The newly-retired Bishop of Oxford talks about his new book The Journey and what he is looking forward to next in his own life-journey
John Pritchard has been Bishop of Oxford since 2007, before which he was Bishop of Jarrow. He retired as Bishop on 31st October. He is a best-selling author, his SPCK titles alone have sold over 100,000 copies, and his latest book The Journey is published this month. Looking through the eyes of the disciple John, The Journey is a book for Lent study and follows Luke’s chronology from Luke 9:51 as Jesus ‘set his face to go to Jerusalem’.
How did the idea for the book, telling the story of the journey to Jerusalem through the eyes of the disciple John, come about?
+John: I’m fascinated by the person of Jesus; this compelling, enigmatic, gloriously free figure at the heart of my faith, and I wanted to write about him. Also, I love the idea of what is sometimes called the ‘baptised imagination’; that is letting our imagination wander through the gospel and see and touch and smell and feel the events that are taking place. The Journeyseemed to be a good way of talking about Jesus and doing it in that imaginative way.
I chose John because I’ve always identified with him – perhaps partly because we share the same name. He was somebody who was very close to Jesus and spent a long time afterwards obviously reflecting on what the significance of those three extraordinary years had been. I think he’s just a very interesting observer, but a participant observer; he just seemed to be the right person.
What is it about Luke’s gospel that makes it a good vehicle for this journey?
+John: I think it’s the humanity. Luke is very aware of women, he is aware of the effects of illness on people and how people respond to stress, what it feels like to be betrayed and so it’s a very human book. The detail and very vivid descriptions of events show Luke’s humanity. That speaks to me and, I think, speaks to many. And Luke is a wonderful storyteller as well.
In what ways can a book such as this help readers during Lent?
+John: Well I hope it refreshes the familiar stories and enables us to get beneath the surface – and also to engage personally with what was going on. At the end of each chapter there are the ‘I wonder’ questions which are non-directive, simply open-ended questions: ‘I wonder what it might have felt like?’, ‘I wonder what we would have done?’, ‘what does [the text] mean for us today?’. It’s another way of getting involved with the stories we read.
With all your various commitments when and how do you find the time to write?
+John: The true answer is I’m not sure but I know I need to do it. It’s part of my own creativity. A lot of my life is responding to other people’s needs and demands. Here is something at the heart of my faith that I can offer and be in control of. I kind of slip the writing in as and when I can. I write quite a bit in August, it’s a quieter time in the diocese, sometimes I give myself a ‘writing week’ in January and sometimes I spend a bit of my day off writing because I find it recreational – but I do try and make sure I spend time with my wife as well!
As you begin this new phase of your life what will you miss most from your role as Bishop?
+John: Being with the people of God on Sunday morning in all its variety. There are 815 churches within the diocese and every church is different, with its own personality. I love being with those great people of God, supporting and encouraging them and teaching and preaching.
Then there are the many wonderful, fascinating people doing amazing things I meet, many of them Christians and many not. Being a public figure I do meet many people working in the community, in government, in universities, and I’ll miss those encounters.
I will miss my role in the bigger scene which my work in education has led me into; the people I meet at the House of Lords, Ministers of State or even when I meet the Queen. However I
will still be doing lots of other things which are important to me.What are you most looking forward to in retirement?
I’m looking forward to discovering what an evening is and a weekend is (laughs) - just what it’s like to live at a slightly slower pace. I will always be a disciple of Jesus Christ and I’ll always be trying to serve God in different ways, particularly in teaching and writing. There’s already one book I have to write for next year!
Finally, what are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading a book by Sara Miles called Take this Bread (Canterbury Press), the story of a woman who is converted by wandering into church, taking communion and being completely blown away. She then started food pantries in San Francisco – a remarkable story. I’m reading James Runcie’s Sidney Chambers and the Perils of the Night (Bloomsbury) and also The Little Book of Philosophy by Andre Comte-Sponville (Vintage) a fascinating sweep through the history of philosophy.
July 17th, 2015 - Posted & Written by Together Magazine