What it's like to be a Bishop: It’s a time to celebrate life this Easter
Being the Bishop of Dudley is ‘an immense privilege’ for the Rt Rev Graham Usher.
“There are not many jobs where every day is different and you can ask to see different aspects of business and community life and get a warm welcome,” he tells Weekend.
Four years ago, Bishop Graham moved to the Black Country from Northumberland where he had been rector and lecturer of Hexham Abbey since 2004.
“There is a warmth to people in the Black Country, there is a hard-working grittiness to them and there is great pride in the past,” says the 47-year-old, who was ordained in 1996.
Within the Diocese of Worcester, and along with the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, he is responsible for the care of the clergy, licensing and instituting priests, and conducting confirmations, ordinations and pastoral visitations.
“There is always variety, no one day or week is ever the same. Every day is different but every day starts in the same way and that is with saying prayers. The role of a bishop is very much rooted in prayer.
“I pray for the different people and places I am going to be visiting that day as well as particular situations or places in the world that concern me.
“The end of the day finishes how it began with prayers. I like to reflect on the day and ask myself what’s gone well, what’s not gone so well and who I am going to commend to God’s care while I sleep,” explains the father of two, who lives in Cradley Heath.
There have been many memorable moments for him since he took up his position in 2014 when he became the youngest bishop in the country.
“My consecration at St Paul’s Cathedral with the Archbishop of Canterbury was an incredible start to be being Bishop of Dudley.
“I also organised for the Archbishop of Canterbury to visit Dudley College where he was in conversation with Malala Yousafzai [the Nobel peace prize winner who was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan], and that was a most remarkable experience.
“It was fantastic to see Dudley College full of young people listening to this remarkable young woman and a great example of how different faiths can live in harmony.
“At the start of my time in Dudley, there were three ugly marches by the EDL and other groups and I’m very glad that has stopped.
“Dudley is a remarkable town of people living in harmony, where there is tolerance and cohesion and people of different faiths and backgrounds are working together to build up their communities for the good of everyone. I’m proud of that,” says Bishop Graham.
“For me there are the big occasions and events that are memorable but there are also the encounters with different people I meet that are memorable, the one to one moments.
“The other day I took communion to one of our clergy who has been poorly and anointed him and his wife with the fresh oil of healing. It was a huge privilege to hear his renewal of commitment to ministry,” he adds.
Due to the size of the Diocese, which covers an area of 671 square miles and has parishes Worcestershire and Dudley as well as south east Wolverhampton, Sandwell and northern Gloucestershire, it can involve a lot of travelling.
“I often feel like the Bishop to the M5,” jokes Bishop Graham.
Bishop Graham is one of the Church of England’s environmental bishops and in 2016 was appointed as an Authority Member to the Human Tissue Authority by the Secretary of State for Health.
For Lent he decided to set himself a challenge to use less plastic which he has been documenting on Twitter and says had been more difficult than he first expected.
“It wasn’t until I started doing it that I realised how much plastic is out there, it’s everywhere and hard to avoid,” says Bishop Graham.
He has made many changes like using a re-usable coffee cup rather than relying on disposable ones, but says there some things that he is still not prepared to give up.
“I swapped my plastic toothbrush for a bamboo one but it has plastic bristles because I’ve heard the wild boar bristles give you bad breath. I’m still using dog poo bags – I have two spaniels so they are essential,” he tells us.
And as you would expect Holy Week and Easter is a busy time for the Bishop.
On Monday, he attended the Chrism Eucharist at Worcester Cathedral where clergy from across the Diocese of Worcester gathered for the blessing of oils and to reaffirm their ministry. The oils are distributed to all the parishes and used in baptism, confirmation, ordination and last rights.
On Friday, he marked Good Friday with prisoners at HMP Hewell near Redditch where they walked the Stations of the Cross – a devotional exercise commemorating the death and resurrection of Jesus.
“It’s a very moving experience and I gave them an Easter cross made from olive wood in Bethlehem to take back to their cells.
“Prisoners are by themselves in their cells for a long time so holding their cross can give them reassurance,” explains Bishop Graham.
Tomorrow, he will be joining a congregation that meets at a school in Worcestershire for their Easter Sunday service.
The Bishop says Easter is a time to reflect, be thankful and celebrate the joy in life.
“It was women who went to the tomb of Jesus on Easter Sunday and found it empty. They were filled with fear and amazement. It strikes me that life is both filled with terror and amazement. The horrendous use of nerve agent in Salisbury was to terrorise us and many people live with terror in their lives.
“But we can also live in amazement, amazement at the care shown to strangers, the love of a life partner and at nature coming into flower,” he says.
“The message at Easter is that although there is terror and amazement, amazement wins and that’s why we have hope in the future.”