2017: A Year with Bishop Steven – Trains, car and planes

Aylesbury, Burnham and Slough and Woodstock were the deaneries Bishop Steven visited recently on his ongoing tour.

This month’s visits had a much more urban theme. I was shown some of the vast new housing estates going up around Aylesbury. I learned about new initiatives and communities in both town and country. The deanery was bursting with life and creativity, it seemed.

Woodstock (I was told) is most definitely a town not a village. The population of the deanery is focused in the south and looks towards Oxford. One of the surprising features of the day was a visit to the Owen Mumford factory, which makes medical instruments. Owen Mumford make around 1.5 million single use disposable instruments every day and are one of the largest employers in the area. One tenth of their workforce are in research and development: not a bad lesson for the Church to reflect on.

Burnham and Slough is one of our largest and most complex deaneries. Almost 200,000 live there – 160,000 in Slough itself (Woodstock, for comparison, has a population of 25,000). Transport was one of the major themes of the day. It was noticeably slower to get around. Our routes would take us across or next to the M25. Crossrail is a major feature, already changing the life of the town and driving up property prices still further. This in turn puts pressure on families in many different ways: adult children find it hard to move out of the family home; both partners in a marriage work long hours. Slough is a place of many races and cultures and faiths. The possibility of the development of a third runway at Heathrow will shape and reshape Slough in a very significant way over the next decade.

I found the Church in Slough in very good heart: missional; hopeful; celebrating fresh initiatives and new Christians. One of the highlights of my day was meeting Queenie and her family, members of the extensive traveller community who have recently been confirmed.

The Church of England has remarkable reach. Contrast ministry in these three places: a tiny village of 600 houses north of Woodstock with a much-appreciated house for duty priest who looks after three churches in the parish. At the heart of the village is a community shop, staffed and led by members of the church. A secondary school on the edge of Aylesbury with new housing growing up as far as the eye can see, where a young pioneer minister is creating a new church community by love and prayer and sheer hard work.

The old parish church in the centre of Slough is a space where the poorest members of the community shelter at night because they have no homes. It is a place where the Church sustains a lively, faithful witness in a fast-changing multicultural urban landscape. The Diocese of Oxford is amazing. 21 deaneries behind me now but the journey’s not over yet. This month it’s more urban areas: Milton Keynes, our largest, fastest growing centre of population; Maidenhead and Windsor; Reading and, by contrast, Vale of the White Horse.