As a Newcastle fan and acclaimed academic, Tom Wright may want to take the Gospel into the community. But what can he do for the clergy cricket XI?

Mike Amos sees the next Bishop of Durham arrive at the crease.

THE next Bishop of Durham is a Morpeth lad. If not exulting "I am a Geordie", as Jimmy Carter did, he made it clear yesterday that he was delighted to be coming home.

"I have always felt I belonged here," said Dr Tom Wright, a Northumbrian who can roll his Rs with the best of them, and could hardly have picked a more glorious February day on which to begin the homeward journey.

He is a 54-year-old father of four, presently Canon Theologian at Westminster Abbey, a former Dean of Lichfield and an academic acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic.

A Newcastle United fan, Canon Wright is also a cricket follower, golfer, hill walker, poetry reader and musician and lists pastoral psychology among his "leisure interests".

He is highly critical of the Blair/Bush stance on Iraq, condemns homosexual activity among Christians, supports the ordination of women, encourages church unity and is a prolific author, formidable scholar and coruscating communicator - his numerous television and radio appearances include regular spots on The Brains Trust.

Sometimes, however, he may need to remember his audience, as at yesterday's Press conference when speaking of the need to engage "post post-modern society." They talk of little else in West Cornforth.

Since he has never been in parish ministry, someone also wondered if at the grass roots such might be perceived as a problem. "I don't think it completely disqualifies me," said Canon Wright.

"It does seem to me that sometimes when an area is rather parched and dry you should send into it someone who is an expert on digging wells."

Among all yesterday's notes and queries, however, the most memorable may have been a recollection from his Northumberland childhood.

He could never remember a time, he said, when not aware of the presence and love of God. "I do remember very vividly sitting by myself at Morpeth and being completely overcome, coming to tears, by the fact that God loved me so much he died for me. Everything that has happened to me since has produced wave upon wave of the same."

At the time he was four, maybe five. Perhaps, he added, it was something he'd heard in a sermon.

The job is the Church of England's fourth most senior, the appointment process hugely hugger-mugger, the news officially announced from 10 Downing Street - always a Tuesday, always 11am - though the Press conference was held simultaneously in Durham.

Canon Wright and his wife Maggie, in vertiginously high heels, were both in attendance at St John's College, together with students, academic staff, cleaners - still in their pinnies - and odd jobbing journalists.

The college shelves, said the Bishop of Jarrow, were probably full of Canon Wright's books. The next volume - "the biggie," added the Rt Rev John Pritchard and wondered jocularly if the man from the SPCK bookshop might be there - is called The Resurrection of God and will be published on March 21. Unlike one of his still celebrated predecessors, the next Bishop of Durham is unlikely to suggest that it was a conjuring trick with bones.

He had black suit and grey beard, at first impression slightly formidable but altogether more agreeable after an hour. There was even an incorrigible question about the Church Times Cricket Cup, in which the Durham diocesan clergy XI under-achieve so annually and so effortlessly. Though he'd not held a bat for five years, Canon Wright reckoned he still had a good eye and might give it a go. "I shall certainly encourage them all I can, but unfortunately cricket is a rather long game" he added.

Readers of the Jennings schoolboy stories might have been reminded of Old Wilkie, superficially fearful - and unequalled at conjugating Latin verbs - but a caring old softie at heart.

The Press release had said that coming to Durham was "exciting and daunting in equal measure," the incoming bishop expressed surprise at being invited to take up the post.

'I was always afraid that these days in the Church of England they would choose people to be bishops who are basically managers. I'm not a manager, if anything I'm a leader and a teacher."

Among former Bishops of Durham, he said, his particular heroes were J B Lightfoot and Michael Ramsey, whose transition from scholarship to pastoral care he hoped to follow.

So what, someone asked, of Dr David Jenkins, he of the conjuring trick and the bones?

"He has one of the most extraordinarily quicksilver minds which darts all over the place and is highly exciting," said Canon Wright. When the mosaic was complete, however, he mightn't always have put the pieces together in the same way.

He also spoke of the "pain and struggle" of the debate over women's ordination and, when someone's mobile phone rang in the middle of it, of the pain of modern communication.

He has delivered more visiting lectures than a peripatetic mother-in-law, will continue to lecture and to write on the New Testament in particular.

"My work on Jesus, most recently on his resurrection, constantly gives me fresh hope for what God will do in our own day, and I welcome the chance to share this vision with both clergy and laity."

The first big challenge, he supposed, would be getting to know the diocese, between Tyne and Tees. "There are all sorts of issues I've only heard about second hand. I'm going to have a very steep learning curve but I sense a challenge of hope, the excitement and infection of the Christian gospel moving into the wider community."

Then there was football. Though a lifelong Magpies man, the most exciting match he'd ever seen, he said, was Sunderland's FA Cup win in 1973 - "Jimmy Montgomery leaping all over the place like a cat on hot bricks, keeping out Leeds United."

Like a good sermon, he'd probably been working on that one.

Afterwards over coffee he met Durham's three archdeacons for the first time and wondered if the collective noun might be an abomination - a veneration was more generously suggested.

Outside there were excitable Italians and crowding camera crews, The Northern Echo's photographer genuflecting - surely no need? - to get the incoming bishop and his cathedral in the same shot.

In the trade it's what's known as getting up the bishop's nose.

Canon Wright was wholly patient, chatted easily, managed a ten minute lunch before being driven to what may be termed a photo opportunity at the Angel of the North.

Whether he comes so greatly to represent a resurgent region remains, amid rolling Rs and changing times, to be seen. If he could only do something about the post post-modern society, however, the North-East could be getting a Bishop of Durham who truly speaks its language.