THE Rt Rev John Pritchard always knew Richard Harries was going to be a hard act to follow.

So he decided, quite sensibly, not to attempt to repeat the outspoken way his predecessor had represented Oxford as the city’s Bishop.

As a result, he has attracted fewer headlines in the national press on topical issues, preferring instead to avoid controversy where possible.

This was understandable following the furore in 2003 over the nomination of Jeffrey John for Bishop of Reading, after he said he was in a same-sex relationship.

Bishop John has not had to face anything quite so divisive, and this has allowed him to concentrate on being a figurehead that clergy in the diocese can rely on.

But he has not been afraid to stand up and be counted.

In 2008, when asked what he thought about Muslims wanting a call to prayer in East Oxford, he attempted to unify the community by saying the proposal should go ahead.

He got death threats for his troubles, but shrugged them off and got on with the job of leading the diocese.

Like Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop John has gone out of his way to speak up on behalf of the poor and the homeless, carrying on the work that the Rt Rev Harries started.

Fellow clergy have already gone on record to say how much they will miss him, and congregations will also miss his spiritual guidance as he has written a number of well-received books on how people can attempt to live their lives as Christians.

Bishop John’s reassuring presence will be a loss to Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, but after being ordained for 42 years he and his wife Wendy deserve a rest.

Now it remains to be seen who his replacement will be.

He, or maybe even she, will have very big shoes to fill.