Diocese says farewell to Bishop Helen-Ann as she heads for Newcastle

The Diocese bade a fond farewell to the Rt Revd Dr Helen-Ann Hartley at a special evensong service at Ripon Cathedral.

She has now left her suffragan role of five years as the Bishop of Ripon to take up a new challenge as the diocesan Bishop of Newcastle and after thanking Bishop Nick Baines and clergy colleagues for their support, she paid tribute to to the people of the Ripon Episcopal Area.

"I have often felt most affirmed in my role as Bishop of Ripon by people and groups who are not part of the formal structures of the Church, and for whose support and encouragement I will be forever grateful: by our civic and military partners, those who work in the rural and farming economies and the running community," Bishop Helen-Ann said in her sermon.

She also praised the Ripon Runners, of which she was a member, for giving her mental and physical challenges, such as once having to define "evil" while running up a hill to Ripon's Morrisons supermarket.

Alluding to how she managed to talk and run at the same time, she revealed: "Small steps are what you need."

She said the same tactic was needed when it came to assuring a healthy future for the church in challenging times: "Vision and strategy enthusiasts, please take note," she added.

Prayers were led by Revd Penny Yeadon, Area Dean Wensley Deanery and Bob Mathews, Assistant Warden of Reader for the Ripon Episcopal Area and Lay Chair of Wensley Deanery.

After Bishop Helen-Ann had removed her diocesan cope, stole and mitre and placed them on the altar in a symbolic act of standing down from her role, Bishop Nick said how she had been a blessing to the diocese in the five years since she arrived at Ripon Cathedral from New Zealand, accompanied at that service by a group of Maori elders.

He said one of the gifts of our large diocese is its team of bishops and archdeacons working together to support each other and how as the Bishop of Newcastle, Bishop Helen-Ann woulld be working much more on her own.

"Let us continue to pray for Bishop Helen-Ann and her husband Myles and pray that they will thrive and build new friendships with colleagues in Newcastle," Bishop Nick said, before presenting them with a framed aerial view of Fountains Abbey as a parting gift.

Bishop Helen-Ann's farewell sermon may be read in full below:

Well, the results are in, the votes have been counted and verified, and the analysis of my 2022 Spotify listening habits has classified me as ‘The Deep diver’. 

My morning listening is described with the words: joyful joy courageous

Daytime listening with the words: appreciation fancy intense

and in the evening: bold proud preppy;

Thus characterising the average flow of the episcopal day, mapped against meetings, phone calls, catch-ups with Judith my magnificent PA, or driving home from Leeds city centre after an evening meeting at Church House where navigating the complex one-way road system demands a bold proud and preppy approach.

And…Dr Krippner please cover your ears…: my most listened-to song in 2022? …(drum roll please)…

Starlight by Westlife; closely followed by…Green light by New Zealand singer Lorde. 

There’s a bit of a theme here, clearly.  We are still in the season of starlight with Christmas and Epiphany in the rear-view mirror and ahead of us, the feast of Candlemas.  5 years ago, on the feast of Epiphany we arrived in Ripon, and so it seems appropriate then that this theme of divine light has come full-circle as I prepare to take up my new role in the Church of England’s most northerly diocese, with a city whose football team are currently 3 places above Liverpool in the Premier League (just saying…).  If you know me well you will be aware that I have often resisted complicity with football banter in meetings (preferring instead to through in comments about netball [which is a far more interesting and much faster paced sport] or indeed my beloved running (more on that later), but now I am upgrading to Newcastle it seems I have a responsibility to engage in some comment at least about the whys and wherefores of the so-called ‘beautiful game’.

Our readings this afternoon shine a light on the often complex and challenging relationships that people have with God: Ezekiel, the prophet is asked by God to literally ‘eat his words’ in a culinary scenario that maybe only gourmet-magician-chef Heston Blumenthal might be able to manufacture?  I’d love to see it on the menu of The Fat Duck in Bray, perhaps.  One commentator describes Ezekiel as ‘a tantalizing combination of obscurity and clarity…via a series of weird visions and grotesque metaphors’ (just in case you listened to that first reading and wondered what on earth was going on!).  Ezekiel is a prophet of the exile, and is charged with articulating a voice of alarm in the midst of displacement and chaos.  But here’s the thing: from Ezekiel we get a clear sense of each person’s merit being determined by their current actions; what a person has done in the past does not rule them out of relationship with God.  This is precisely the sort of reading that could have encouraged the vocation of the author of our second reading, the Apostle Paul.  Paul lays bare his past wrongdoings, but is able with God’s grace and mercy to look beyond this to his new life in Christ.

Famously blinded by the light of Jesus’ resurrection appearance on the Damascus Road, here Paul lays out his credentials to the community in Galatia, a community Paul had previously evangelised but who now due to their having been distracted with another Gospel, was not especially enamoured with (he calls them ‘foolish’ at one point in his letter, and completely dispenses with the formalities of greeting).  Paul is a man on a mission, literally, and while laying bear his own vulnerabilities he enables his life to be a living witness to the reality that God takes the worst of decisions and transforms them into something new).  In other words, God does mess and complexity and confusion and failure and presents them in the resurrected beauty and glory of Jesus Christ.  This is not an arrogant triumph, rather it is the message of realistic hope that Christians seek to proclaim. This is the good news for each and every person, as rich and as relevant today, even a bit counter-cultural as it ever has been.  And it does mean that the Church has to be always prepared to get ‘out there’ in its proclamation, rather more so than resting on the laurels of the grandeur of buildings like this, with all due respect of course to the heritage of the saints whose foundations ground us in centuries of prayer and faithfulness to God. 

On a personal note, I have been grateful for the many people who have supported and encouraged me in my role in this diocese (far too many to mention here).  You might recall when I was welcomed into the diocese, my two Māori friends Chris and Ngira said ‘please look after her otherwise we will come and take her back’ (!).  Thankfully for the most part that hasn’t been necessary!  It is true however, that I have often felt most affirmed in my role as Bishop of Ripon by people and groups who are not part of the formal structures of the Church, and for whose support and encouragement I will be forever grateful: by our civic and military partners, those who work in the rural and farming economies, and I cannot omit from this list the running community.  I will never forget trying to explain the problem of evil to a fellow runner who had asked me a question about this, whilst running up the hill to Morrisons during a Tuesday evening Ripon Runners club-night run (just think about it, have you ever tried having such a conversation running on the flat never mind up a steady hill?!); a couple of dozen head-torches bobbing up and down, another form of light leading the way and illuminating the path ahead.  Attempting theological discourse whilst running is definitely not in the manual of ‘how to be a bishop’ (there is no manual by the way, just in case you were wondering!), but I have learnt a lot about breathing, pace and endurance because of it.  When running up a hill, small steps are what you need.  Vision and strategy enthusiasts please take note!


Ezekiel and Paul were both charged with vocations to lead through change, with themes of sustainability, viability and dare I say particularly with Paul, issues of inclusion and diversity very much in mind, which is I think precisely where the Church of England finds itself at this time, along with practically every other charity, institution, and organisation I know of.  At the Oxford Farming Conference earlier in the month, the author of the book Fieldwork, Bella Bathurst was interviewed by our regional NFU director Adam Bedford.  In her book, Bathurst devotes a chapter to ‘Succession’, and describes a meeting in a village hall one evening about just that challenge: ‘half an hour later’ (Bathurst writes), ‘everyone is seated at a table arranged in a horseshoe shape near the stage.  At the front there’s a woman standing by a whiteboard with a marker in her hand…as she explains, she meets farmers who are the brink of selling up/divorcing/shooting themselves/shooting each other, sits them down in a neutral space and gets them to talk about things they don’t ever talk about’.  Sounds not unlike some parish vacancy meetings I have been in with the Archdeacon!  Ezekiel, Paul, the diocese of Leeds, surely too the diocese of Newcastle all face critical questions about the future.  Yet this is where the starlight comes full circle, and ultimately leads us home, to our destination.  Not to some place of privilege and power, but to the infant Christ and his earthly family, to a child filled with potential, who shows us all the hope that lies beyond death in the resurrection. 


May that light continue to guide us in hope and promise, with gratitude, joy and thanksgiving for all that has been, and a great big ‘yes’ to all that will be.






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