Confessions of a Bishop’s Intern


Assisting Bishop Christopher at the Easter Sunday Dawn Eucharist in the Coventry Cathedral ruins, April 2019 (I am on the right-hand side, in the glasses). Picture from thelazypilgrim.blogspot. Used with permission.

 

‘So, what does a Bishop’s intern actually do?’

I’ve been asked this question so often, by such a variety of people, that I actually came up with a little script to explain! This article is in part a more developed answer to that question, but it’s more than that, it’s also a collection of reflections, learnings and memories of what have been a very precious and rewarding three years working for the Bishop of Coventry. For those clergy reading this, you’ll be delighted to know it has three parts!

Bishop’s Chaplain

As soon as I put on my black cassock for the first time back in September 2017, I knew something was different. Like some previous Bishop’s interns who had also been brought up going to ‘low’ evangelical churches, I felt like I’d just stepped, both literally and metaphorically, into the Matrix. With hindsight, what I had really entered was a bigger Church than I had previously understood or appreciated. Whilst three years on I still maintain my evangelical convictions, I have now learnt to encounter Jesus in a wider and richer array of expressions than I had before God sent me to Coventry.

Travelling around the Diocese in the Bishop’s car (also affectionately known as the ‘Episcopal wagon’ or ‘Toyota Prayus’), I have supported the Bishop as he has ministered to a huge variety of parishes, each reflecting something of God’s character and the diversity of the people He has called His own. Each is an invitation to be exposed to difference and to encounter God in a new and deeper way. In some churches, I have been struck again by the holiness of God through the Eucharist, in others I have experienced more of the joy of my salvation through worship, in others I have been nourished by the teaching of God’s Word, and in others I have known God’s peace in contemplative prayer. In sum, I am learning to find Christ in expressions of church that look different to mine, whether by tradition or culture (for example, Coventry’s new Companion Link with the Diocese of Kapsabet in Kenya, or my trip with Bishop Christopher to attend an Anglican Synod in Jordan), and respectfully disagree where differences remain. In short, I’m now an unashamed ecclesiological cherry-picker.

Some of the fondest memories of being Bishop Christopher’s lay Chaplain (besides the great supply of homemade cakes made by local church members) have been seeing Jesus at work in the lives of so many people. I have seen it in schools, local parish churches, and big confirmation services in the Cathedral. I’ve also seen it in some unlikely places, but places which would be familiar to Jesus. One example stands out. After an evening service in Coventry, relatively early in my new post, Bishop Christopher was approached by an elderly man who had just left hospital and was very hungry. One may have been tempted to look the other way, but that wasn’t what happened. Instead Bishop Christopher instructed me to pack up the car and together we drove the man to a local burger restaurant where the Bishop bought him a meal, sat down with him and listened to him – all whilst still dressed in his purple cassock! This, I observed, was Christ-like ministry and is a scene which continues to inspire me.

Of course, during my three years I have made many mistakes, which have been another source of learning (as well as others’ exasperation, and occasional amusement). Like when I forgot to pack the Bishop’s cassock, or that other time when I had to get a taxi to a service in Nuneaton because I was so late to work that the Bishop drove off (quite rightly) without me! Perhaps the most embarrassing episode was failing to brief the Bishop that the confirmation service we were attending was to involve a full immersion baptism and so the Bishop arrived without a spare change of clothes. Fortunately, the church was close to Bishop’s House, so I was immensely grateful when Charlotte, the Bishop’s wife, came to the rescue!

Parliamentary Assistant

When applying for the role, as a recently graduated Christian geographer with a particular interest in peace-making and foreign policy, it was the opportunity to support the Bishop’s work on international affairs in Parliament which drew my particular attention. Up to that point, I had read widely on public theology, or the role the Church in the public square, I’d even been keenly involved in Christian social justice student societies whilst at university. What I had now been offered was an amazing opportunity to put this thinking into practice, not least in an area of policy about which I was most passionate and in a moment of great national change as the UK prepared to leave the European Union. The questions the Bishop and I grappled with over three years were: what does it look like to pursue what Provost Howard of Coventry Cathedral, in the wake of the bombing of the city in 1940, called a ‘simpler, kinder, more Christ-child-like sort of world’? Or, what does a Christ-like UK foreign policy look like?

The Bishop summarised our various readings (see, for example, Archbishop Justin’s Reimagining Britain) and discussions well when he spoke at General Synod in February 2019, on the eve of when the UK was due to (originally) leave the EU. He said:

‘For the sake of the soul of Europe and the soul of Britain, the leadership of our nation…needs to retune to that same key of generosity: the gospel key of loving our neighbours as ourselves. The key that opens the door to reconciled relationships. The key that unlocks the true calling of a godly nation – to be a blessing to others.’

We sought to unpack this practically as we scrutinised different areas of British foreign policy. Over the three years, I had the privilege of supporting the Bishop speak up for the world’s religious minorities’ right to Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), challenged the global arms trade, and reminded the Government of the key role of faith groups and reconciliation in resolving conflict. There’s nothing quite like sitting in the gallery of the House of Lords watching your boss read a speech or question, which you have helped research and draft, on matters of such importance. What a privilege!

What I have also observed, though, is the stark difference between the ornately decorated halls of power in Westminster (around which I frequently got lost!), the social ‘bubble’ which surrounds them, and the reality of many peoples’ lives in Coventry and elsewhere who are struggling to make ends meet. Indeed, this has been one of the strengths of the internship: the opportunity to meet Archbishops, MPs and Peers, mayors and ambassadors on the one hand, and yet most of my working time being grounded in a real city with real challenges. As much as I have appreciated meeting the ‘great and the good’, I’ve also learnt to be mindful of the people who aren’t in the room, of those who don’t have a voice at the table.

Community Engagement

I am not a Coventrian by birth, but it’s a city I’ve come to love and call ‘home’. Having grown up in the leafy suburbs of the South-East, the vitality and diversity of Coventry, as well as its deep-rooted commitment to peace and reconciliation, have taught me much about what it means to be a Christian young(ish) person in a multicultural and complex world. A world Jesus knew.

Following the Bishop’s lead, I have had access to the many communities of Coventry, its faith communities in particular, who are doing amazing work among refugees, the homeless and the hungry – not least in the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of my access is enabled by the many strong connections that Bishop Christopher has himself formed over some 12 years as Bishop of Coventry, and the respect and admiration that he has earned from partners across the Diocese (and beyond), both civic and religious. What I am often amazed by is that, considering all this, the Bishop has often asked me to represent him, an amazing opportunity but also a great responsibility! Perhaps the most memorable and extensive example of this has been representing the Bishop in efforts to tackle serious youth violence in Coventry. Whilst I’d been aware of the issue, it was not until the Bishop and I were invited to Coventry Cathedral to take part in the public funeral of a young 16-year-old boy tragically murdered in Coventry, that God put the issue firmly on my heart. What followed was a team effort, but one in which the Bishop entrusted me with a great deal of responsibility to work on his behalf, and for that I’m deeply humbled and grateful.

Giving a presentation on the ‘Places of Peace’ project at the Coventry Violence Summit, January 2020. Photo by Lisa Carroll (YMCA). Used with permission.

Since that funeral, a summit for faith leaders was held beside the Knife Angel statue, a working group of Christian leaders and youthwork practitioners was set up, I took a seat representing the Bishop on the Coventry’s Violence Prevention Board, and the ‘Places of Peace’ (or POP, for short!) project was born. POP is an inter-faith youth work initiative, done in partnership with the YMCA, whereby local places of worship are opened up as safe spaces for young people to socialise in safety after school hours. Throughout the last 18 months working on this issue, I have greatly enjoyed working with colleagues from other Christian denominations, other faith groups, the Council and West Midlands Police. I have also been greatly inspired by the pioneering work of the likes of the Ven. Rosemarie Mallett (Diocese of Southwark) and Ben Lindsay (CEO, Power the Fight) who are calling on the Church to play its part in helping to reduce violence and seeing young people thrive. It is an ongoing prayer, but to echo the story of our Saviour and our Cathedral, I pray that out of death and tears, life and hope will spring for the most vulnerable young people in this land. I’m glad that my next job will continue to build on that vision.

I’d like to conclude by saying thank you to my colleagues at Bishop’s House without whom very little of the above would have been possible. Firstly, I’d like to thank Bishop Christopher for his faith in me, his humble leadership and his example as a man of deep prayerfulness. I’d like to thank Christine, the Bishop’s PA, for her patience, grace, faithfulness and mutual love of classic dance hits! I’d like to thank Joe, the Bishop’s Theological and Administrative Assistant, for his kindness, gentleness and many laughs in the office! Elizabeth, the Bishop’s (former) Secretary for her servant heart and diligence, and Mary, the Bishop’s Housekeeper, for her joy and devotion to God and others. Thanks also to those, who are too many to name, who have supported and encouraged me along the way. Finally, I’m thankful to Jesus for stretching my mind and soul, and for drawing me closer to His heart.

Fred Kratt will finish working for the Bishop of Coventry on Friday 24th July 2020. He has recently been offered a new job that will give further opportunities to help address serious youth violence in Coventry and the West Midlands.

 

Previous articles written by Fred Kratt:

'Living Stones' - a visit to Jordan-  http://www.dioceseofcoventry.org/index.php?page_ref=1061&item=375

Changing the story on youth violence http://www.dioceseofcoventry.org/index.php?page_ref=1061&item=403

Places of Peace (POP) goes online! https://www.coventry.anglican.org/news/places-of-peace-pop-goes-online.php