A priest who worked in New Zealand as a doctor in the 1990s will return in September to become the new Bishop of Dunedin.
The Rev. Steven Benford, vicar at St. Joseph the Worker in Northolt, Diocese of London, was a doctor for 29 years.
“I look forward to welcoming Steven back to Aotearoa New Zealand,” said the Most Rev. Philip Richardson. “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.”
Benford’s medical career initially took him to Leicester, Leeds, and Gibraltar. In the early 1990s, he and his wife, who a native of New Zealand, brought their young family to live in the south of the country.
From 1991 to 1995 Benford worked as a doctor in Oamaru, where he also established a free clinic. 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, he served in the emergency department at another hospital.
Benford said he felt God’s call to the ordained ministry from a young age. He was ordained in 2000 in the Diocese of York. 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, he 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 at St. Joseph the Worker.
Benford believes his faith his given 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 recognize the crisis as only one moment in the story of a whole life.”
Benford 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 food banks, care for the homeless, or even offering practical help to people on farms and in neighborhoods 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.”