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Bidding Farewell

PUBLISHED: 16:31 05 June 2013 | UPDATED: 16:36 05 June 2013

Archant

The magnificent Wells Cathedral is likely to be full to overflowing when people across the Diocese gather together to bid a fond farewell to the Rt Revd Peter Price.

The much loved Bishop of Bath and Wells retires this month after 11 years in the role. He and his wife Dee will be greatly missed – and the feeling is mutual.

“I think that the past nearly 12 years have been the most demanding but the most rewarding years of my ministry and my life,” Bishop Peter tells me during one of his last interviews before he leaves.

“Ministering to the people of Somerset has been a huge privilege and I am going to miss it dreadfully.”

He will be leaving the stunning medieval building in the heart of the historic city, which has been home to the Bishops of Bath and Wells for 800 years.

Surrounded by a moat and with 14 acres of beautiful gardens, The Bishop’s Palace has benefited greatly from improvements initiated by Peter and Dee. It will be a lasting legacy.

“My wife has been a major player in all of this,” Peter explains.

“We were given the responsibility of making the Palace a place of welcome and hospitality so we endeavoured to do that by renewing and rebuilding the gardens and restoring the chapel.

“We’ve set up a new exhibition centre, an education centre and a new restaurant. It’s been a 10 year job.

“I hope that part of our legacy will be a welcoming beautiful Palace and grounds for generations to come.

“The most spectacular part of it will be the Garden of Reflection, which is coming up to completion now.”

More than £4 million has been raised to date for The Bishop’s Palace and Gardens development project, which has received funds from several areas including the Heritage Lottery Fund, Viridor Credits Ltd, individual donors and companies.

Together with The Palace Trust, the Bishop oversaw the exciting developments which were essential to provide a sustainable future for this important historical site.

“The Palace was suffering from lack of investment and there were two choices really,” he explains.

“Either that it was sold or it was invested in and we couldn’t see any realistic way forward in selling, so reinvestment seemed to be the wisest course of action.

“It’s been a very steep learning curve but we are very proud of what’s happened.

“We have enjoyed it hugely; we jokingly say it’s our hobby and in a way it is. We’ve learned a huge amount about heritage buildings.

“Now I think we could be consultants to all sorts of other projects!” he smiles.

Peter hopes that another legacy would be a Diocese which feels confident about itself.

He has sought to encourage a way of working with clergy which assures them that they are not alone and provided them with good development programmes.

“We have nurtured a process whereby clergy have mentors and work-based learning groups and that’s absolutely vital to improve morale and also efficiency in the parishes,” he said.

Of course one of the challenges facing Church of England leaders recently has been how to deal with the fall-out after The Church of England’s governing General Synod voted against allowing women to become bishops.

“I think this is an issue we must resolve quickly. It is a nonsense that women are not being ordained to be bishops,” he says.

“It makes us look silly and people don’t understand it – I’m not sure I do either.

“Has it damaged us irrecoverably? No. Has it been a setback? Yes. Will we get there? Yes. Will it be good for the church? Yes. Will it be good for the world? Yes of course it will.”

The former teacher and a father to four sons, Peter became a member of the House of Lords in 2008 where he takes particular interest in international aid and foreign affairs.

For many years he has been active in issues of reconciliation, contributing to peace-making in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Zimbabwe.

Here in Somerset he has been very much involved with farming issues and in particular has spoken on milk prices and the issues of flooding on the Somerset Levels. He even spent a week on a farm, which provided him with valuable insight into local issues.

He has given attention to some of our more vulnerable communities and spent time with the YMCA looking at homelessness. And he has voiced his concern for welfare reforms warning that the burden could impact most upon the most vulnerable.

During his ministry he hopes he has been able to ‘blow away myths’ and get people to see faith as an ‘everyday reality being worked out in the ordinary things.’

“The nicest thing that’s been said about me is: ‘He is an ordinary bloke.’ I often say ‘it’s simple people in simple places doing extraordinary things that counts. It’s the sum total of ordinary things by people who know that they have some responsibility for other people and other things that makes change possible.”

Over the years Peter has visited the Glastonbury Festival where he regularly spoke on the main stage.

Here he’s gained a certain celebrity status in his own right and describes it as his ‘moment of glory and terror.’

“Doing the Pyramid Stage on a Sunday afternoon is a dream in one sense and absolutely terrifying on the other. You never quite know how the crowd is going to react and you hope they don’t turn round and go the other way – they haven’t so far!”

Perhaps one of his greatest highlights has been his 330 mile walk along the bounds of the Diocese over two months. As part of the Diocese’s 1100th anniversary, he completed Peter’s Progress which he describes as a ‘pilgrimage of hope.’

The walk offered him the chance to speak with people and hear their concerns and also to visit some of his favourite Somerset locations – and discover new ones.

“I love the docks at Avonmouth and having the opportunity to stand on the bridge of a super tanker in the harbour when I was doing the walk was the fulfilment of a childhood dream. I wanted to be a Merchant Navy officer when I was younger but I was colour blind so I couldn’t do it. But I’m sure that was all meant to be.”

Peter loves Exmoor and recalls camping in Porlock and reveals that Weston-super-Mare holds some special memories.

“I was teaching in Weston when I first met Dee and I made my first ever phone call to her from the kiosk on the Pier!”

Hopefully retirement will allow him to revisit some of these locations. He hopes to continue with some of his peace making work but first of all, he is looking forward to a well-earned holiday with Dee.

“I am also going to take up my hill walking again and there are two or three books which have been hovering around in my head. I will also be redesigning my garden.

“My time here has been just extraordinary and what is just so lovely is the number of people who know something about you or have heard something that you’ve said and affirm you. Really the people of Somerset are very affirming.

“We will miss it but sadly age has caught up.” n

For opening hours of The Bishop’s Palace and Gardens in Wells visit bishopspalace.org.uk

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