THE Bishop of Oxford announced his retirement yesterday to spend more time with his family after 42 years serving the Church.
The Rt Rev John Pritchard will stand down on October 31 but said that after seven years in the role he believed he was leaving the diocese “in good heart”.
Last night tributes were beginning to be paid to the 65-year-old’s tenure as he outlined plans to retire to Richmond in north Yorkshire with his wife, Wendy.
Bishop John said: “This has been a hugely difficult decision to make, but I believe it is time for a new chapter.
“I do this with very mixed feelings, inevitably. The truth is there’s never a good time to go. But I feel that the diocese is in good heart.”
He added that he wanted to spend more time with his family: “I’ve been ordained now for 42 years and have been going at a fair pace for pretty well all of that time.
“It seems only fair to Wendy and the family to give more time to them and to a slower pace of ministry.”
In a letter to the Diocese, Bishop John praised the Living Faith programme, which saw the Diocese of Oxford focus on a different religious principle each year for five years from 2010.
He said: “Our Living Faith vision is well embedded and has proved to be an effective framework, ready to be reworked for a new phase.
“The diocese is packed full of fine clergy and wonderful lay people, and the mission is going forward imaginatively and energetically in our parishes, benefices and schools.”
He added: “There will be plenty of time for goodbyes, but for now I just want to say what a great privilege it has been to serve the Diocese of Oxford. I shall be working with full commitment through to the end of October.”
Canon Brian Mountford, vicar of University Church of St Mary the Virgin, said the announcement was as a shock.
He said: “It was a surprise. I’m 68, older than he is, and I’m not planning to retire for a few years. He was an extremely good bishop. He was supportive of the diocese in a very positive and compassionate way.
“He was very humane, kind and affirming of everybody in the church. He helped people make things happen and feel confident that the church was still relevant in modern life.”
Rev Dr Mark Butchers, the Area Dean of Oxford, said: “He has been an excellent bishop. Very caring, very pastoral, and with a great vision for the diocese. He is liked by people from all different areas of the Church. He is going to be greatly missed.
“He has left behind a strong team of leaders, so hopefully we will continue without too much of a hiccup.”
Throughout his tenure, Bishop John has worked with the homeless charity Oxford Homeless Pathways.
Chief executive Lesley Dewhurst said: “I’m really sad to see him go. He was very helpful and very involved, he definitely took forward the work that Bishop Harries started.
“I hope his successor will be as kind and as interested in the poor and the homeless.”
It is not yet known when Bishop John’s replacement will be chosen.
The Crown Nominations Commission, which is made up of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and other representatives elected by the General Synod, will choose the next Bishop based on recommendations and what the diocese needs.
Before the bishop can take up their position, they must be nominated by the Queen.
Diocese spokeswoman Sarah Meyrick said the next Bishop of Oxford could be a woman: “In theory, if all the legislation goes through as expected, it is possible we could have a woman as a bishop.”
Rt Rev Colin Fletcher, the Bishop of Dorchester, will become acting-Diocesan as of November 1.
WHAT BISHOP JOHN HAS ACHIEVED IN TENURE
SINCE he took up the post in 2007, Bishop John has not shied away from controversial issues.
In 2008, he received death threats after saying Muslims in Oxford should be able to broadcast thecall to worship from a mosque loudspeaker.
In 2011 he sparked debate when, as chairman of the Church of England’s Board of Education, he said that church schools should be more about the community than religion.
He called for church schools to “serve the wider community”, and said they should reserve just one in ten places for church-going Christians.
As well as supporting the homeless in Oxford, he publicly criticised £1.5m cuts to housing-related
support by being one of 17 leading figures to sign an open letter to Oxfordshire County Council.
Last year he welcomed the news that women were allowed to become bishops.
But he has not been so outspoken about gay marriage becoming legal, keeping his views neutral.
He told the Oxford Mail: “I want to celebrate with those who are taking the opportunity to mark their love and commitment to each other as a result of the new legislation. However, the Church still has to think through the implications of such a significant change . . . and this will take time.”
HISTORY OF POST
THE Bishop of Oxford is the most senior bishop in the diocese, which covers Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.
The Diocese of Oxford has had a bishop since the 16th century, when the area’s diocese was created by Henry VIII in 1542. The first Bishop of Oxford was Robert King, who was the Abbot of Osney.
Until the 20th century, the Bishop of Oxford held the position for life. Today, bishops have to retire when they reach 70.