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The Archbishop says farewell to the Lord Bishop of Southwark

Friday 12th February 2010

The Archbishop of Canterbury gave a farewell speech at the General Synod to mark the retirement of the Lord Bishop of Southwark, Rt Revd Dr Tom Butler.

The Archbishop said he deeply values Revd Tom Butler's clarity, forthrightness and commitment, and describes him as "candid, faithful, creative".

A transcript of the Archbishop's speech follows.

think that the warmth and length of the ovation this morning that followed Tom's contribution to an earlier debate tells its own tale. I gather that the same was true at the Diocesan Conference last September at Swanwick.

Tom and Barbara in their search for a landscape reminiscent of Streatham are moving of course to Yorkshire, to the countryside near Wakefield. Where predictably of course you'll find a large number of sheep and a large number of dry stone walls designed to keep them out.

I gather that Tom has already been giving quite a bit of his energy and attention to consolidating the dry stone walls, even to the point of cementing them. Which thing is no doubt a parable. One of the challenges I suspect before any bishop is getting the balance right between dry stone and cement. Certainly with some notion of keeping the sheep in good order.

But what has, I think, come out most clearly in Tom's ministry in Southwick is one word that again and again has crossed my own mental radar in observing his ministry. And that is loyalty. Tom's loyalty to his clergy and his people has been exemplary and it's drawn out passionate loyalty in return.

His colleagues at every level have spoken about this and valued not only the clarity and energy which he's bought to every task he's undertaken. But that sense of absolute commitment to their interests within the broader interest of the kingdom of God.

The dry stone walling business is a reminder of course that Tom's formation has something to do with engineering originally. Though what exactly electronic engineering has to do with dry stone walls may be one of those deep scientific questions which we better try and tease out later on.

Tom's career in this field was already a distinguished one in the early 1960s when he held a doctorate from Leeds University. He was a chartered engineer and a member of The Institute of Electrical Engineers. It was a skill that he was able to put to good use in his time as a lecturer and chaplain at the University of Zambia. In between of course, had come study at what he and I know as the finest theological college in the United Kingdom. Though I am afraid we are both sad examples of the colleges decline given that it was once the proud boast of The College of the Resurrection that it had never produced a single English Diocesan Bishop.

The experience in Zambia was formative for Tom and for Barbara in giving a perspective on mission and on justice questions. On intercultural considerations which has, I think, shaped what both of them have subsequently done for the Church.

And those who have followed what Tom and Barbara have been doing will know the two books 'Just Mission' and 'Just Spirituality in a World of Faiths' which represent their cooperation. Representing also the invaluable and indeed heroic long term work that Barbara has done in the leadership of Christian's Aware.

Tom's time at Zambia was followed by a period as chaplain at Canterbury. And in 1975 I think, he was appointed one of the six preachers at Canterbury Cathedral. It doesn't mean there were only six people in Canterbury who can preach. It's one of those historic anomalies which requires people appointed to this office to preach 20 sermons a year in their own parishes or in a church dependent on the cathedral as well as preaching in the cathedral.

So 100 sermons later, having paid his debt to society, Tom became Archdeacon of Northfield in 1980. And became subsequently Bishop of Willesden in 1985, Bishop of Leicester in 1991 and finally bishop of Southwark in 1998.

I said a little already about Tom as Diocesan Bishop as I've perceived it. And indeed as somebody living within his diocese I have some close hand knowledge of what this feels like. And his grasp of the detail of this vast and complex diocese has always been profoundly impressive. But I do want to flag up also, three deeply significant areas of his national ministry. The first of these is his work in what you might generally call the field of mission and public affairs. Involving regular and extremely creative work in the House of Lords but also the willingness to stand as a representative of the Church of England's consensus on public affairs in many, many complex and difficult areas.

This is something that he's carried through with all that energy and commitment that I have already described. And I suspect that most of us hardly begin to know what a debt we owe to him for the work he has done in that area and the great clarity he has brought to articulating the Church's views on a wide range of subjects - in and out of the Lords, in and out of the corridors of power.

And also, moving onto my second area, in the media. Tom's work on Thought for the Day has been extraordinary, even by the standards of prolific contributors to Thought for the Day. I think Tom almost begs to be in a class on his own. He's been willing to engage with the Today programme on all sorts of subjects and at very short notice.

His programme editor comments that he has always been top of her emergency list if somebody else was taken ill or had cold feet or whatever. And has said that he was always willing to deliver short notice and high pressure, rewriting pieces from scratch if something emerged at the last moment on the news.

And as you'd expect he's been a strong advocate of the Church engaging positively with the media. He chaired the Ecumenical Church's media council for many years. And lest you should think that the dry stone walling and the sheep have won, he will continue to be a regular in this field and we are very glad to hear it.

Tom's time in Leicester exposed him to the reality of a city almost uniquely plural and complex in its faith profile. And that I think has something to do with the fact that the third area in which he has contributed richly to our common life is in interfaith dialogue. He has chaired the interfaith network and although he is not a natural enthusiast for long speeches which do tend to go with interfaith affairs – and I'm told also, he's not an instinctive vegetarian. He has managed the intricacies of this work with some gusto.

His colleagues have valued profoundly all those things which I have said that we value in him. The clarity, the forthrightness, the commitment and of course the openness and friendliness that he has brought to everything that he has done.

Tom we are deeply grateful to you for everything that you have done, for the diocese, for the National Church and indeed for the whole of our society in your outreach to that wide audience that has been given you through the media and in other ways. We are grateful that you've been the person you are; candid, faithful, creative in all these areas. We wish you and Barbara every good thing in your retirement and may God bless you. Thank you.

© Rowan Williams 2010

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