Tony Robinson


Wakefield has been in the limelight recent for a fairly historic by-election. The constituency turned blue in 2019 but the MP had to resign this year when he was sent to prison for past criminal offences. There was then a to-do over the Labour candidate as their shortlist didn’t have anyone living Wakefield, so they all resigned (bar one). Perhaps that’s why Sky News came asking for my thoughts, both before and on the day of the result. I suppose it shows a local bishop is still seen to have a good overview with the area and the people who live there. Of course, what I do want is someone who will care for the constituency and do a good job, like a parish priest really.

A lot of my time is given over to people ‘in the system’ who are on the discernment track. I meet candidates for ordination for an hour before they go to Bishop’s Advisory Panel (BAP) sessions and then have a call with them day of the report too, about eight days later. God is calling. About 15 candidates are on my desk so far this year, all looking to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

People in another system are the inmates of Wakefield Prison. On the same day the by-election result came through I was there with the Bishop of Gloucester who leads on prisons for the Church of England. Over the course of four hours we met with the Governor and people inside, including those who work there. It’s an important place for me and I always get a warm welcome. In particular I go every Christmas Day and at Easter to celebrate and see them because they matter. About 40-50 come to chapel and sing their hearts out, which is witness even in confinement.

Another important place is the Convent of St Peter in Horbury, set up by the Victorian incumbent back when it was still possible to do that sort of thing. I’ve been going there every Monday morning for the last 15 years or so to say Mass. Only five of them remain now but it remains a place of prayer, where the sick are held on hearts, and it’s a special way for me to start each week.

Horbury was one of the parishes where I celebrated the Queen’s Jubilee. St Peter’s had a service followed by ‘Pimms & Puddings’ which was very happy and saw folk out in force. Then it was on to Pontefract St Giles for another do, and Wakefield Cathedral for a civic service. These were a welcome balance to the other civic ceremonies when we commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Falklands War with the main service at Wakefield’s cenotaph. It was a bit strange when the usual pattern is in November, and a different context for the National Anthem, but again it shows how the Church is there in the middle of things, in and out of season. And we all need to pray constantly for peace.

This was a theme at Sandal Castle at the bottom of my road when we gathered to unveil a plaque to mark the burial of a time capsule in the well. It was where the decisive Battle of Wakefield happened in 1460 and there are anniversary walks there each year at the end of December. It’s vital that we honour the past along with all it has to teach us.

Licensings are part of my job, of course, but June had a couple of unusual ones. First there was Bishop Glyn’s at All Saints Northgate in York, the city where he has lived and ministered for so many years. And then to the Archbishop Holgate Hospital, a collection of almshouses formed into a community with a chapel, built by a former Archbishop of York who was a local lad. The service was in the parish church because the chapel on site wouldn’t be large enough, but buses brought the residents in and it was a very happy time.

I’m presently managing some of the Beverley and Ebbsfleet portfolios, in addition to everything else. That means various ordinations in distant towns and cities along with pastoral support for the clergy. The interview process for the new Bishop of Beverley is about to start so please hold it all in your prayers.

Bishops need collegiality too. Here in the Diocese of Leeds we said farewell to the Bishop of Huddersfield who’s off to Rochester, and had the announcement of the new Bishop of Kirkstall who covers Leeds. That’s our diocesan headquarters so I’m there via the train quite often for monthly meetings of senior staff (a full 8am-3pm) and also the ‘Six Bishops’ which sounds a bit like a pub! June also saw a trip to London for The Society Bishops’ residential. We meet regularly for mutual support and strategic planning. A lot of thought is needed over the next 10 years for our parishes and posts and how to resource them with sacramental assurance in mind.

Nearby in Royston they’re reviving the old Whit Walk style. For confirmation and communion we processed from church to school with a samba band and flags. ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’ was written by a curate at Horbury for these walks, so it’s a  bit of a modern update. It was memorable for the kids though, and liturgical samba was a novelty for me too!