Mr Mayor, Members of the Council, Friends

Speech by The Right Reverend Michael Perham, Bishop of Gloucester, in
accepting the freedom of the city
Mr Mayor, Members of the Council, Friends
I am, of course, both honoured and humbled by your generous resolution to make
me a freeman of the City of Gloucester, all the more so because I understand that I
am the first of the 40 Bishops of Gloucester across 450 years whom you have
honoured in this way. So I thank you for it and my gratitude will long stay with me.
My only regret is that, contrary to public perception, this apparently does not entitle
me to drive my flock of sheep through the city without hindrance! For I hoped might
put right what I did ten years ago, on the day when my ministry in Gloucester began,
when I did walk through the city, with a shepherd’s crook in my hand, and with a
new flock accompanying me, from Barton St, via a visit to one of the mosques, in a
goodwill gesture towards those of a different faith than my own, gathering a further
flock, mainly of children, at the Salvation Army Citadel, and then up through Eastgate
St, rather to the surprise of Saturday lunch time shoppers, and on to the Cathedral
for an event, rather grandly called an “enthronement”, at which some of you were
And I am planning to repeat something a bit like that on the 14th of June when,
coming to end of more than 400 miles of pilgrimage walking around Gloucestershire
over the last six years, and at the end of the final 90 mile stretch during that week, I
arrive at the city boundary ready to walk to the Cathedral. I shall walk that with an
extra spring in my step (if I am still standing after all that walking!) because I have
arrived back in the city of which I am a freeman. And I shall invite some of you, if you
will, to meet me at the city boundary and to accompany my on the last stage of the
I have loved living in this city and have flourished here. I love it for its history. I am
always struck by what an amazing place it was in medieval times, an extraordinary
religious centre, with Blackfriars, Greyfriars, Llanthony Priory, St Oswald’s Priory,
and among the parish churches the stunning St Mary de Crypt, and the jewel in the
crown, St Peter’s Abbey, now the Cathedral. We have made some really good
progress in making more in our own day of that medieval heritage, though I believe
there is more that we could do in celebrating that past and giving it contemporary
relevance. And alongside that there is, of course, the ongoing task for the city and
for the churches in reimagining what all that might mean in the very different and
more secular culture in which we live, where different faiths and philosophies live
alongside one another and no single one has exclusive claim to truth.
But, as the City Council knows well, you cannot flourish simply on your past and for
me it has been a huge privilege to play a part in the regeneration of the city. Despite
the recession we have been able to do some wonderful things for Gloucester and its
people. There has been real regeneration and real transformation of people’s hopes
and dreams. I confess I used sometimes to sit at Board meetings of the GHURC and
look around the table and think, “Most of you guys here sorting out the future of
Gloucester live out in the villages of Gloucestershire or arrive by the motorway
from Bristol or further afield. But me, I live here, I live in Westgate ward, I lived in
the heart of the city we are regenerating, so I do know what Gloucester needs.”
And I believe we, you, have more than begun to give Gloucester what Gloucester
needs. As we are being encouraged to say just now, “I believe in Gloucester!”
I am conscious that in the last few years the ever growing responsibilities laid on me
in the county and nationally have meant that I have contributed less to the city and I
would regret that except that I was able to play a fairly key role in appointing the
present Dean. In identifying a new Dean we were looking for someone with the
vision and energy to connect the cathedral more securely and adventurously to the
diocese, to the county and, more immediately, to the city. That is more often the
task of the Dean, rather than the Bishop, and Stephen Lake, working with you, the
City Council, has developed the relationship between city and cathedral with energy
and real commitment. I believe that to be a real strength for both parties. I thank
you for your commitment to this partnership, which it is a real delight to see.
I must not overstay my welcome and ought to stop, but, if you will allow me just one
further reflection . . Another area where I have tried to play a part has been in
relation to the University of Gloucestershire, of which I am a Pro-Chancellor and
Vice Chair of its Council, and its presence in the city. I am very sorry that the
imaginative plans a few years back in relation to Blackfriars and the university
coincided with a financial crisis in the university that meant the idea was dead in the
water, so to speak, and indeed the university, like most universities, is continuing to
have to tighten its belt. But I am anxious that the university should be of Gloucester,
as well as of Cheltenham, and a vibrant student life must benefit the city. I do want, if
I may to encourage you, just as you have strengthened the cathedral-city link, to go
on working at the university-city link. Gloucester is a rugby city, a cathedral city and
a university city, and we need to make more of that.
So, to conclude, once again I thank you for the honour you have bestowed upon me
and for the generous words that have been spoken this evening. To have held an
office that includes the name of this city - Bishop of Gloucester has been a
privilege. The canons of the Church state that the bishop “is the chief pastor of all
that are within his diocese, as well laity as clergy”. To the extent that people have
been willing to receive me as such it has a joy to be that for the people of
Gloucester, church-goers or not, people of faith or not. For the seven months or so
that I continue to be the Bishop of Gloucester I will walk the city streets with extra
pleasure as a freeman and, when Alison and I move to live near the cathedral city of
Wells in Somerset, and I start signing my name “Michael Perham” again, instead of
“Michael Gloucestriensis”, I shall remember these ten years in this city with immense
gratitude and affection and continue to believe in Gloucester.
+Michael Gloucestr:
27 March 2014