“There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of evidence that there is a god in the world”, Ed Atkinson tells me from the sofa of his caravan at the Royal Bath and West...
“Bishops are two a penny but being a bishop’s husband? Now, that’s rare,” Professor Jeremy Duff jokes as he sits beside his wife Dr Jill Duff, the new Bishop of Lancaster.
“It is unusual and so I understand people are intrigued”.
Jeremy tells me there has been “no end” of people asking how Dr Jill’s senior role within the Church of England has impacted the dynamic within their marriage.
Dr Jill, who officially took up the post in June, is now one of 14 Church of England bishops. Three more are due to be consecrated in the coming months.
“I think the only change is because other people think there’s a change”, Jeremy tells me from the New Wine’s annual summer conference in Somerset, soon after delivering a seminar about the risk secular culture poses to Biblical notions of gender.
“There are no end of people who, perhaps being pleasant, are trying to ask about it - but in a way I think that’s actually Satan’s lies really.
“There’s the whisper that says ‘this isn’t going to work’.”
Jeremy, who is currently the principal of Church of Wales’ St Padarn’s Institute, compares the worry to fears over relationships where woman are the breadwinner or they simply earn more than their male partner – concerns he says are misplaced.
Does it affect him?
“Those things are not true and when you read the Bible [you see] fear and anxiety are not from God.
“People don’t mean to but the slightly gossipy anxiety of ‘how’s that going to work?’, that has had a little bit of an impact because, when people tell you that things aren’t going to work, at the dark times in the night, you half believe them before you realise it’s a load of rubbish.”
Dr Jill credits Jeremy as being her “greatest supporter” and the person who talked her into reconsidering, when she initially rejected to bishop post.
She told me: “The questions you’ve been asking, are prone to exactly the reasons why I said no at first because I thought ‘How is this going to work for my boys and for Jeremy.
“I couldn’t see how God would enable that.”
How did Dr Jill overcome her own reluctance?
Turning to Jeremy, she said: “I was going to go through the process [of becoming a bishop].
“I remember phoning you, telling you some of my anxieties in this particular area and you just said, ‘When you flourish, Jill, me and the boys flourish’ and that was really helpful to hear.”
Click here to listen to Premier's Alex Williams speaking with the Bishop of Lancaster Dr Jill Duff and Professor Jeremy Duff:
New Wine's United 18 conference at the Royal Bath and West Showground near Shepton Mallet in Somerset runs until Saturday 11th August.
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