Around the Deaneries: Reading


Opening up Reading Minster and even making plans to incorporate a temporary skatepark into the historic church are all the work of the new Rector Stephen Pullin.

The Revd Stephen Pullin outside Reading Minster. Photo: Jo Duckles

The Revd Stephen Pullin outside Reading Minster. Photo: Jo Duckles

Stephen was inspired to make the historic church of St Mary the Virgin more open after an interview with a Reading Post journalist who commented that her impressions were that the building was frequently closed. Since then he has hired the verger, Richard Ashfield, who looks after the practical aspects of the building as well as welcoming visitors, answering questions and offering pastoral support.

I met Stephen at his offices near the Minster. He took me over to the historic church to show me around and introduce me to Richard. The verger was busy moving pews following a memorial service that had attracted 500 people the previous day. Richard, who clearly loves his job, said that the church now attracts 550 to 600 people each week, with more than 1,000 in the school holidays.
“People come in, have a look round and might sit and light a candle and pray. Others have a walk around the church for about 20 to 30 minutes. Some say they have never been in a church like it. Some read the Bible on their iPad while others read a newspaper.”

The Minster is not a residential parish and on Sundays congregation members drive in from miles around for a traditional sung Eucharist. So Stephen is looking for innovative ways of expanding the Minster’s ministry, including Sanctuary for clubbers on Saturday nights into the early hours of Sundays. (See the May 2015 edition of the Door for more details.) Over Easter, The Passion of the Christ was projected onto the Minster walls. “It was like the film was part of the fabric of the building,” said Stephen. “We are getting repeat visitors and more and more people are being struck by the atmosphere.”

For the regular worshippers, who can’t get to church for weekday morning prayer due to traffic, they are looking at providing virtual prayers on a Lectio Divina basis. This includes asking the congregation to reflect on what the future ministry of the Minster might be. Meetings are taking place with Reading Borough Council and Bishop Andrew, looking at how the church can support the community.
Stephen, whose first degree was in chemical engineering, comes to Reading from Bristol, where he served a curacy and spent seven years as the incumbent of a couple of parishes. Before that he worked for Tate and Lyle for 12 years, where the company sponsored him to complete an MBA. During that time he was involved with a church plant of Holy Trinity Brompton in London.

As Area Dean he is working strategically to help the benefices and parishes use the Living Faith vision positively. The Reading Deanery is one of the largest in the UK and can easily be split into thirds, with a suburban/rural patch at the top, Reading city and its suburbs in the middle and a rural area in the south, beneath the M4.

When we met, Stephen was preparing for the next Deanery Synod meeting with the Rt Revd Andrew Proud, the Bishop of Reading. He was planning to ask the Deanery Synod members and Bishop Andrew for their views on how their ministries could develop going forward.

Vital statistics:

Area Dean: Stephen Pullin
Lay Chair: Peter Jeal
Clergy: 37
Churches: 31
Benefices: 24

Newly energised in Southcote

WHEN he joined in 2011, Pads Dolphin decided to make families a priority at St Matthew’s Church in Southcote, Reading.

Members of the intergenerational church get together on a Sunday morning. Photo: Don Somner.

Members of the intergenerational church get together on a Sunday morning. Photo: Don Somner.

“We introduced contemporary music to connect with a new generation for whom traditional church has not addressed their natural spiritual hunger,” says Pads. A Nutty Professor’s Holiday Club saw 200 children learning about the Christian faith as well as enjoying games, sports, crafts, drama and singing. Kidz church, which started in 2012 sees between 20 and 40 children attending on Sunday mornings at 10am. As the older children are reaching their teens, St Matthew’s has recently appointed a new Youth Pastor.”

St Matthew’s boasts a lunch for older people at noon on the third Monday of every month and and a coffee shop on Saturdays from 11am to 2pm. It also runs a bereavement support group once a month and several church members visit isolated and lonely elderly people through the Engage Befriending Scheme.

Pads says: “Hopefully the community is seeing a newly energised church in Southcote. I love that all three Southcote churches, St Matthew’s, The Grange URC and Southcote Mission all work together under the banner of Southcote Alive on many joint community initiatives such as the after-school Café Alive and a youth drop in called Alive and Kicking on Friday nights at Southcote Mission as well as annual events like Carols in the Square and participating in the May Fair. “And it’s great to be part of the Southcote Community Association, working together with other community groups to serve the people of Southcote.”

Business networks

Photo: Dale Strickland-Clark

Photo: Dale Strickland-Clark

AN invitation to the Berkshire Business Group, a business networking breakfast in Wokingham, has given the Revd Neil Warwick the chance to connect with a range of people who run enterprises in the local community. At the group, small businesses learn about each other so they can refer potential customers.
“Lots of people from small businesses go along,” says Neil, who has met all sorts of professionals at the group, including a plumber, a photographer, a mechanic and a mortgage advisor. “It’s a way of networking and we’ve found someone who has helped us develop our website, one person is joining our pastoral care team. It’s been a good discipline to explain the work and purpose of the Church in plain English. Neil says the group has introduced him to lots of people he’d not have otherwise met. “What’s important for me is being relevant and making connections between the church and business that can benefit the wider community. It’s working ‘outside our building’ and meeting people where they are.”


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