MP Julian Smith has led tributes to the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds following the announcement he is to retire in January after 13 years in the role.
Conservative politician Mr Smith – who clashed with the Rt Rev John Packer in March over the Government’s proposals to cap working-age benefits – said he wished him “a long and healthy retirement”.
“Bishop John has been a passionate and energetic advocate for children and poverty issues in the House of Lords and for the needs of Ripon and North Yorkshire,” said Mr Smith.
“I have enjoyed debating many issues with him over the last few years and, although we didn’t agree on every issue, I am extremely grateful for his support and friendship.”
As reported in the Gazette last week, the Rt Rev Packer announced he would retire before the creation of a new super diocese – merging the dioceses of Ripon and Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield – at Easter 2014.
The Bishop, whose final duties will be on December 31, said: “It has been an immense privilege to serve in this diocese for the past 13 years and to experience so many acts of generosity.”
Between January 1 and the creation of the super diocese – titled the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales – the Bishop of Knaresborough, the Rt Rev James Bell, will have episcopal responsibility for the diocese of Ripon and Leeds.
The super diocese will be led by a new diocesan Bishop of Leeds and four other area Bishops for Ripon, Wakefield, Bradford and Huddersfield.
The Rt Rev Packer, who will be 67 when he retires, said: “It has been a particular delight to work with Bishop James for the past nine years and I am pleased that he will have the responsibility for guiding Ripon and Leeds into the new diocese, where he will continue to work as Bishop of Ripon.”
Rt Rev Packer, who entered ordained ministry in 1970 as a Curate at St Helier in Southwark, will have the distinction of being the first and only Bishop of Ripon and Leeds. The new title for the diocese and bishop was created in 2000.
He has also served at Abingdon in the Oxford diocese, as a tutor at Ripon College Cuddesdon, Vicar of Wath-upon-Dearne and then Team Rector at Sheffield Manor. He became Archdeacon of West Cumberland and was later appointed as Bishop of Warrington.
Six years after becoming Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, he was called to the House of Lords acting as Bishops’ Parliamentary Spokesperson for immigration and asylum, urban affairs and welfare reform.
The Rt Rev Packer will retire to Whitley Bay in North Tyneside with his wife, Barbara. A service of farewell will be held at Ripon Cathedral on Sunday, January 5, at 3pm.