LONDON – An outspoken cleric who became the Church of England's first non-white bishop plans to step down so that he can dedicate his time to defending persecuted Christians.
Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, has been at his post for the last 15 years and is the Church of England's first and only Asian bishop. On Saturday, he announced his intention to retire in September.
"Bishop Michael is hoping to work with a number of church leaders from areas where the church is under pressure, particularly in minority situations, who have asked him to assist them with education and training for their particular situation," a spokesman was quoted by The Telegraph as saying.
Nazir-Ali is known best locally and even internationally for having been an outspoken defender of the importance of Christianity in the United Kingdom. Last year, the bishop found himself embroiled in a row after saying that Islamic extremism had rendered some areas of the country "no-go" areas for non-Muslims.
In a letter to his diocese, Nazir-Ali said, "We thank God for his blessings and for friends we have made in the diocese in the past 15 years."
"I am so grateful to God for the friendship and loyalty of those around us and ask for people's prayers as we take this step of faith 'not knowing where we are going,'" he added.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, paid tribute to the bishop's "clarity of mind and expression" and his "dedication and distinction" in serving the Church and wider society.
"Bishop Michael's decision to undertake this new and very challenging ministry will leave a real gap in the ranks of English bishops," the Church of England's top cleric said.
Nazir-Ali, who turns 60 in August, plans to lead his last service at Rochester Cathedral on Sept. 12. He holds dual Pakistani and British citizenship.