Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

Meet Dunedin’s new bishop

Dunedin’s new bishop has wasted no time connecting with his clergy. A month ago, every licenced clergyperson in the diocese received a hand-written letter from their bishop-elect.
• Tenth Bishop of Dunedin ordained

Julanne Clarke-Morris  |  23 Sep 2017  |

The Rt Rev Dr Steven Benford has been ordained and installed as Bishop of Dunedin.

St Paul’s Cathedral, Dunedin, was packed last night (September 22) with 500 worshippers who turned out to welcome the English priest and medical doctor.

Steven (56) has strong connections in the Otago-Southland region, he has lived in Oamaru, worked in Dunedin, and shares Southland family links through his wife Lorraine, who grew up in Gore.

The new Bishop served most recently as vicar of the multicultural Anglican parish of St Joseph the Worker in Northholt, in the Diocese of London. Prior to that he worked for many years as an anaesthetist at a Yorkshire hospital, while serving in part-time rural ministry and then with an inner city church.

Suzanne Ellison and Tāwini White from Kati Huirapa Runaka ki Puketeraki gave the karanga for Steven and Lorraine as they were welcomed to St Paul’s, supported by family and Bishop George Connor.

Archbishop Philip Richardson – who co-presided at the service with Archbishop Winston Halapua – was pleased to see the diocese recognising the tangata whenua last night.

Looking out on the congregation he sensed energy and hope for the future amongst those filling the pews.

“It felt like here was a strong sense of commitment going forward.” he said.

“Part of that may be the quality of relationship that Steven brings: of partnership, of collaboration, and an ability to balance two sides.

“That ability to hold two things together is in his DNA.

“If he reflects that in the way he works in this diocese, that will be good not only for Dunedin, but also for the whole Church,” said Archbishop Philip.

Robyn Couper has seen Steven hold together the two sides of his vocation as doctor and priest.

Robyn was a missionary in Haiti for 33 years, and in 2010 and 2012, she invited Steven Benford to serve there as part of short-term medical missions after the Haiti earthquakes.

“Steven is a ‘doctor of the body’ and a ‘doctor of the soul,’” Robyn said last evening.

“As he worked at the hospital every day, Steven would wear his clerical collar, so there was never any doubt about where he was coming from.”

“One day a lady said to me: ‘Is that guy over there a priest? Because if I die today, I am going to hell. I have to speak with someone.”

Robyn recalls some other medical staff making light of that request.

“But Steven was perfect. He was so kind, and so pastoral with her, it was beautiful.”

Assistant Bishop of Auckland, Jim White has supported Dunedin diocese as archbishops’ commissary over the months since Bishop Kelvin Wright retired at Easter 2017.

Meeting Steven, he saw a man who thinks like a bishop and a doctor.

“When he faces a problem he diagnoses, then prescribes – and he’s heading for the cure. You can see that healing may be part of the way he ministers as a bishop.”

The Rev Fran Grant was in Dunedin, visiting from the UK. She was there to support Steven, her prayer partner in ‘On Fire Mission,’ a group which works to renew charismatic Anglo-Catholic ministries.

“Steven has such a depth of faith and spirituality,” she said.

“His energetic, expressive style of worship has taught me so much. He leads worship in a way that enables people, and that facilitates them to draw closer to God.”

“You are blessed to have this extraordinary, humble man of God as your new bishop. Many of us will miss him greatly,” she said.

The Eucharistic service last night was uplifted by sacred music from  the St Paul’s Cathedral choir, girls from St Hilda’s Collegiate and the Selwyn College choral scholars.

At Bishop Steven’s request, a worship band – led by Rev Malcolm Falloon – played many of the new bishop’s favourite choruses – in country-folk rock style.

Bishop Steven revealed his love of different worship styles during the ordination. He was visibly moved as the cathedral choir sang the soaring ‘Sanctus and Benedictus’ from Richard Madden’s ‘Archbishop’s service’, and as the band played James Wright’s heartfelt chorus ‘All that I am I lay before you’.

On his drive south from Auckland earlier this month, Bishop Steven met with as many bishops as he could.

“I was surprised and delighted to find that no matter how different we were, we shared the common bond of our commitment to Jesus Christ.

“What I didn’t find was a sense that you have to conform to a particular way of being a leader in this Church.”

Dunedin’s new bishop has wasted no time connecting with his clergy. A month ago, every licenced clergyperson in the diocese received a hand-written letter from their bishop-elect.

“It’s not every day you are elected bishop,” said Bishop Steven.

“And I wanted to start out with a direct relationship, not by them knowing me from what others might say.

“I wanted to let them know how important their ministry will be to me.”

When the moment of ordination approached, Steven lay before the altar on the cathedral’s marble floor. Next he knelt, as Bishop Ngarahu Katene from Tikanga Maori was joined by a circle of Pakeha bishops and the archbishops, as all laid hands on Steven in ordination.

Bishop Steven’s episcopal robes and one of the croziers he will use came from England. The English crook is the simplest he could find, and is fashioned from Yorkshire wood, connecting with his time in ministry there.

“We do things differently in the Anglican Church.” said Bishop Steven at the supper after the pageantry of the evening’s cathedral service.

“I do love the bling,” he quipped.

“But it is all secondary.  

“Anything we do in this Church is only good in how it points to God.”

Bishop Steven’s episcopal ring comes with a story.

Steven’s father, John Benford died last year. When Steven was elected bishop, his mother, Mary Benford said she wanted to have his father’s plain wedding band fashioned into a signet ring for their son to wear.

“’It was given in love the first time, and it is given in love again,’ she said.”

Bishop Steven is fascinated with the Polynesian idea that objects given in love can accrue value by being passed on.

He believes that is what Jesus wants for us.

“God has loved us with such an extravagant, generous love,” he said.

“I have come here with love, and I have received love.

“And together we will see it spread throughout the world.”

Bishop Steven Benford is now the 10th Bishop of Dunedin, today the bishop and diocesan representatives met for the 2017 synod.