CAPTION: The Rt. Rev'd Robert Atwell was installed as Bishop of Exeter in July 2014

Bishop of Exeter Announces Retirement

Posted: 10th May, 2023

The Bishop of Exeter has announced he is to retire on 30 September 2023 after more than nine years in the role.

The Rt. Rev’d Robert Atwell was installed as bishop at Exeter Cathedral in July 2014.

He is currently convenor of the Bishops in the South-West region, chair of the Church of England’s Liturgical Commission and the lead bishop for Rural Affairs.

He has been a member of the House of Lords since November 2021.

Bishop Robert is a member of the House of Lords as well as the Church of England’s lead bishop for Rural Affairs

Bishop Robert said: “There is no ideal time to retire, but this seems like a sensible moment. I will be 69 in August. Last year I had surgery and, although it was successful, I am increasingly conscious of how precious the gift of life and health is, and I don’t want to take it for granted.

“It has been an honour to serve as Bishop of Exeter in this beautiful county with so many historic and amazing churches served by faithful congregations. I have been blessed with a fantastic team of clergy colleagues and diocesan staff and I will miss working with them.

“I know the people of the diocese will continue to live out our vision to grow in prayer, make new disciples and to serve the people of Devon with joy.”

Bishop Robert studied theology at St John’s College, Durham, before training for ordination in Cambridge and Rome. He served as a curate in the Diocese of London before returning to Cambridge as chaplain of Trinity College for six years and teaching early Christian life and thought.

Bishop Jackie

The Bishop of Crediton, the Rt. Rev’d Jackie Searle, will be the Acting Bishop of Exeter

He spent 10 years as a Benedictine monk in Oxfordshire, returning to parish ministry in London’s Primrose Hill. He was appointed Bishop of Stockport in 2008.

During his time as Bishop of Exeter, he championed the role of the rural church, instigating the Growing the Rural Church project and most recently editing the book How Village Churches Thrive.

His time in office has also seen the development of the Devon Pilgrim project, the Devon Church Weddings project and social justice work through Transforming Plymouth Together. He steered Devon’s 600 Anglican churches through the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Bishop Robert is also patron of Plymouth Marjon University, numerous charities and voluntary agencies including YMCA Exeter, St Petrock’s and Devon Historic Churches Trust. He is a trustee of Devon Community Foundation.

He is an accomplished author, whose works include Celebrating the Seasons, Celebrating the Saints, The Contented Life, Peace at the Last (on funeral ministry) and The Good Worship Guide.

The Lord Lieutenant of Devon, David Fursdon, said “It has been my privilege to work with Robert as Bishop of Exeter for eight of his nine years in office. He has indeed, as he set out to do, served the people of Devon with joy.

Three bishops

Bishop Robert at the Maundy Thursday Cathedral service with Bishop James and Bishop Jackie

“Through a series of challenges, not least the Covid crisis, he has led by example. His deep personal faith, empathy and pragmatism coupled with humility and a gift for clear communication has enabled him to exercise strong leadership whether in the Diocese, as chair of the Church of England’s Liturgical Commission or being the lead bishop for rural affairs in the House of Lords. We will miss him very much.”

Bishop Robert will be stepping back from public duties in late July. The Bishop of Crediton, the Rt. Rev’d Jackie Searle, will be Acting Bishop of Exeter pending the appointment of the new bishop.

Bishop Jackie said “It is an honour to serve with Bishop Robert in this wonderful diocese. His retirement will be a significant loss to us all, and we are deeply thankful for his ministry.

“He will leave a rich legacy that includes his collaborative, prayerful and wise leadership, a strong team, and the Diocesan vision to guide us as we continue to pray, grow and serve the people of Devon with joy.

“It will be my privilege to be Acting Diocesan Bishop through the forthcoming vacancy.”

Annie Jeffries, who as Chair of the House of Laity, represents lay people in the diocese, said “On behalf of the laity of the Exeter Diocese may I say how sorry we all are to hear that Bishop Robert is retiring.

“He has encouraged and supported the laity in all that he has instigated and achieved throughout his tenure as Bishop.

“It has been an absolute delight and privilege to work alongside him, as many of us have been fortunate to do. We wish him much happiness and continuing good health in the future years, with many thanks for his outstanding leadership. ”

There will be a farewell service for Bishop Robert at Exeter Cathedral in September. Details for this will be shared in due course.