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Rt Rev Martin Seeley, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich ANL-160713-175921001
Rt Rev Martin Seeley, Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich ANL-160713-175921001

Bishops used to be addressed, with great deference, as My Lord.

If anyone refers to the Rt Rev Martin Seeley in that way he finds it slightly unnerving.

Rt Rev Mike Harrison Bishop of Dunwich ANL-160713-180901001
Rt Rev Mike Harrison Bishop of Dunwich ANL-160713-180901001

“When parishioners call me that I think they’re coming to complain,” says the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.

He’s Bishop Martin, or just Martin, to church members, colleagues and staff.

The 12 months since he was appointed have been spent discovering all he can about the diocese and its people.

He describes his approach as a combination of ignorance and freshness, and says he is learning every step of the way.

His last job was head of a leading theological college, Westcott House in Cambridge.

“My strongest sense of the county is that it is much more diverse than you might think,” he says. But what’s really impressed me is that wherever I go I see parishioners engaging in the community.

“People run coffee mornings, mums and tots clubs, or programmes for those who are on their own.

“We’re the church for people who aren’t ‘church’ as much as those who are.

He has also found church attendance in Suffolk more buoyant than most would expect. “You hear about the decline in numbers, but nearly half the churches in the diocese are growing.

“I’m also seeing recognition that some of the forms of worship we treasure may not connect with youngsters or other sections of the population.

“So we are trying other patterns of worship, which may mean having services during the week, or directly designed for young people, while of course not losing sight of what we do traditionally.”

Home for Martin, his wife Jutta, and children Anna, 15 and Luke, 13, is The Bishops House in Ipswich. Jutta is priest-in-charge of the town’s St Thomas’s Church.

They met when he was vicar of the Isle of Dogs in London, and she was appointed to be his curate.

“Six months after she arrived we realised there was rather more going on,” he says.

But their roles in the parish meant that at first their romance had to stay under wraps.

“We had to keep our relationship completely secret for another six months while we worked out whether it was going to last.

“When we decided we wanted to get married we told our parishioners in September and married the following January.”

Martin was brought up in a Christian family. Aged 15, having given no thought to his future career, he sensed God wanted him to be ordained.

He went to Jesus College, Cambridge, then to theological college where he was awarded a fellowship to study in New York.

Later he returned to America, spending 10 years in a mix of education and parish jobs.

He is passionate about education, both in schools and of the clergy. Theological training has been a key part of his career.

Off duty, he loves to cook, “When I can, I do Sunday lunch, and I take that very seriously.

“With cooking, you can see the results of your efforts straight away, whereas in the ministry you often don’t.”

But another favourite pastime is temporarily on ice due to the demands of his job. “I play the saxophone, but not very well. Since I’ve been here I haven’t had time to practice.”

When the Rt Rev Mike Harrison became Bishop of Dunwich earlier this year he took on a title that dates back 1,300 years.

And when the first holder of the job was a saint, it’s quite an act to follow. But the fact St Felix was a missionary is apt, because growing the Church in Suffolk is the special role of the county’s new assistant bishop.

He likes the idea that the ancient title survives, even though the original diocese does not.

Most of the city of Dunwich was swallowed by the waves during massive storms in the 13th century.

Bishop Mike’s particular responsibilities will be mission and public affairs, and he is brimming with enthusiasm for the challenges ahead.

He comes to Suffolk from Leicester – one of the fastest growing dioceses in the country – where he was director of mission and ministry.

“The key point for me at the moment is listening to people who have been here a good while,” he says.

“Suffolk is not unlike Leicester in being a combination of urban and rural, but this also means some of the biggest challenges with many small and scattered communities.”

He believes reaching out to those with no previous contact with Christianity can be the most fruitful way of developing the church.

“It’s already going on in Suffolk, for instance with ‘messy’ churches that involve craft activity for children and parents. It’s a great way in for people.

“When the church is looking outward and enabling others to thrive it begins to thrive itself.”

Mike never expected to become a priest. “If you’d told me at 18 I would be a vicar I would have said don’t be absurd.

“I did a maths degree and was looking forward to becoming a management consultant, or something similar.

“But at university one of my best friends was studying theology. Then my mother, who had great religious faith, died of cancer when I was 20, and it made me reassess my life.”

Mike and his wife Rachel, an occupational therapist, have four children aged 13 to 21..

They met at the wedding of her sister to his theology student friend. “She was chief bridesmaid, and confessed later that she had changed the name tags so we sat together at the reception,” he says.

Sport is one of his greatest passions. He is a dedicated supporter of Bolton Wanderers, the team of his home town.

“I used to be keen on squash but felt that as my body creaked a bit I should give that up.” Now he runs, cycles and swims.

He loves live comedy, and goes to see it whenever he can, fascinated by the way a good comic can captivate a crowd.

The travelling involved in his job he sees as a bonus. “I love driving. It gives me the chance to listen to all sorts of podcasts and recordings. For someone who is often teaching and speaking, it’s great to be fed the vision of others.”

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