THE Bishop of Durham, Dr Tom Wright, has announced his retirement. Dr Wright, who was ordained in the post in 2003, yesterday described the move as “the hardest decision of his life”.
During his seven-year career in the North East, Morpeth-born the Rt Rev Wright has courted controversy with his outspoken views on issues such as human embryo research, the Iraq war, gay marriage and best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code.
He is leaving his position, one of the most important in the Church of England, to return to the academic world as Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St Andrews, Scotland.
“This has been the hardest decision of my life,” said the 61-year-old.
“It has been an indescribable privilege to be Bishop of the ancient Diocese of Durham, to take part in the work of God’s kingdom here in the North East, and to represent the region and its churches.
“I have loved the people, the place, the heritage and the work.
“But my continuing vocation to be a writer, teacher and broadcaster, for the benefit (I hope) of the wider world and church, has been increasingly difficult to combine with the complex demands and duties of a diocesan bishop.
“I am very sad about this, but the choice has become increasingly clear.”
The Rt Rev Wright, a life-long Newcastle United fan, was brought up in Morpeth before moving on to Sedbergh School in Cumbria and then Oxford University.
His father owned local timber firm G&N Wright. Several members of his mother’s family were clergy and he says he wanted to be a man of the cloth from the age of seven. At Oxford University, he met Maggie, his wife of almost 40 years. Appropriately enough their eyes met as they sang hymns in the university’s Christian Union. The couple have four grown-up children, including Julian Wright, director of the Durham Singers, and three grandchildren.
As Bishop of Durham, Dr Wright has been outspoken on crises facing the church and the country as a whole.
He publicly criticised embryo research and warned clergy could face disciplinary action from the church for taking part in gay weddings.
He launched a scathing attack on the popular Dan Brown book, The Da Vinci Code, calling it a “tissue of nonsense”.
And he has also spoken out on political issues, including the Iraq war, the MPs expenses scandal, and the Government’s handling of the credit crunch, while leading calls for constitutional reform.
Most recently, he has championed the cause of new underground technology for the clean use of coal from the region’s coalfields.
Among the initiatives the Rt Rev Wright has pioneered in the region is the ‘Big Read’, which saw people across all churches reading the Bible together during Lent. He has developed a close relationship with HMS Bulwark, culminating in a seminar on board which brought together theologians and military personnel to discuss war, peace and faith.
As a writer, he been working on three books – Christian Origins and the Question of God, The New Testament for Everyone and a sequence of studies to introduce the Christian faith, Simply Christian, Surprised by Hope Virtue Reborn. He hopes to finish these works in his new role at the Faculty of Divinity.
Bishop Tom retires on August 31 and Suffragan Bishop Mark Bryant, Bishop of Jarrow, will take his place until a new Bishop is chosen and ordained.