A clergyman who worked in New Zealand as a doctor in the 1990s is returning there as the new Bishop of Dunedin. Revd Dr Steven Benford, currently serving in the Diocese of London, was a doctor for twenty nine years.
Making the announcement, Archbishop Philip Richardson welcomed the appointment: “I look forward to welcoming Steven back to Aotearoa New Zealand. His experience of balancing vocations in the service of others will be invaluable as he leads the clergy and people of Southland and Otago to develop creative ways of serving their communities in the Spirit of Christ.”
Steven’s medical career initially took him to Leicester, Leeds and Gibraltar. Then in the early 1990s, he and his wife, who’s from New Zealand, brought their young family to live in the south of the country. From 1991-95 Steven worked as a GP in Oamaru, where he also established a free clinic. Over those years, he kept his hand in hospital-based medicine, working one day a week at Dunedin Hospital. In the family’s last six months in New Zealand, Steven served in the emergency department at another hospital.
Despite his love of medicine, Steven felt God’s insistent call to the ordained ministry from a young age. In 1996, he entered the ministry discernment process in the Diocese of York and was ordained there in 2000. In his first four years as a priest he served as a curate in a three-church rural cluster, while remaining a full-time specialist at a hospital in Yorkshire.
In 2004, Dr Benford reduced his hospital hours to half, to begin ministering as a half-time priest in the York city parish of St Luke, where he remained for 10 years, before entering full-time ministry as vicar of Northolt, in the diocese of London. In York, he supported dozens of candidates for lay and ordained ministry, and was appointed a diocesan lay ministry selector. He carries that passion for encouraging and developing vocations into his new episcopal role.
Steven’s Christian faith has led him to serve others using his medical skills. As well as his 19 years in rural health in Yorkshire, in 2003 he travelled to Baghdad to work with a medical NGO after the allied invasion of Iraq. Later, he joined medical teams in Haiti, following the devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2014.
Steven believes his faith gave him perspective in his work as a doctor: “I never viewed any person I was treating as a condition, or as a problem to be sorted out,” he said. “Someone might be in crisis because of their own mistakes, or because of what others have done to them, but they still have a past, and a future, and they are beloved of God. My faith helps me recognise the crisis as only one moment in the story of a whole life.”
Steven said he is looking forward to going back to Otago and Southland, which he remembers as the most beautiful part of New Zealand: “My question is: ‘How much is the church seeing itself as serving the community in which it is placed?’” he said. “That might be in the form of foodbanks, care for the homeless, or even offering practical help to people on farms and in neighbourhoods where our churches are located. I think our challenge is to engage in the love Christ has for the world, and to make that real in the community.”