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Tributes paid to Bishop Christopher as he steps down
IT was the end of an era. As Bishop Christopher handed over his crozier and processed to the west door of our cathedral, it marked the end of his time as Bishop of Portsmouth.
He gripped the hand of his wife Sally as the whole congregation rose to applaud, thanking him for a decade of faithful service to our diocese and our community. It came at the end of a moving Choral Evensong, which included tributes to his caring, thoughtful ministry and some of the music that has been important to him in more than 40 years of ordained ministry.
It also included the world premiere of a piece by contemporary US composer Nico Muhly, which was specially commissioned and written for the moment when Bishop Christopher handed over his crozier, to be placed on the altar at the west end of our cathedral. Because the then lay chair of Diocesan Synod Lucy Docherty had passed the crozier to him at his installation service in 2010, he chose to pass it to the current lay chair Debbie Sutton, who then laid it onto the cathedral altar.
Bishop Christopher has retired at the same time as his wife the Rev Sally Davenport retired as team rector of Holy Trinity and St Columba Church, Fareham. They will now move to start a new chapter of their lives in Somerset.
Civic, military, church and community representatives were among the limited congregation physically present in the cathedral, while hundreds of others watched the live-stream at home. The Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire Nigel Atkinson; the First Sea Lord Admiral Tony Radakin; three of the area’s MPs, Stephen Morgan, Penny Mordaunt and Flick Drummond; the Roman Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Rev Philip Egan; the Chief Constable of Hampshire, Olivia Pinkney, and the vice-chancellor of the University of Portsmouth Graham Galbraith were among the invited guests.
Also among the guests were Aamir and Sana and their children, who had fled persecution in Pakistan to seek asylum in the UK. Bishop Christopher and Sally have befriended them over the past few years, and the bishop was pleased to announce during this service that they’ve recently been given permission to remain here.
The service included an anthem sung at Bishop Christopher’s institution as vicar at Christ Church, Southgate in 1986, a Magnificat that reflected his time as sub-dean at St Albans Abbey, and his favourite hymn There’s a wideness in God’s mercy. That reflected the words of Bishop Christopher’s final sermon from the pulpit of our cathedral.
In his sermon, he said: “Throughout Jesus’s ministry, there was space for the unlikeliest, the least attractive, those of no reputation, those with questions and hesitations, those who are ill, the ostracised, and the disliked or hated. There is space for all in the kingdom which Jesus comes to proclaim and herald. There is a wideness in God's mercy and so there must be in the Church.
“It is the calling of this bishop to make space in the Church for the richest and fullest variety of Christian expression and worship, to enable the thriving of all, from birth to old age, to have time and room in our hearts for the people, groups and institutions of the communities we serve.
“We are called to be spacious Christians, giving opportunity to outsiders rather than insiders, young more than older, black more than white, gay more than straight, women more than men, refugees and asylum seekers more than those settled and comfortable, those whose learning or health is impaired or thwarted rather than the educated and well-to-do – not because they are more precious in God’s sight, but because there are very many who we, the Church, continue to treat as different. We make God’s love too narrow by limits of our own, and we must not.”
You can download his full sermon from here.
Watch the entire service here:
Tributes to Bishop Christopher
Tributes were then paid to Bishop Christopher. Canon Terry Louden, our former chairman of our Inter-Diocesan West Africa Link (IDWAL), read out a tribute from Bishop Matthias Mededues-Badohu, Bishop of Ho. He is the most senior of the bishops in Ghana, which our diocese is linked to via IDWAL. Bishop Matthias recalled Bishop Christopher's three visits to Ghana with affection.
He said: “You sat down with our bishops and heard their stories, full of dreams, successes, disappointments and failures. You were a pastoral figure to us during those visits. Some of us cannot stop thanking you for your personal and generous financial support, offered to us in times of health crisis, in addition to finding time to visit us in hospitals and vicarages in the UK after surgery.
“For all the sacrifices you made to keep the flames of the link burning, it is with much pain that none of us can be there personally to express our gratitude for your love for the Church in Ghana and for us personally. Many of us will uphold you both in our prayers at our altars today and in the days to come.”
The vice-chancellor of the University of Portsmouth, Professor Graham Galbraith, also thanked Christopher and Sally for their personal friendship during their time together at both the University of Hertford and the University of Portsmouth.
“His role as a governor at the University of Portsmouth has been marked by his practical wisdom as an economist, but also by his astute contributions to vital decisions,” he said. “When Chris speaks, people listen, knowing that his voice represents and reflects the role of caring but impartial reason and that there is no hint of ego about any of his contributions.”
And the Ven Peter Leonard, Archdeacon of the Isle of Wight, said: “It is abundantly clear that Bishop Christopher loves and prays for his flock. We have heard much about his pastoral gifts and his care for the people of this diocese. I cannot recall ever having a bishop or a priest who I have known or who knew me as well as Bishop Christopher.
“The centrality of worshipping with his flock has been the backbone of his ministry, here in the cathedral but also in every parish and church, Sunday by Sunday. The easy, welcoming and deeply spiritual way in which the bishop carries out baptism and confirmation services have made them deeply significant and profound events in many people’s lives. His ability to take an interest in people's stories and make time for them has demonstrated the love and interest that Christ has in every single one of those candidates.
“Bishop Christopher’s ability to connect with a wide range of people across age ranges, worship styles, different approaches to theology and Scripture has meant that he has held together this diocese through some challenging periods, not least the last 12 months. It is characteristic that he hasn’t slowed down during these last months with us, but has led on a significant transformation project to ensure that the future of the diocese, both missionally and financially, is a positive one.
“Christopher, you have always been clear that this is never ‘my cathedral’, but always ‘our cathedral’. You have not been ‘the bishop’, you have been our bishop. Thank you for what you have brought and who you are.”
In his response, Bishop Christopher paid tribute to colleagues past and present, leaders of our communities, those in the Church of England and wider Anglican Church, his family and particularly his wife Sally.
“Richard and Miriam’s extraordinary gifts and commitment, their generosity and grace owe more to their loved and loving mother Julia than to me,” he said. “Through them, her huge contribution to my life and ministry lives on. Sally and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary a couple of days ago. As well as undertaking a significant ministry as rector of Holy Trinity with St Columba, Sally has been for me the epitome of discretion, judgement and confidentiality. Her support has been invaluable.
“There is much I leave undone and still to do. Where I have failed you or fallen short, I am sorry. Where we have grown in depth, impact and number, let’s rejoice. Thank you all for helping me as we have tried together to build that kingdom, and the coming of that kingdom is my deepest hope and prayer.
“We are proud to be Portsmouth, I am proud to have been Portsmouth with you, but prouder still to have been your fellow disciples. Thank you.”
The day had started with a tribute from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, who spoke at General Synod. He said: “As well as being very diligent, he is well known for his pastoral care. One example is the way he has been deeply committed visiting to the Isle of Wight, which has involved spending a phenomenal amount of time on the fast cat, hovercraft and ferries.
“He was the complete expert at working every occasion, whether with 1,000 pupils at the island’s church secondary school, or at any number of small village schools or parish celebrations. Chris and Sally are also famous and much-loved for their hospitality. One sign of it is that they have four dishwashers, but only one kitchen.
“He has led with distinction in the House of Lords, on behalf of the bishops and archbishops, on economic affairs and defence. And he has co-chaired the English and Welsh Anglican and Roman Catholic committee, with his usual care and diligence. This springs from a deep concern for unity and ensuring the voice of the Church of England is heard loud and clear.
“Most recently in the diocese, Chris has been remarkable in leading new ways of bringing churches together and facing the diocese with the challenges of decline in congregational numbers and the nature of society. I’m extremely supportive of all Chris has done in this regard. I believe the diocese and wider Church owes him a debt of gratitude for truly seeking to pioneer extremely complicated matters relating to pastoral reorganisation. It was imaginative and radical.”
Bishop Christopher had delayed his retirement to lead the Diocese of Portsmouth through the Covid pandemic. The process to find his successor has already begun, with meetings of the Crown Nominations Commission, chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury, expected to identify suitable candidates for the post this summer.
While that happens, the Area Bishop of Edmonton will help to lead the Diocese of Portsmouth in the interim. The Rt Rev Rob Wickham, will be the ‘commissary bishop’ for the diocese, which is one of only two in the Church of England to have no suffragan (assistant) bishop.
Bishop’s life and ministry
Christopher Foster grew up in the industrial West Midlands and in Surrey before studying economics at Durham and Manchester Universities and briefly working as an economics lecturer.
He was ordained in 1980, served as a curate in Wolverhampton, and as chaplain of Wadham College, Oxford. He became vicar of Christ Church, Southgate, in London, in 1986 and then worked on the staff of St Albans Cathedral from 1994.
He was consecrated as Bishop of Hertford in 2001, one of two suffragan (assistant) bishops in the Diocese of St Albans. He married Sally, who is also ordained, in 2006 following the death of his first wife, Julia, in 2001. He has two grown-up children, Richard and Miriam, who were with him for his farewell service. He became the ninth Bishop of Portsmouth in September 2010, succeeding the Rt Rev Dr Kenneth Stevenson.