Lancashire welcomes the Right Reverend Julian Henderson, the new Bishop of Blackburn

The new Bishop stands with clergy and civic dignitaries at the West Door after the service

The new Bishop stands with clergy and civic dignitaries at the West Door after the service - Credit: Archant

If you’re a member of the CofE in Lancashire and haven’t yet seen the new Bishop of Blackburn, chances are you soon will, writes Martin Pilkington

The clergy procession enters the cathedral

The clergy procession enters the cathedral - Credit: Archant

Some people find moving to a strange region to start a new job a challenge. Others throw themselves into work. It looks very much like the Right Reverend Julian Henderson falls in the latter camp.

Between his consecration at York Minster on October 10th last year and his inauguration in Blackburn Cathedral nine days later, Julian Henderson held prayer vigils at a host of churches across the diocese stretching from Burnley to Blackpool, Chorley to Carnforth. This year he plans three-day visits to all 14 deaneries under his authority.

‘The Archbishop of York at my consecration said: “You are to know your people and be known by them”, so there’s a real sense that I need to get out and about,’ he confirms.

Bishop Julian was previously Archdeacon of Dorking. He readily acknowledges his Southern roots, joking that research for the new role included reading Road to Nab End and Mrs Gaskell’s North and South. ‘I did ask the Archbishop of York if was it really fair that Lancashire got someone from the south to be their bishop, and he said to me “Julian, others of us have moved further north.”’ John Sentamu has, of course, crossed continents to be the Archbishop of York

But Bishop Julian’s wife, Heather, may have had better preparation. She grew up in the exotic surroundings East Malaysia, the daughter of a well-known missionary couple. Among their flock was a tribe of head-hunters, which must have made quite an impression on a young woman in a strange land. It’s something her husband is unlikely to find in the red rose county.

The transition so far, however, has been largely painless, though their son and daughter who both work in South London are now five hours rather than 30 minutes distant. ‘People have been very welcoming and warm and friendly,’ says Bishop Julian. ‘It takes a lot longer to get through a checkout here than it did down in Surrey!’

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Heather left a job as an education advisor in Guildford when they moved. ‘I’m deliberately waiting to see how things pan out,’ she explains. ‘I may well get involved in education again, but I have started to work with an organisation called Christians Against Poverty that has a branch in Blackburn helping, for example, people trapped in debt.’

The new home that comes with the job is an imposing house in Clayton-le-Dale, though with the Bishop’s office attached it’s a mixed blessing. ‘So much happens here, this is a working house,’ says Heather. ‘Hospitality is a good Christian principle and we have already started that. We want it to be a place that can be made practical use of, for the good of the diocese and for God’s work in this area.’

Given the demographics of the diocese that hospitality has already extended beyond those of their own faith. ‘We had a supper here last week, six Muslim leaders from the area joined us for a meal,’ says Bishop Julian. ‘I’m one who doesn’t just want to talk, so we actually tried to find some action we could take together, things we’re now trying to do as an Anglican-Muslim forum.’

Last October’s whirlwind tour of 54 locations in six days gave them a snapshot of the diocese. ‘There are a lot of huge churches, a wonderful rich building heritage that reflects on the Christian heritage of the country,’ says the Bishop. ‘I went to one church in Pilling with no electricity, a great crowd of people gathered to pray with us. It was charming, and to think that Christians have met in these places, prayed there for so many years, is amazing.’

As keen walkers they have enjoyed their first months in Lancashire, and that hobby giving them another insight into the local geography – and climate. ‘We have our waterproofs for that!’ says the Bishop. ‘But it’s a wonderful area for walking. It’s a diverse and interesting with seaside from Fleetwood down to St Annes, forests, the wild fells of Bowland, the Ribble Valley... so a lovely mix of all sorts of places.’

Along with such positives there are plenty of negatives. ‘There are considerable challenges, not least the pockets of deprivation and poverty in Lancashire’s industrial towns,’ he notes. ‘It’s a sad thing that we need food banks in our times, but a sign too of the type of society and country we are that people rally round for a struggling section of our community.’

Heather stresses they’ve also seen that the countryside has its problems with poverty, something a diocesan rural focus group is helping to tackle.

Of course the Bishop also has a wider role to play. Sometime soon he may have to fill a seat on the Bishops’ bench in the Lords. ‘That will be another platform to raise issues that I come across in this community,’ he says. ‘But I don’t want to spend too much time running up to London, there are important things to do here.’

One national issue that he has to be involved with is women Bishops. ‘The principle was decided many years ago, the issue we’re trying to resolve is how that should happen. I’ve always said I’m in favour of women Bishops, and also at the same time wanted to find a way that those who can’t accept that aren’t marginalised, so I made a very difficult decision in November 2012 to vote against the legislation proposed then.’ He hopes, however, that changes made since could mean approval as early as this July.

Before then he has had to oversee a major national event in the diocese - for the first time ever the Queen handed out Maundy Money in Blackburn Cathedral. Welcome to the new job, no pressure.