He radiates everything that a prince of the Church ought. There’s a certain solemnity; a spiritual authenticity caped in holy gravitas. He exudes authority, grace and peace, like the Anglicanism in memory and hope. After two decades of humble service and godly flourishing, the Rt Rev’d and Rt Hon Richard Chartres has retired as Bishop of London. Like Hamlet’s father, there’s a feeling that we shall not look upon his like again. Perhaps Richard Hooker was wrong: loosely, through silence, we are permitting things to pass away, as in a dream.
“What the Church has to offer is not an ideology or a mere critique but a community in which the Spirit of Jesus Christ dwells,” he said in his final sermon in St Paul’s Cathedral. “In a market place of strident salesmen of warring ideologies we seek not to add to the din but to build relationships that endure and give meaning to life.” And he gave meaning to many thousands of lives, always respectful of our Anglican heritage, our traditions, our unique intuitions and divinations. He never idealised or romanticised the Church: Jesus isn’t remote, but with us. “The kingdom of God is the great existing reality to renew the earth,” he once told fledgling priests. “The church needs to recapture the kingdom not in metaphor or allegory but in real profound tangible reality. Dust, dirt, bricks and mortar, sweat and blood reality.”
Bishop Richard of London enriched human souls with treasures from the past: in his presence, you could believe that the Apostles had indeed laid their hands on his shoulders and set him apart. He was continuity, unity, reconciliation and mission. To listen to him was to rediscover the free, unmerited grace of God in Jesus Christ, again and again. While some priests dream and a few bishops sow tares, Richard Chartres saw what was to be seen, and patiently picked up the grains of wheat, lovingly, one by one.
Perhaps he was the Anglican luminary of his generation: he certainly echoed the forebodings of the most gifted and perceptive of Anglican divines. He seemed ripe for Canterbury, but the present age prefers a fictitious discernment. Others can write of all his good, though no doubt the chatter will be more about his evil. But in the principal accounts of the decay of religion in this nation, the name of Richard Chartres will be observed as one who stood, ordered, crafted and built. In despair and through darkness, he pastored and exhorted. In decline and through derision, he prayed and nourished. The hungers of pluralism, humanism and secularism were not enemies, but opportunities. And he fed the multitudes with the bread of life.
Thank you, Bishop Richard, for sustaining the national mission. Your vision, courage and energy have been a blessing to princes and prime ministers, but your heart was always with ordinary individuals, households and communities. You magnified London with your presence, and sanctified England with your office. May God richly bless you, and hasten to find you another platform by which you might continue to serve the Church, confront the culture, and enrich civil society.