I owe Bishop John Packer an apology – his disappearance from the bookies’ lists turned out to be temporary and he is listed at number 8, tying so far as I can see with Bishop Steven Croft. Based on his somewhat patrician portrait on the diocesan website, I had thought he would turn out to be rather a fuddy-duddy but, from my dip into cyberspace, it seems clear that nothing could be further from the truth. It shows how misleading first impressions can be and it is a reminder, if I needed reminding, that this exercise is only as good as the comments by those with some personal knowledge of the candidates. So please – anonymously if you prefer – do what you can to flesh out the skeletal biographical sketches I offer. Many thanks.
John Richard Packer, currently Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, was born in Blackburn, Lancashire in October 1946. He went to Manchester Grammar School followed by Keble College, Oxford, where he read modern history, and then Ripon Hall, Oxford where he obtained a degree in theology. He married Barbara Priscilla Jack in 1971 and they have one daughter and two sons. His entry in Wikipedia is here.
Bishop John was suffragan Bishop of Warrington until 2000, when he was appointed Bishop of Ripon and Leeds.
The entry in Crockford’s reads as follows:
|+PACKER, The Rt Revd John Richard. b 46. Keble Coll Ox BA67 MA. Ripon Hall Ox 67. d 70 p 71 c 96. C St HelierS’wark 70-73; Chapl Abingdon St Nic Ox 73-77; Tutor Ripon Hall Ox 73-75; Tutor Ripon Coll Cuddesdon 75-77; V Wath-upon-Dearne w Adwick-upon-Dearne Sheff 77-86; RD Wath 83-86; TR Sheff Manor 86-91; RD Attercliffe 90-91; Adn W Cumberland Carl 91-96; P-in-c Bridekirk 95-96; Suff Bp Warrington Liv 96-00; Bp Ripon and Leeds from 00.|
I cannot find any trace of publications by Bishop John (which is not of course to say that he has never published). Given the wide nature of his interests, however, I am tempted to say this might be ‘not because he wouldn’t, not because he couldn’t, but simply because he was the busiest man in town.’
I can also only find one YouTube video which includes visual footage of Bishop John, and that is an extract from a debate organised by St Paul’s Cathedral on the welfare state in which Bishop John took part. The Bishop appears at 9.26 minutes (but the whole debate is worth listening to).
I suspect that Bishop John has a highly developed sense of joie de vivre, perhaps as an antidote to his uphill battles in the House of Lords. He helped brew the beer made to celebrate the re-designation of Leeds parish church as a Minister and became a barista (though perhaps not full-time) for Christian Aid Week.
Activities in the House of Lords
In 2006, he was called to the House of Lords and is the Bishops’ parliamentary spokesman on immigration & asylum, urban affairs and welfare reform. He used his maiden speech on 14 December 2006 to criticise the government’s policy on asylum seekers, saying that under the current policy refugees are being “made destitute, terrorised and imprisoned”. Although some of his campaigning speeches have attracted criticism for being too political for a bishop, his supporters believe that he personifies the reason for having representatives from ‘the Church of the State’ in the State’s Upper Chamber of government.
He does not mince his words, however. He wrote in the Guardian about the duty to break the law in support of higher authority. In 2012 he ran the bishops’ campaign against the coalition government’s plan to put a cap on welfare benefits , when his amendment to exclude child benefits was passed. He spoke in the House of Lords on the need for an exit strategy from Libya.
I have found no clear indication of Bishop John’s links with any particular wing of the Church. In a comment piece in the Guardian before the February General Synod in 2009, he wrote:
Always we need to be challenged by Christian thinking as we make our personal and political choices. We need to hear the moral perceptions of those with whom we disagree. Christians need to assert that God’s love for all his human creation should permeate our decisions, our policies and our culture.
In March 2012 he voted in favour of the Anglican Covenant although he is a supporter of Jeffrey John, who was forced to withdraw after his appointment as Bishop of Reading had been announced. He reportedly said that Jeffrey John’s arrival among the bishops would enable them to listen to the experience of the homosexual community. He is a patron of Changing Attitude, which ‘works for the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the life of the Anglican Communion’.
Leap in the dark assessment
Although his age is against him, a possible short-term Cantuar with a mission to heal the Church’s wounds?
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The photograph of Bishop John is courtesy The Yorkshire Post