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Bishop David Walker - 29/01/2024

Good morning. 

A clear 5-2 score line brought few on-field surprises for Liverpool, who beat Norwich in the FA Cup yesterday. The real shock came off field, two days earlier, with Juergen Klopp’s announcement, that he is to quit managing the team in a few months time. When sports coaches and managers step down, it’s usually at the point when their team is failing, but Klopp’s announcement comes with his side leading the Premier League table. I applaud his decision. There’s a lot to be said for going when you’re at the top of your game. Far better than to wait till the fans bay for your blood. 

800 years ago, in the northern Italian town of Assisi, a man called Francis founded a religious order. In the space of a few short years it grew to be one of the largest and most influential monastic movements in the history of Christianity. And then Francis resigned. He’d recognised that he didn't possess the drive and capacity to continue to lead. Instead, he lived out the rest of his life as just a simple brother among many. Yet the community he launched continued to grow and spread, and is still considered as one of the core strands of Christian spirituality today. I may be biased, but I should know. I’m a member. 

In handing on his movement to others, Francis echoed the actions of the Christ he followed. The original disciples had been aghast when Jesus told them he was to leave them, and that St Peter would henceforth lead his fledgling church. Yet, the gospel of love, grace and forgiveness they proclaimed, would go on to conquer the might of the Roman Empire. 

Beyond both football and religion, and they are different, when a leader voluntarily leaves office, it sends out a powerful signal that no one person is indispensable. A calling runs for a time and a season. Sadly, there are too many examples, right across the globe in all walks of life, of leaders corrupted by the exercise of rule. Some descend, even those who begin honestly, into demagogues and dictators. 

In the years that followed his resignation as leader, Francis had to watch as his order struggled to hold firm to its early vigour. It continued to grow, but took a while to recover something of its radical edge. So have Manchester United, whose home ground is barely a mile from the BBC studios here in Salford. It may be that post-Klopp, Liverpool too fall from their current heights. But that doesn't make it the wrong decision. When it’s time to go, it’s time to go. As I must now, until this time next week. 


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