St Marys Banbury awarded Development Fund grant


St Mary’s Church in Banbury has been awarded c.£90,000 over three years to help support a stipendiary chaplain for the arts, Revd Sarah Bourne. Sarah, a musician and classics teacher prior to ordination in 2015, will develop and lead a range of church-based transformational and creative activities to help the local community cope with the restrictions of COVID-19 and to rebuild shared lives in an increasingly fractured society.

St Mary’s is among the top 15% of the most deprived neighbourhoods in England and in the top 10% of areas most affected by health deprivation and disability, where people are at risk of premature death or an impaired quality of life through poor physical or mental health. It is hoped that this project will provide the opportunity to build on what Sarah and her team have been piloting for the last 18 months. Through a dedicated outreach programme, Sarah has established strong links with local state and private schools, Banbury College, North Oxfordshire Cultural Education Programme, Oxfordshire County Music Service, TEDx Banbury, Rotary clubs, local supermarkets, care homes and assisted living residences. It is hoped that these links will continue to flourish, reaching a broad range of the community and beyond, improving their wellbeing by using arts and creative opportunities. As Sarah says,

“The vision is not about overt proselytization, but about transforming the community.”

Having worked closely with the choristers in both the boys’ and girls’ cathedral choirs during the second part of her curacy at Coventry Cathedral and having been exposed to reconciliation ministry (the Community of the Cross of Nails, or CCN), Sarah knew that her next calling would be focused on arts and pioneer ministry; finding different ways of engaging with people and helping them to discover how God is at work in their lives through additional, non-traditional means.

Up until the onset of COVID-19, Sarah had initiated various workshops as part of her pilot project including art workshops (which included cake!), music workshops, which led to the establishment of a group of occasional singers called St Mary’s Festival singers, and a Meet the Author session in a local restaurant. Obviously, COVID-19 has put paid to a number of these in-person events, but this hasn’t stopped Sarah, and after a whistle-stop training session on social media and livestreaming, she moved online, establishing weekly livestreamed compline, followed by a lively discussion group.

Sarah explains,

“We’re particularly blessed with the online discussion groups, which have begun attracting visiting speakers. This week, we will be joined by a university student CCN partner, who currently lives in Germany and will be discussing their understanding of reconciliation ministry and what life is like in Germany now.

Yes, COVID-19 has caused some technical and practical bumps in the road, but we are beginning to establish a core group of participants – usually about 16 join us, which is far more than we would get for an in-person compline service. We even attracted 25 people for the Ministry of Healing session!”

Perhaps most excitingly is how far reaching, geographically, these sessions are becoming, with speakers and participants hailing from all over Europe, including Norway and Germany, helping to demonstrate that Sarah’s role reaches far beyond parish and county boundaries.

Sarah concludes,

“The beneficiaries of this grant are wide ranging; they will be the people of Banbury area – local school pupils, the socio-economically disadvantaged unable to afford leisure activities, elderly people and those living with dementia, people suffering with mental health issues (especially caused by the pandemic), and St Mary’s congregation, as well as those outside our community. The distinctive nature of this project is that it crosses boundaries of parish and county, engaging people of all faiths and none, embodying the idea of an inclusive church.”

If you would like to find out about the arts at BSM, please visit their Facebook page or website.

The Development Fund is open to all parishes/benefices in the Diocese of Oxford, but it is likely to be most helpful to those that have limited financial resources to invest in missional activity. We know that even modest grants can make a significant difference in such parishes. Applications for the next round of funding are now open and close on 31 January 2021.