From floods to recession, the last 11 years have been eventful for the Rt Rev Cyril Guy Ashton. The Star’s Rachael Clegg looks back with the Bishop of Doncaster as he prepares for retirement this summer.
THE first thing the Bishop of Doncaster says, after a hospitable welcome and a cup of tea, is that he’s bought a new motorbike.
“I’ve got rid of the old BMW and bought a new one,” says the Rt Rev Cyril Guy Ashton.
It’s fair to say Bishop Cyril does not fit the stereotype of a clergyman. But his down-to-earth nature and petrol-headed charm have served him well over the past 11 years as Bishop of Doncaster.
The Isle of Man TT-loving bishop has even led biker services, and encouraged people back into church by using his trusty motorbike to tour his 170 parishes, from Dinnington as far out as the East Coast. But, after 11 years as Bishop of Doncaster, the Rt Rev Cyril will leave his Wickersley home this July and move across the Pennines to Lancaster.
Finally, at 68 years old, the Bishop is retiring.
“I’ll miss being Bishop of Doncaster,” he says. “Though I won’t cease to be a bishop altogether - I will still be an assistant bishop and will look after new bishops.
“I’ll also be responsible for all people who want to pursue ordination, which will be exciting.”
His years as Bishop of Doncaster have been eventful.
During his tenure he has seen South Yorkshire recover from the gross economic hardship that followed the collapse of the region’s two main industries - steel and mining - and has supported people in the aftermath of the 2007 floods.
More recently he helped soothe the county in the wake of the horrific Edlington torture boys case, in which two children stamped on, beat, choked, burned and humiliated another pair of boys, almost killing one of them.
“There were serious child protection issues surrounding that case and the church was very much involved in helping the community deal with what happened,” he says today.
“On the whole the local church did really well in being there for the people of Edlington - it stayed with them and helped them towards healing.”
The Bishop recently made an address to the families who lost loved ones in the Great Heck train disaster of 2001, in which 10 people were killed.
“Tragedy happens,” he says. “It is part of the natural order. Every part of creation has the potential for injury and damage - but there is an even bigger potential for beauty, love and happiness.”
South Yorkshire has had its fair share of hardship over the years, as Bishop Cyril admits.
“When I started, South Yorkshire was one of the poorest regions in the European Union. There has been a great will to reinvent the area and there are lots of good signs of rejuvenation.
“Doncaster Minster was one of the major restoration projects and stands as witness to the presence and power of God. That area - together with the further education college - gives a real sense of resurrection.”
The people of South Yorkshire have a strong community spirit.
“Church attendance in South Yorkshire is among the lowest in the country, yet in terms of giving money to the church the region is one of the highest.
“The poorer parishes give much more generously than the richer ones and in some areas of South Yorkshire the average donation is £16 a week per person.”
He describes South Yorkshire people as having considerable grace and a sense of survival.
“There’s real graciousness and kindness among the people of South Yorkshire. They look out for one another and take great care in an area that has been economically damaged,” he says.
“The people in areas like Stainforth, a typical mining village, are really trying to reinvent themselves and it’s heartening to be part of that.
“Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster have made sterling attempts to re-emerge from enormous difficulties.”