23 October 2015

A day of mission stories in
Birmingham with Us volunteers

Saint Philip’s Cathedral, seen from Colmore Row (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am in Birmingham today [23 October 2015] as a trustee of the Anglican mission agency Us (the United Society, previously known as USPG), for an Us Volunteer Day Programme in the offices of the Diocese of Birmingham at 1 Colmore Row.

A large number of staff with diocesan-wide roles are based in the Church of England offices on Floors 7 and 8, where the staff of Saint Philip’s Cathedral also have their offices.

We are starting with tea and coffee at 10.30 and a brief time of worship at 10.45. The day’s programme includes an update on Us and the work of Us, including a time for sharing stories, news about recent campaigns and appeals, and an introduction to some recent new resources.

After lunch, we are looking at what’s coming up, including Harvest, Advent and Lent 2016. There is time for volunteers to share ideas for events and communications to support and build up the network of parish contacts, as well as training in data protection before final questions, comments or thoughts, closing prayer and farewells at 4 p.m.

The Diocese of Birmingham includes the north-west of the traditional county of Warwickshire (now West Midlands), the City of Birmingham and parts of Staffordshire, Warwickshire and north Worcestershire.

The diocese was formed from parts of the dioceses of Worcester and Lichfield 110 years ago in 1905, when Saint Philip’s Church in the city centre became the cathedral of the new diocese. This is the third smallest cathedral in England, after Derby and Chelmsford.

Saint Philip’s was designed by the architect Thomas Archer (1668-1743), who had returned from the Grand Tour of Europe. Italian architecture, especially the work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, had left a deep impression on him, and he had formed a friendship with Francesco Borromini.

The dome and cupola of the cathedral are unique for an English cathedral. Archer modelled them on the mid-17th century dome of Santa Maria della Salute in Venice. But then Birmingham has more canals than Venice –Birmingham has 35 miles, while Venice has only 26 miles.

The church was consecrated 300 years ago in 1715, and was dedicated to Saint Philip the Apostle as a tribute to the Philips family who donated the site. The tower was completed by 1725, and King George I granted £600 towards the final stages of completion.

Since 2006, the Bishop of Birmingham is the Right Revd David Urquhart. When he was Bishop of Birkenhead, in the Diocese of Chester, we travelled through China, visiting churches and theological colleges as part of a delegation from Churches in Britain, Ireland and Germany.

Charles Gore, the first Bishop of Birmingham, was the son of Irish-born parents … his statue stands at the west entrance of Saint Philip’s Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The first Bishop of Birmingham (1905-1911) was Charles Gore (1853-1932). He had previously been Bishop of Worcester, and later became Bishop of Oxford. A statue of Bishop Gore, vested in convocation robes and with his right hand raised in blessing, stands at the west entrance. Gore, who became the first Bishop of Birmingham in 1905, was one of the greatest English theologians. He was a socialist and the leading Anglo-Catholic of the day, edited Lux Mundi (1889), and was the founder of the Community of the Resurrection in 1892.

Gore’s father, Charles Gore (1813-1897), grew up in Dublin, where he was a page in the Vicergal Lodge – now Áras an Uachtaráin; Gore’s mother, the widowed Countess of Kerry, was born Lady Augusta Ponsonby (1814-1904), and hailed from Bessborough, Co Kilkenny.

Since last month, the Right Revd Anne Elizabeth Hollinghurst has been the Bishop of Aston and a suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Birmingham. Previously, she was Vicar of Saint Peter’s, St Albans.

Her appointment as the 10th Bishop of Aston was announced on 2 July 2015, and she was consecrated by Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury in Saint Paul's Cathedral, London, last month [29 September 2015].

Bishop Hollinghurst’s research interests include feminist theology, gender and the language of God, and Christian Spirituality. She recently contributed a chapter on Franciscan Spirituality and Nature to the book Earthed.

Today’s Volunteer Day is expected to end at 4 p.m., and I hope to be back in Lichfield later today in time for Evening Prayer in Lichfield Cathedral.

The Right Revd David Andrew Urquhart became the ninth Bishop of Birmingham in 2006 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2006)

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