frgavin on September 13th, 2009

At the end of a moving service in a packed cathedral at Rochester, Bishop Michael Nazir Ali, surrounded by his wife and two sons laid the Episcopal Staff of Rochester Diocese on the high altar and prayed:  “Trusting in the loving promises of God the Father, the grace of Jesus Christ and the power and fellowship of the Holy Spirit, I lay down my episcopal staff, sign of the Bishop’s oversight and care of his diocese. Into your hands O Lord I commend my future in faith and hope and the love of Jesus Christ”.

It was an exemplary display of the voluntary laying down of power, ten years before the required age for the retirement of bishops, to enter on a new phase of ministry.

Lord Carey paid this tribute during the service ( not verbatim):

“I want to express my thanks to Bishop Michael for his magnificent ministry as a Diocesan Bishop. But I want to focus on his national and international roles.  Ask the average informed person in England which bishops they can name, and they will probably name two who come from outside these islands – Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Rochester.

They have both touched a nerve with the British public. They ask questions from a much more critical perspective – they are outspoken, brave and controversial.  Michael speaks out of conviction and is not afraid to speak his mind.  This has led him to receive his share of opprobrium and even death threats.  He has also been outspoken in the House of Bishops. His clear mind undergirded by scholarship has also been a great resource to the General Synod.  In the debates on Liturgy I asked Michael to guide us through the complex theological issues. Who can forget the magisterial debate he had with Professor Anthony Thiselton on the translation of the preposition ‘ek.    He was the first to identify problems and with him there was no pulling of punches.

His views on the damage done by The Episcopal Church in consecrating Gene Robinson as a bishop were applauded by many, including me.  Though ignored by urban elites, he earned the right to be a critical friend of Islam. His contribution after 9/11 was invaluable when he put forward a number of ideas to open up dialogue with Muslim scholars.   In 1988 ( for which Michael was study secretary) the Anglican Communion began to take dialogue with Islam seriously – and in his new post following Lambeth as General Secretary of Church Mission Society he was best placed to do that. In his new post he reminded us that dialogue was not an end in itself – and called for reciprocity and the freedom to change beliefs that are denied to so many Christians.

I am sad today because his role as diocesan bishop gave him the freedom to speak out. Yet I know the work and ministry he is now to begin.  I hope the people of Rochester Diocese recognize that they have been served by one of the most important leaders in the church”

By Chris Sugden

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