Bishop Martin Seeley is 70 this year and will be celebrating his birthday in style - at the Suffolk Show.

He is due to retire next year after a stellar church career spanning New York, the Isle of Dogs - and the small rural county of Suffolk.

He arrived here in May 2015 to take up the bishopric of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich in what was to be his final posting.

Within days, he was at the Suffolk Show - his first foray into county life - and was instantly smitten. He loved the sights, the sounds - and the people.

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Nine years later, he is set to celebrate his 70th birthday while performing his official duties as president of the Suffolk Show. He was elected to the role this year by the farmers who organise the event.

"May 29 I'm going to be 70 so I don't have to worry about a birthday party," he says. "It's wonderful - absolutely wonderful."

The bishop has travelled far and wide. The son of a naval officer based in Portsmouth, the Cambridge and Yale-educated clergyman has enjoyed a rich and fulfilling life in the church.

It has taken him to New York, St Louis in Missouri, the Isle of Dogs in London and Cambridgeshire.

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But his sixties have led him on an unexpected journey of discovery. He arrived in Suffolk to take up the bishopric with - by his own admission - little first-hand knowledge of farming.

He had - however - inherited a great love of gardening from his father and greatly enjoys the garden at the Bishop's House in Ipswich.

One of his favourite pastimes has been growing trees in his Ipswich garden and handing out his young saplings for others to plant.

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He has also discovered a great affinity with Suffolk's farmers - people who are moulded by their relationship with nature.

He has made a point over the last nine years to visit farms so he can to get to know farmers and their way of life.

"I remember walking down a lane with a farmer and him talking to me about what I would call his spirituality - which was woven into the life of the season and the change in the seasons and the profound closeness with the land - with the crops he's trying to grow, the animals he's raising and the closeness to nature," he explains.

"There's something deeply spiritual about it and I think that's one of the places that connects to me so strongly.

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"Talking to farmers there's an earthy realism about what matters, about what life is about and the incredible vulnerabilities they face.

"They know what it's like to be subject to the forces of nature. I think there's a real wisdom among farmers and I value that and it's there in the most ordinary conversations. It's about what life's about, what matters."

Despite the interest he has developed in Suffolk's farming heartland, he was taken unawares when he was approached by the Suffolk Agricultural Association (SAA) about taking on the role of president at the Suffolk Show.

"I was surprised. There was no warning, no anticipation. I had no idea this could happen let alone would happen," he recalls. 

East Anglian Daily Times: The Suffolk Show is the biggest event in the county - can you spot yourself in our photo gallery

"It's an incredible honour that I as a non-farmer should have been elected and I imagine it's the fruit of me being engaged with, really interested in, concerned about farming and farmers and everybody involved in that in this county."

The bishop met wife Jutta Brueck while he was serving as vicar in the Isle of Dogs.

She joined as curate and they fell in love. They have two children - Anna, 23, who read English at Cambridge and is doing a Masters in Renaissance studies at the University of London. Son Luke, 21, is a jazz drummer and studying at the School of Music and Drama in the city.

Normally, bishops retire at 70 but the Archbishop of Canterbury has asked Bishop Martin to stay on and help rebuild the church following the pandemic.

"It's had an impact in all sorts of ways," he explains. "I felt if I stopped when I was 70 I was actually going to be stopping too soon."

Among his achievements has been a highly successful recruitment campaign in Suffolk which has seen 60 or 70 clergy ordained in the county.

Other dioceses are now taking Suffolk's lead in conducting grassroots recruitment drives and encouraging vicars to name key people in their congregation who have potential but have not considered a life in the church.

He says he is "hugely grateful" to be given the opportunity to lead at the Suffolk Show.  It was a "great honour". Among his duties will be meeting and greeting royal visitor the Duke of Gloucester along with SAA chairman Bill Baker.

He is keen to broaden the range and diversity of people at the show - and open it up to people in the county who have never been.

By working with charity Inspire, a group of about 50 young people who would not otherwise have had access will now get their first taste of the show.

"I hope this is an introduction to the show and the whole world of farming that we can build on to expand young people's understanding and to broaden the diversity of people from our county who know about and care about farming," he says.

"I'm hoping through the course of the year we can build on this in various ways."

When he leaves the county next year to join Jutta - who is vicar at St Mary's church in Cambridge - he admits it will be a huge wrench.

She will continue to serve for another five or six years while he enjoys a well-earned rest from active church duties.

Up until his retirement in February 2025 he will continue his once-weekly commute to Cambridge - dividing his time between his church duties and family life. 

"After that is an open question. There's part of me that would want to come back to Suffolk and we are thinking about it," he says.

He will miss his garden - it comes with the job - and he will miss the county.

"It's funny because I retire next February and therefore I'm going through the last time I will do this and the last time I will do that.

"It touches me up to a point but there's so much else I want to do. What absolutely caught me was walking around the garden and realising this is the last spring I will see in my garden.

"That was quite an emotional realisation because I love the garden."