Southampton Street Pastor To Be Next Bishop of Stafford

A Southampton priest, who combines his parish role with a chaplaincy to the Mayflower Theatre and a Street Pastor in the south-coast port city, is to be the next Bishop of Stafford.

The appointment of the Revd Canon Geoff Annas was announced today by 10 Downing Street. He succeeds the Rt Revd Gordon Mursell who was forced to retire early on health grounds.

To mark the announcement, the bishop-designate was today embarking on a whirl-wind tour of his new Episcopal Area, which is larger than many dioceses.

He will begin his tour with a visit to Dovedale House, the Diocese of Lichfield’s youth centre in Ilam in the Staffordshire Moorlands; before moving to the County Town for the Staffordshire County Show. While there he will meet the President and Chairman of the Staffordshire and Birmingham Agricultural Society, the former national hunt jockey Johnny Greenall and farmer Michael Shelley.

He will then move to East Staffordshire with a visit to Burton Albion FC. He will tour the Brewer’s Pirelli Stadium before heading to Stoke for a visit which panders to his love of the theatre. The new bishop and his wife will tread the boards at the City’s Regent Theatre and meet some of the back-stage crew who make the magic of the theatre possible.

Geoff Annas was born on the 29th November 1953. His wife Ann is an ophthalmologist. They have two grown up children.

He is currently Vicar of St Christopher’s Thornhill, Southampton. In addition to this he is Actors’ Church Union Chaplain of the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, a Canon of Winchester Cathedral and assistant Area Dean of Southampton. As Area Dean in addition to thinking through pastoral re-organisations, he has overseen the establishment of the Southampton Street Pastor scheme and chairs its management committee; and does a monthly duty as a Street Pastor.

Prior to theological training at Salisbury and Wells and his ordination in 1983, Geoff was a senior social worker with Surrey County Council with a specialism in fostering and adoption. He was assistant intake team leader dealing with family crisis, non-accidental injury, mental health issues and vulnerable adults. He supervised team members and students and prepared and presented court reports.

Commenting on his appointment, he said:

“I have to be honest in that on hearing I was going to be the new Bishop of Stafford I was quite overawed, really. It is a huge responsibility, a great privilege; but also it is really exciting because, although I don’t know the area very much I’m looking forward to getting to know it and certainly getting to know all the people there ““ particularly the clergy but the communities as well. I hope I have something to offer and I’m looking forward to discovering it.

“I think the key issues on taking up office will be to get out of the office! What I really want to do is to get to know the people and the issues they are coping with in their day to day lives. Obviously I have a general knowledge of the area but it’s very different when you’re living there. So I want to spend a lot of time listening and seeing out how the church relates to people in their situations.”

His current bishop, the Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt, Bishop of Winchester, is himself a previous Bishop of Stafford. Geoff Annas commented:

“Bishop Michael has been very good in that until a public announcement has been made he and I have not discussed it at all. However, I have said to him that when it becomes public knowledge, today, I’d very much like to go and have a cup of coffee with him and get the low-down on Stafford. He said he would be delighted to tell me all about it. What he has said is that it is a wonderful place and he was very happy as Bishop of Stafford. He’s quite thrilled that somebody from Winchester should be going there.”

He said the secrecy about the appointment leading up to today’s announcement was extremely difficult; but says it has helped him to understand the need to tell others about the Good News of the Gospel. He said:

“I’ve actually known for some months now that my name was going to be put forward but of course until the Prime Minister has passed that name to Her Majesty The Queen and she has signed giving her permission nothing is definite.

“As Bishop Jonathan in Lichfield described it when he said he was putting my name forward, it was entering a long tunnel; and it has been a long tunnel. Apart from the bishop here, Bishop Michael, there has been no-one that we have been able to share this with; so it hasn’t been easy. But what it has taught me is that if something is really, really special then actually you’re bursting to tell other people about it and it’s quite hard when you can’t tell people.

“So what I am hoping is that when I get to Stafford and as I get around I will find people who are desperate to tell others about the love God has for them. That telling of others is a very special thing and perhaps something we sometimes take for granted. It will be good to see how other people are hearing about the love of God in the Staffordshire area.”

Canon Geoff Annas will be consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury with other bishops from the Church of England and the Anglican Communion during a special service in Westminster Abbey on 21st September. He will be officially begin his new role when he is installed in Lichfield Cathedral on Sunday 26th September.

He will leave his current parish of St Christopher’s Thornhill after a weekend of celebrations, from 23rd to 25th July, to mark the 50th anniversary of its founding as a parish and the 40th anniversary of the church building.