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Reflections on working for the Bishop

In September 2015, Evan Rieder started working for the Bishop of Coventry as one of the Bishop's interns. After a year, he took on more responsibilities and became a Research Assistant to the Bishop. Now, over two years after he first started, Evan's time working in Bishop's House has come to an end. In this article, Evan reflects on his experience of working for the Bishop.

I sometimes enjoy playing a mind-game when I’m acting as chaplain for Bishop Christopher – part of my role as Research Assistant in the Bishop of Coventry’s office. I like pretending that my memory has been swiped; my last memory is waving my parents good-bye as they drop me off at university to study theology. This scene is one of my starting points of exploring the weird and wonderful world of Christianity and the church.

Back to the present: It’s Remembrance Day, 2015. The setting: War Memorial Park. For incomprehensible reasons, I am the one holding the Coventry Cross of Nails, leading a procession that includes our own Bishop, the Mayor of this proud city and community, as well as dignitaries and delegates from Kiel and Dresden. Why am I wearing Jedi robes with a garment that make me look like a floating cloud? Oh, and during all this we’re being photographed by the Coventry Telegraph and filmed by ITV West Midlands.

Cracking up internally, I ask myself the question: How on earth did I end up here?!

Alternatively: It’s Easter Sunday 2017. I’m feeling small, due to Coventry Cathedral’s baptistery window towering over me, just like the Bishop whose order of service I’m holding. How did I end up in charge of his crosier and the Oil of Chrism (whatever that means…) all while wearing a robe that makes me look like a slender marshmallow, or – with the cape – like I was the last cut from the Fellowship of the Ring.

Again: How on earth did I end up here?!

You can probably tell, I did not grow up in the Church of England, and that at times I got a sense of impostor syndrome; like playing an unlikely character in these and many more very Anglican scenes. Robes, smells and bells do not necessarily come naturally to me, but they might very well be what I will remember most from this time with Bishop Christopher.  There are quite a few ‘fancy’ things my former colleague Victoria and I were allowed to do as his research assistants. Accompanying Bishop Christopher in Parliament, for instance, and supporting his work there, seeing how the Faith and Order Commission works, seeing the work of the Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre, or getting involved in a Bishop’s role within the diocese’s structure all come to mind. But being thrown headfirst into the spiritual heart of this diocese and the life of the church in countless services, baptisms, confirmations, and celebrations of communion is what I have come to treasure the most.

On reflection, it might have seemed that ending up where I did was very far off from where I started, but actually I now see that these allegedly strange scenes were much more familiar than I thought. I met people doing their utmost to make Christ present in every community, in any way possible, whether the world considered these communities, groups, and people worthwhile or not. I got the best seat in the house, standing next to Bishop Christopher, when I saw the smile on a young man’s face after being confirmed. He thought the church would reject him because of his background. He expected to be turned away, but instead he received a foretaste of what we know as the Kingdom of God. Perhaps he thinks this too: God’s great adventure puts many of us in places where we feel strangely familiar.

So I think to myself: That’s why I ended up here.

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