It was announced today that Bishop Richard Moth is to be translated from the Bishopric of the Forces to the diocese of Arundel and Brighton and I could not be more thrilled. Having endured the pain of losing such a much loved bishop the way they did, A&B deserved a genuine man of God. And as ever, the Holy Spirit has coughed up.
I first encountered the newly ordained Father Moth when he was Father Salmon’s curate at St Bede’s, Clapham Park and he officiated at the wedding of a friend of ours back in 1982. It was a wedding my wife and I looked forward to as it was the first we attended after our own. The bride’s dad was rather negative about his daughter getting married to a ‘left footer on their turf’ but he was won over by Fr Richard’s attitude on the day.
The next time I came across him was when he was on supply at my own parish. I can remember the homily he gave on the one occasion he said a Mass that I attended. I cannot remember the readings but his homily told us what our faith was not. It was not judgementality, it was not exclusive, he went on to tell us what our faith was and finished with the words “that’s what our faith is, let’s stand and profess it”. The words “We believe…..” nearly took the roof off.
The first time we spoke was in the autumn of 2003, it was the day of the rugby world cup final in which England beat Australia. We were both attending the silver jubilee of priesthood of a mutual friend. Mgr Moth, as he was by then, was upstairs in the presbytery watching the final. when he joined the rest of downstairs he waxed lyrical on how Jonny Wilkinson had played so diligently against David Campese’s rather arrogant team. I confessed he was speaking way over my head and he told me I was a disappointment. Later that day when talking about horse riding (he’s an accomplished horseman) I said that although my father was a qualified horse breaker, I had never mounted, “could you be any more disappointing?” he asked, which I replied, “oh yes, you have no idea.”
We have met several times since, we have mutual friends in a family who are very active in our parish. There is a lovely story of his tact from that quarter when, as Vicar General of Southwark, he visited my old school, which the children of said family attended. Having been spotted by the younger daughter in the family, she walked up to him, arms outstretched to greet him in the familiar way one would a friend of the family. The teacher with him was aghast and berated the child, he took the child’s hands and sent love to her parents and her two older sisters. No one was embarrassed and all enjoyed what could have been a very awkward situation.
We bumped into each other in Lourdes last year and spent a jolly hour, he, I and his predecessor chatting one evening. The last time I saw him was in January on a Diaconate Formation Day at St John’s seminary, Wonersh, where he was visiting. I had with me some copies of the updated prayer book from a school where I work to give to two old boy priests who are on the staff at Wonersh. He was with one of them as I handed the books over and gave him a copy also. He said he could not take it as he was not an alumni . As the then child I spoke of above now has a son at the school I instituted him on the spot as an honorary old boy “in spite the fact we whip your alma mater’s butt at rugger” which he enjoyed.
I believe Bishop Moth going to A&B is just what the doctor ordered. I am glad also the appointment went to someone who is already a bishop and who understands how a Bishops’ Conference works, the last thing the diocese needs right now is an empire builder with their own tastes and sensitivities high on their personal agenda.
People have prayed hard for the next bishop for A&B, I have the diocesan prayer card in my jacket pocket and those prayers have paid off. No doubt there will be some snidy anonymous comments but who values the anonymous? On top of all this, Bishop Moth’s installation is during May half term, I feel as if all my Easter’s have come at once.