Bishop of Chelmsford talks the best of British

PUBLISHED: 06:00 23 March 2016

The Bishop in the Houses of Parliament

The Bishop in the Houses of Parliament


Stephen Cottrell, the Bishop of Chelmsford, grew up in Leigh on Sea. In this new Essex Life column, Stephen shares an insight into his experiences across the county

One of my roles as Bishop of Chelmsford is to be one of 26 bishops who sit in the House of Lords. Most Tuesdays you will see me going up there. I am a member of the Select Committee on Communication and at the moment we are discussing the renewal of the BBC Charter and with it the whole purpose of public service broadcasting.

I know we all get exasperated by the media from time to time, but no other country in the world has anything quite like the BBC. Be it the World Service, waking up to the Today programme, listening to the football results on Five Live, watching the Great British Bake Off or even our own excellent BBC Essex, we rely on the BBC to inform, educate and entertain us and we cherish its distinctiveness and its independence. It is one of the things that makes Britain great.

Another thing that makes Britain stand alone in the wider world is the NHS. Sometimes it feels as if it is creaking, but it is still freely available to all of us at the point of need. It deserves our thanks and our support and as I go around our county I am always hugely impressed by the dedication of those who work in it.

Finally, would you forgive me for adding one more great British institution that sets Britain apart? Alongside the BBC and the NHS, what about the Church of England! Whether you go to church or not, every one of our communities is served by a parish church. Many of them are the oldest and most beautiful buildings we have. I mentioned the chapel at Bradwell on Sea and the oldest wooden church in the world at Greensted last month, but there are newer churches as well contributing great acts of service within our communities. The parish church in Harlow has been voted as one of the 50 best 20th century church buildings in Britain. And although the church at Black Notley may not win any architectural awards, it is our newest and is a sign that the church goes on working within communities both old and new.

But it isn’t just the buildings, beautiful though they are, that makes the Church of England an institution of British life. It’s what goes on inside these churches too. Think of all those weddings, funerals and Christenings that we do; and then all the chaplains in schools and hospitals, prisons and shopping centres. The church is people, there to serve us and minister to us at times of joy and need, communities serving communities that the church can play an active part in.

For me, these three things (the BBC, the NHS and the Church of England) bind us together in our British culture because they serve us in different ways and expand our vision of what it is to be human and how we belong to each other.

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