Fringe Box



Dragon Interview: New Bishop of Guildford Talks About New Job, Guildford Diocese and Refugees

Published on: 7 Oct, 2015
Updated on: 9 Oct, 2015

The new Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, was appointed in February (2015). Here he talks about his role, his view of Guildford as a diocese and the fraught subject of refugees, on which he recently made a public statement.

Bishop of Guildford

The Bishop of Guildford.

How are you finding your first year as Bishop of Guildford?

I’m really enjoying it. It’s a particular privilege to be criss-crossing the region, visiting churches, schools, hospitals, army barracks and the like, and meeting some amazing people. There are plenty of challenges, but it feels like I’m in the right place at the right time.

How would you describe the diocese to someone that doesn’t know it? What are its strengths and weaknesses?

Guildford Diocese covers most of Surrey and parts of North-East Hampshire for the Church of England. We have around 28,000 people worshipping in our churches on a typical Sunday, and a higher proportion of children worshipping than anywhere else in the country. We also have around 22,000 children being educated in our church schools.

I guess the biggest danger is complacency, and a blindness to some areas of significant deprivation, both physical and spiritual, on our doorsteps. There large majority of our churches are actively involved in serving their communities through youth clubs, lunch clubs, food banks, playgroups, and the like – but there are some that need to get out more.

What are your most and least favourite things about Guildford as a town and borough?

I hardly knew Guildford before I arrived in February – and I’ve been really impressed by the lovely countryside around.  My least favourite thing is the traffic in the town centre, and the surprisingly aggressive driving!

Bishop of Guildford interview 3 out for the night with the Guildford Street Angels earlier in the year

The Bishop of Guildford out for the night with the Guildford Street Angels earlier in the year.

What, in your view, can be done to improve the links between the cathedral and university with the rest of the town?

It’s good to see the cathedral having its first major overhaul in 50 years – and the university being recently named as the University of the Year by the Times and Sunday Times. I think the town can be very proud of both. But yes, there’s work to be done in improving the links, something that’s very much part of the vision of our Cathedral Dean, Dianna Gwilliams.

You have recently given a statement on the amount of refugees the UK should accept. How would you define a refugee as opposed to an economic migrant?

I think of a refugee as someone who’s fleeing persecution. My grandparents took in a German Jewish refugee family during the war. Both Christians and Muslims are currently being persecuted in the Middle East and North Africa.

The bishop with his wife Beverly

The bishop with his wife Beverly.

Should there be any limit to the amount of refugees and migrants the UK and Europe should accept?

Yes, there have to be limits – especially for those who are going to permanently settle in the UK or the rest in Europe. But I think the Government’s current cap may well prove too small, especially if, God forbid, the war in Syria is still running in five years’ time.

What should be done about the root causes of such migration e.g. civil wars and poor economic opportunity in some countries?

Ultimately there has to be a diplomatic solution – and trade is vital too. The Millennium Development Goals will help, along with progress on global warming, which is currently hitting the poorest hardest.

Incidentally, our website has plenty of ideas as to how people can best respond to the current crisis.

The bishop enjoys a cuppa at home

The bishop enjoys a cuppa at home.

As one of our readers has asked, would you take any refugees into your home at Willow Grange?

We’ve shared our home with other people for most of my adult life – including a time where we took in a temporarily homeless family and ended up with five adults and five small children sharing our three-bedroom house for several months: so I wouldn’t be too worried about that part of it.

I guess there would be big cultural adjustments to be made, and that the ideal is always to find permanent housing for genuine refugees. But I’m certainly open to helping where we can.

Click here to see Wikipedia entry for Andrew Watson.

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