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Candidates for Cantuar: John Packer



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.

Bishop John voted  in favour of women bishops with his diocesan synod. At General Synod in July 2012, he voted in favour  of adjourning the debate to enable reconsideration of amendment 5.1.c

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

11 comments on this post:

Richard Haggis said...

Sounds like a decent old cove (apart from the shirt), but his age is entirely against him. A four-year-term just encourages the PCC-mentality known to so many of us “we’ll sit this one out”.

Lay Anglicana said...

Play Macchiavelli for a change? Maybe it would be no bad thing if lots of people felt we could ‘sit this one out’? It would allow those who want to get on with change to do so, wouldn’t it…

30 August 2012 17:41
30 August 2012 17:33
Kate ardern said...

+John is definitely one of the good guys unafraid to speak up for those who are marginalised and not frightening of going against popular opinion on marginalised groups either. His stance on welfare reform & his extremely shrewd political handling of getting his amendment passed by the Lords volumes about the vision and skills he would bring to being ABC alongside gravitas, strong intellect and a calm but determined sense of purpose and doing what’s right. He’s got the advantage of not being identified with a particular faction in the CoE although he’s of the Liberal persuasion. He would be an excellent choice as ABC but for his age although I do like your Machiavellian suggestion, Laura!

Lay Anglicana said...

I am definitely adding him to my list of the guys in white hats – now there are three (and we expect to add Tim Thornton in due course).

Maybe his age shouldn’t be such a barrier – look at Winston and de Gaulle, after all!

30 August 2012 20:06
30 August 2012 19:31
UKViewer said...

I believe that he has a sense of humour. Which can be in short supply when the HoB gather together, evidenced by their insertion of the naughty clause into the Measure on Women Bishops.

I actually think that being a mystery, wrapped up in an enigma might be to his advantage. Age shouldn’t be a show stopper, as there are other candidates equally as mature.

He also has a sense of social justice because he was among the Bishops that attacked the Government over it’s policies in January this year.

He also led the team that reviewed provision for Women Bishops and produced the Draft Measure and associated legislation.

He did a pretty good job there, trying to reconcile opposing views and seeking to make provision for all. It was this piece of legislation that the HoB amended, possibly against his advice (we’re not party to their discussions).

So, all in all, he would be a contender that might just pass muster. I’d be happy to see him in Canterbury as our Diocesan, and as a safe pair of hands, would probably suit the Anglican Communion.

30 August 2012 19:41
Lay Anglicana said...

I agree with you Ernie, that he might just pass muster. I’m not so sure, though, that a patron of Changing Attitude would be seen as a safe pair of hands by the conservative diehards!

Kate Smith said...

Pish – are you implying, Laura, that we at Changing Attitude are not right at the very beating heart of the establishment?

A short term could be quite interesting, couldn’t it – someone to lance all the suppurating boils and then retreat, downing a powerful dose of antibiotics. We’ve all seen how these issues completely wear people out, physically and morally. A spot of emergency surgery leaving a new 2016 ABC with a clean slate and new dispensation could work very well.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you very much for commenting, Kate. If ‘right at the beating heart of the establishment’ is where Changing Attitude aspires to be, far be it from me to stand in your way! 🙂
I think someone to lance all the suppurating boils is indeed what is needed…I just hope the CNC sees it too.

31 August 2012 14:34
31 August 2012 09:32
UKViewer said...

I think it would be potentially more difficult if he were the patron of Inclusive Church. Changing Attitudes is much more of a wider ranging organisation. And it’s not just about gender and sexual issues.

Even some conservatives acknowledge that some change is needed.

31 August 2012 10:38
30 August 2012 20:11
Bryony Taylor said...

I had the pleasure of meeting +John at a vocations retreat which he led. On the surface he comes across as a bit old fashioned but he’s actually a great guy, very warm. He’s clearly a brilliant priest pastorally and he is probably one of the bishops who has had the most impact in the House of Lords. It would be a shame if his age stopped him being a candidate.

Lay Anglicana said...

Thank-you very much for commenting, Bryony. It was an interesting exercise collecting material for this post – the more I discovered, the more I warmed to him.

I think it is a pity that the Church of England has traditionally looked for a primate who can lead them through a whole decade. After all, Jesus’s ministry was only three years! I know he had advantages not available to mere Archbishops of Canterbury, but I wonder if sufficient consideration has been given to the idea that there may be moments in our history when a shorter term of office may in fact be what we need. Winston Churchill was considered a great war leader, but was thrown out of office in the first post-war election. After all the turbulence of recent times, might just such a ministry be required?

31 August 2012 14:30
31 August 2012 11:11

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