It was with both joy and sadness that many clergy, civic leaders, family and friends from across the diocese gathered at Winchester Cathedral on Sunday 26 November for a Farewell Service of Evensong, to say goodbye to Bishop Debbie who is leaving the diocese at the end of the month.
Bishop Debbie joined the Diocese of Winchester in 2019 as Bishop of Southampton and then served as Acting Bishop of Winchester from 2021. It was announced in September that she would be moving on to become diocesan Bishop in Peterborough.
During a moving service of Evensong, tributes were paid to Bishop Debbie’s exemplary leadership. Dean Catherine spoke of the “grace and graciousness” with which Debbie had carried out her role in challenging times; and Bishop David expressed how “your testimony is written in the lives” of so many people in our diocese” and “You leave us better than you found us.”
Basing his words on the biblical passage in 2 Corinthians 3, Bishop David continued, “We are the testimony of your four years in our midst… we are a letter from Christ, the result of your ministry Debbie, written not with ink but with the spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts”.
It was also wonderful to have the Revd Dr Isabelle Hamley preach a stirring sermon on Isaiah 40, a passage chosen by Bishop Debbie herself, asking the question of us: “how do we live life of a faith in a world of doubt?”
The challenge for the people of God, she continued, is to “trust in God’s way of changing the world, not Babylon’s way of changing the world… to live differently, dance to a different tune, to see the world through the eyes of the God who dies on the cross in order to change it, rather than the Emperor who comes in might to subdue it. The task of faith is to allow God to keep converting us day by day.”
The task of Christian leaders like Bishop Debbie is to remind us to see and discern God in all the places of the world where others might think God is absent… to help us live in a different way ruled by the imagination of the Kingdom and the power of the cross.Revd Dr Isabelle Hamley
Addressing the congregation before the closing prayer, Bishop Debbie herself said, “what has given me greatest joy is seeing people grow into who God has made them to be. It’s the most wonderful privilege to be part of somebody else’s journey and watch them flourish in all that God has given them…. Being the person God wants you to be is the only call on our lives. I’ve loved watching God at work amongst you and I will watch from a distance at so much more he is going to do.”
Bishop Philip also spoke of the “honour” of following in her footsteps, leading the prayers and charge to Bishop Debbie, before handing her the bishop’s staff for the final time as she said the blessing over a full cathedral. There was then a drinks reception where people from across the diocese had the opportunity to chat to Bishop Debbie and express their personal thanks and goodbyes.