Bishop Peter Collins, 68 priests and deacons and some 250 members of the congregation came to mark the occasion on January 24, and to wish Bishop Alan well in his retirement.
The celebration, which took place on the Feast of St Francis de Sales, was also the twentieth anniversary of the episcopal ordination of Bishop Alan. In his homily, the Bishop Emeritus made many references to St Francis, the seventeenth-century Bishop of Geneva, and the author of two famous books, On the Love of God and The Devout Life.
“Once you begin to read these books,” said Bishop Alan, “you discover just how accessible and relevant his writings are… they are living wisdom – not theory concocted behind a desk, far from the concerns of ordinary people.”
The bishop then reflected on the words of the first reading, ‘God, here I am. I come to do your will.’ “When we respond with a generous yes,” he commented, “we become part of God’s wonderful plan for the salvation of the whole world.”
He then traced the responses to God of the great figures of biblical history – Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Elijah – who each in their own way foreshadowed the great yes of Mary, and ultimately of Christ Himself.
Bishop Alan recalled the ‘eventful and fulfilling’ years he had spent as bishop, particularly his visits to parishes, schools, hospitals and prisons, the opportunities to take part in young people’s events, the Chrism Masses and Walsingham pilgrimages.
He thanked the people, priests and deacons of the diocese who have served faithfully and given a good witness, and asked forgiveness for moments when he had ‘failed to live up to the wonderful vocation of bishop’.
“Finally,” he said, “I entrust the past, the present and the future to the Lord and to the prayers of Our Lady of Walsingham… I ask that with me you treasure the past with thanksgiving, embrace the future with hope and journey on in the present moment with confidence in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
At the end of the Mass, Bishop Peter added a word, concurring that “the writings of St Francis de Sales should be near to us all”. He pointed to the great insight of the saint, that God’s truth “is always channelled through love. There is no truth that fails to serve love, and there is no worthy love which fails to be fashioned by God’s eternal truth.”
He then addressed Bishop Alan directly, thanking him for his fidelity “which was first moulded by your Anglican faith… Through your episcopal service you have provided an outstanding witness, and I thank you on behalf of us all.”
He then presented Bishop Alan with a gift, and the congregation responded with a standing ovation.