Your basket
Your basket
0 items - £0.00

Personal tools

Home Who's who Bishops The Bishop of Sherborne Sermons, articles, and media Speech at the retirement of Bishop Nicholas, July 2021

Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Speech at the retirement of Bishop Nicholas, July 2021

by Michael Ford last modified 05 Jul, 2021 08:22 PM

Bishop Karen gave a speech at Salisbury Cathedral on 3rd July 2021 as Bishop Nicholas retired after ten years as Bishop of Salisbury.

As we come to this part of the service, can I remind you that Bishop Nick and Helen have provided light refreshments for today in goodie bags under your seats? So now is the time to find them and pour yourself a drink should you wish.

We ask that you remain in your seats throughout, and to consume your drinks while seated. Masks need to remain on, but obviously can be removed to drink. Please take your rubbish away at the end.

I am aware on an occasion like this that it would be easy to launch into a ‘Bishop Nicholas Holtam, This Is Your Life’. You will be pleased to know I am not!

However, all of us gathered here are aware that today not only marks your retirement as Bishop of Salisbury, but your retirement after 42 years of valuable ministry, so there needs to be some recognition of the past as well as the present.

Last week I met someone who was telling me that he had known you since ordination days, as someone then who cycled around the parish, meeting people where they were, and it is that man of the people which has characterised your ministry. Not a fleeting interest, but a deep concern for the lost, the last and the least. Following in the footsteps of Bishop Jim Thompson who ordained you priest in 1980, after study in Durham and ordination training at Westcott House, you returned to London to serve as assistant curate in Stepney.

It was Prof Gordon Dunstan I understand, who taught you at Kings, who recommended you go North for a short foray teaching Christian Ethics at Lincoln Theologica College, an emerging subject. It honed your thinking and writing skills. After a while mission was added to ethics, and as I understand it, you also took on a parish church attached to the college. Far too much, said Helen! – you did not stay long! Perhaps it was the environment of a theological college, or the pull back to those ordinary people with real needs, that after 5 years there you were drawn back to the Capital, and that period in your life when you went to the dogs – the Isle of Dogs.

You served as Vicar there for seven years and I sense they were very memorable and special ones for both of you. The challenges of poverty, the offer of Christian hope, the ministry to the marginalised have all become very much part of what drives you; and important shoots grew – family life, the warmth of Helen’s hospitality, your increasing concern for inclusion.

The current incumbent of the Isle of Dogs, Fr Tom Pyke says:

“In incumbents Rob Yeomans, Nick Holtam and Martin Seeley, the Isle of Dogs had three musketeers of the Church of England, each with a different agenda. Nick was the one who was heavily into justice issues and the Church; just as well since during his incumbency the population of the Isle of Dogs had to be mobilised against the advances of the BNP. In 1993 Derek Beackon won the marginal Millwall ward council election by seven votes, to the horror of most of the community. Nick recognised that more than handwringing was necessary for the community to recover its identity. Voters had to be mobilised, and it had to be safe for them to exercise their right to vote, where before there had been a lot of intimidation. In 1994 there was a landslide vote to oust Beackon. In many ways what Nick established was the right of the people of the parish to be proud of who they were again. He is greatly loved here for that.”

It would not have been hard for the Bishop of London to see how well you suited the post of Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, a role in which you excelled. I do not underestimate in all of this the cost of ministry, the sacrifice of one’s family, the juggling within a household which needs to go on, to make vicarage life a joy and a sign of hope to others. That is a cost you and Helen and the family have borne and for which we thank you.

St Martin’s seemed to play so well to your strengths, your love of people, a platform for speaking up for those who have little voice, an interest in culture. There you did remarkable things including that £36 million buildings renewal, which provided for the least and the less, as well as something of quality to serve the business and tourist communities. I asked Sam Wells to write something for me to say today - he wrote this:

“Bishop Nick left an indelible mark on this community. The Renewal of St Martin-in-the-Fields, which he conceived, oversaw, and completed, was a magnificent transformation that enabled St Martin’s to take its place alongside the truly national and internal institutions of Trafalgar Square. But just as important was the way he touched the lives of schoolgirls in Tulse Hill where he was chair of governors and congregation members from every kind of background, and those seeking a place of belonging in the face of rejection elsewhere. Whenever the story of St Martin’s is told, his name will hold an honoured place – lifting our aspirations and embodying our commitments.”

Whilst there, you wrote a book, an alternative ‘A Room with a View’ – it is currently on sale on Amazon for 74p! However, it does set out your commitment to a world-facing Church. A vision you have brought to us here. So again, it was no surprise that when Salisbury Diocese was looking for an inclusive, outward-looking Bishop, that you were top of the list.

Almost ten years ago your election was confirmed, you were consecrated and installed here on 15th October 2011. That occasion brought much joy and excitement as your procession made its way from the streets of Salisbury surrounded by school children, the Cathedral Choir, and a school jazz band.

Salisbury has come to know you and love you. You have continued to champion the rights of the deaf and disabled, same-sex couples, and being married to a Quaker has given you and Helen a shared awareness of the needs of our partners in the Sudans, and a care for the environment and a determination to support and speak out. We have enjoyed, Helen, your flapjack, your Danish hospitality, the origami gracing south Canonry – aware too, Helen, that you have also used that hobby, and that of baking, to feed those visiting the law courts in Salisbury and support Erlestoke Prison.

For six years, Bishop Nick, you have used your seat in the House of Lords wisely and well, bringing national issues back to Salisbury and making sure Salisbury has been heard. You have been in the right place at the right time, being able to speak out about Brexit, the Salisbury poisonings and Climate Change.

I think I am going to leave it there, you will be pleased to know. Because I know the whole of the last week or so has been made up of people, from all sections of church and community saying their goodbyes and thank yous. We just have a few more to do this evening, as a variety of people have said to me, ‘Can I say something?’ We have had to limit them!

First of all, we have a representative from the Guild of Servers.

Secondly, we have Rosie Scriven on behalf of the Diocesan Mother’s Union.

One of the appreciated gifts you have brought, Bishop Nick, has been the ability to ring bells around the two counties, so I welcome a representative from the Diocesan Guild of Bell Ringers.

As I have said, children marked your arrival in the Diocese, and our schools have been grateful for the support you have given them, so I welcome a representative from the Diocesan Board of Education.

The close relationship of the Close has been important, with both Sarum College and the Cathedral being important to your own ministry, so I now invite the Dean to say a few words.u

It is good that we have with us this evening members of your Bishop’s staff, past and present, together with the Deans of Guernsey and Jersey who mark something of the future journey of the Diocese. In the last 10 years you have worked with two Deans, four Suffragan Bishops, two Diocesan Secretaries and eight Archdeacons. Well done you! We too would like to thank you for your ministry amongst us – for giving most of us a job here in the first place, but also trusting us and sharing with us the life of the Diocese. ‘Renewing Hope: pray, serve, grow’ has been our mantra over the last few years, so in this special cloth bag we have a gift for you from us as Bishop’s staff present and future.

As you planned your retirement Bishop Nick, you generously asked people to give to our Aldhelm Mission Fund in thanksgiving for your ministry and I am pleased to say that so far over £3000 has been given to that fund. The messages places there and others have, along with other greetings, been put onto this card which Nigel Done and the Sherborne Office have created.

You also helpfully made a list of things which you and Helen would like to buy, so we have had a collection. Which is where we come full circle because you are still cycling Bishop Nick, and I understand you are being encouraged to buy an electric bike. Now, I am not sure whether that is because of age, or to get up on the South Downs with, or to whizz along the promenade in your lycra without anyone recognising you. So, we hope that our gift will help with that, and other purchases for your flat, and I am going to invite David Pain to now come to present it to you on behalf of the Diocese.


Thank you both, for many years of ministry, but above all for being you – warm, hospitable, conflicted at times by that sense of justice, hardworking and above all lovable. May you both have a very long and happy retirement.

Document Actions