur like at Lynn’s Minster and St Nicholas Chapel and Salle, near Reepham. But Worthing near North Elmham has a holiness about it too, and Thurning, near Holt, with its box pews and three tier pulpit.”
A CHRISTMAS MESSAGE FROM THE BISHOP OF LYNN
“It feels as though we have been spending weeks and weeks agonising about how fully we are going to be able to celebrate Christmas this year. And of course it matters that we do. For me, there are two distinct elements: spending time with our families and those we love, relaxing together in warmth and shared table fellowship, sharing presents and catching up on our lives; and doing these things in the context of remembering, reliving and rejoicing in the birth of Christ – the gift of God to the world of Himself, in vulnerability, simplicity and the joy of new life.
Writing this in advance makes it difficult to be sure of how much of this we are able to do in the normal way of Christmas. But however, much or little, we can do this year, the gift of God in Jesus’ birth remains constant, reminding us that in all the particular agonies, difficulties and lonely moments we face individually, the offering and sharing of love is as real as ever, and still has the power to bring us peace. Christmas, however many we share it with in person, still brings with it the hope of a deeper joy than we’ve known before, and a heart-warming comfort that can light us through these months of desolate darkness.”