A Ministry for the Word: An Interview with Timothy Dudley-Smith, FHS

Article excerpt

This conversation took place on July 18, 2009, at Salisbury, England. - Ed.

As yon reflect on your walk with Christ over the years, what have been the most significant personal spiritual disciplines that have helped you grow spiritually?

I suppose I would say, as every Christian probably would, that a habit of prayer and the reading of the Bible have been the foundation of what spiritual growth God has given me over the years. But, Fd also want to put alongside that the keeping in touch with Christian friends. I don't just mean the congregation - I mean the friends you've formed in college, or wherever it may be, perhaps many years ago. And I believe that it's very valuable to keep your friendships warm, with the Christian folk that perhaps you grew up with, or with whom you've shared formative spiritual experiences in your earlier years.

So, I would want to say, really those three things: Learning to pray and making a habit of prayer; praying, even when you don't feel like it. Having a discipline about reading the scriptures daily, with, of course some study of the scriptures professionally - but I think it can be a trap for clergy where the scriptures are only "seed for the sower" and not "bread for the eater." And then, fellowship. I remember hearing Billy Graham - I was assistant missioner when he came and did a mission in the University of Cambridge (he had a team of about thirty assistant missioners). I remember him giving a follow-up talk to those who had professed coming to Christ during the mission. And, for the first time I remember hearing the word "fellowship" used as a verb. I'd known it as a noun, of course, as in "to have fellowship," but I can remember Billy saying "You've got to learn to fellowship." I had never used it like that, but I knew just what he meant.

And I think that that is a means of grace, if not a spiritual discipline. People have made shipwreck because they have failed to keep in touch with the friends who would support them when the going gets rough.

You've been in retirement since 1991.What were some of your responsibilities as Bishop ofThetford, and did any of those duties correlate with your gifts as a hymnwriter?

Well, let me answer the second part of the question first, and say: No, I don't think they did! When I was Bishop of Thetford, most of my hymnwriting was done in my summer holiday - I found it very difficult to write hymns actually "on the job." The Bishop of the diocese has the spiritual care, the shepherding care, and an element of discipline, for all the clergy in the diocese. I did find it very rewarding caring for clergy - helping towards their appointment when they first came, instituting them (which is the Church of England name for the service of welcome), looking after their house a bit, and the welfare of their family. Then, I did have a lot of committee work. I was on General Synod. I chaired endless committees in the diocese, some more rewarding than others.

And then, one was constantly out and about preaching the Word, visiting churches on Sunday. It's still a special occasion when a bishop comes. I felt I never spent my Sunday morning better than when I went out to the depths of the country - and Norfolk has got some pretty rural bits - to a church that might not have had a bishop visit it for thirty years, and confirm two people in their own setting among their own congregation.

Now, your work with Youth praise or with the other publications, was that in an official capacity?

No, that was all before I became a bishop.

And you became bishop in what year?

Nineteen eighty-one. Indeed, Youth praise was when I was still in London back in the '60s, and I left London in '73 to go to be archdeacon of Norwich. So that was all beforehand . And yes , I could do that in working hours because the society I was working for - the Church Pastoral Aid Society - were the publishers of Touth praise^ so that was part of the job. …