After announcing he will retire in July after 13 years, the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Rev John Goddard, spoke to reporter JON ROBINSON about receiving death threats during the 2001 Burnley riots, inter-faith relationships and his legacy DISTRESSING and frightening is how Bishop John Goddard has described his first few years in his role.

During the riots in 2001, the newly-appointed bishop received death threats, both through the post and over the phone, after he tried to get to the bottom of the unrest.

He received white powder in his mail bag, along with six or seven abusive letters and four phone calls from people threatening him with baseball bats. The police were asked to intervene.

He was also told that ‘Hitler didn’t finish the job’ and that he would be ‘on the cattle trucks’ as well.

Despite attempts to minimise his involvement, Bishop John took on a role within a task force to investigate the cause of the riots and improve inter-faith relationships in the town — an achievement he is proud of.

After almost 14 years in the post, Bishop John announced last week that he would stand down in July.

The 66-year-old ‘adopted Lancastrian’ said he was proud to be leaving the area in ‘better shape’ in 2000 when he was appointed.

He said: “Burnley has changed considerably since I first came here and a lot of it has been for the better.

“Inter-faith relationships were there but have now become a lot more established and there is a real sense of partnership and working together for the general benefit of the community.

“The riots were a very distressing and frightening time for me and were a huge challenge to get through for everyone involved.”

The former parish vicar, who began life in the priesthood on tough council estates, said the early stages of his career helped prepare him for the challenges he faced during the early months of his tenure.

Born in Somerset, Bishop John grew up in Swindon and has been married to his wife Vivienne for 43 years after meeting at university.

He has the rare distinction of having been ordained at York Minster as a deacon, priest, canon, canon emeritus and as bishop.

He said: “I was hesitant at first when I was offered the role by the then Bishop of Blackburn, Alan Chesters.

“I had always seen myself as a parish priest and had never thought that I would be anything else. I was delighted to have been offered the post and it was a wonderful occasion at York Minster but it was sad that my parents had passed away shortly before.

Bishop John was ordained to the Parish of South Bank in Middlesbrough in 1970, a very deprived area and served a second curacy at Scarborough on some of its large council estates.

At 28, he was made vicar of The Ascension Middlesbrough on a large council estate parish and in 1982 he became vicar of the town centre parish of All Saints and also became area dean at the same time.

Six years later he was made vice-principal of Edinburgh Theological College in the Episcopal Church of Scotland before returning to England to be rector of the Team Parish of Ribbleton in Preston in 1992 before his elevation to the bishopric.

His final service will be on July 19 and he intends to retire with Vivienne to Tarleton.

He said: “Overall, I’m proud of my time in Burnley and I pray that a new bishop is appointed and will carry on the work that has been started here.

“There’s a long way to go but Burnley is certainly on the right track.”