In the second of his deanery visitations, Bishop Steven travelled to Wendover in Buckinghamshire for a full day of community visits and clergy and lay gatherings to learn about how the local Church in Wendover Deanery is flourishing.
The day began with a visit to the Toy Library and at Holy Trinity Prestwood and met with the organiser and Family Support Worker at the church, Fran McLean, to learn about how they are building connections with local families on the local social housing estates. The Toy Library, run by a team of dedicated volunteers, provides children with new toys every few weeks who would not usually receive new toys. It also hosts a distribution hub for the local food bank supporting families in need in the local area.
Bishop Steven also met with the Head of Prestwood Campus at the Chiltern Way Academy, Sarah Stevens, and some of the pupils for a tour of the school and to answer questions from the young people. The school is a National Autistic Accredited specialist provision academy supporting 70 secondary school aged students. The school and church work closely together with pupils visiting Holy Trinity on a regular basis to help maintain the churchyard and have even built a forest church area.
Bringing order from chaos
In the second visit of the day, Bishop Steven joined the local deanery clergy meeting at St Mary’s Church in Weston Turville for a Eucharist service led by the Revd Deiniol Heywood.
In his Address, Bishop Steven encouraged church leaders in their ministry about the importance of ordering time, valuing the gifts of rest and recreation, and learning new patterns of life as the pandemic has caused people to reimagine and rethink different aspects of their lives. Bishop Steven reflected on the role of clergy in bringing new order out of the chaos and disruption of the pandemic in their churches and communities.
Over homemade lunch, the deanery clergy had the opportunity to share their open and honest reflections over the past year with Bishop Steven about the impact of the pandemic on their ministry. One local priest described how the pandemic meant they had been more visible out on the streets in their parish, collecting and delivering medicines to local people when the church was unable to meet and they had no digital or internet access to move the church online.
Another spoke about their plans to form a ministry for young people to help engage with those in their teens in the community and build the next generation of the Church. Bishop Steven encouraged the group by sharing his own experience of becoming a Christian in his teens after joining a small youth group of three.
The Revd Susan Fellows, Assistant Priest at St Mary’s, gave Bishop Steven a tour of the new extension to the church which houses a kitchen, meeting room and toilets. The new extension enables the church to rent out the space to local groups and build new connections with the community.
Tackling dementia and climate anxiety
After lunch Bishop Steven travelled to St Mary’s Wendover for the second community visit of the day with the Revd Sally Moring and heard about three exciting community projects in Wendover.
Paul Moring from the local Climate Action Wendover group updated Bishop Steven on the progress of the church towards Bronze Eco Church status, including engaging local people in a number of tree planting projects in partnership with the Woodland Trust. The church also has plans to introduce a bee corridor, join a community car club, switch from gas heating to a ground source heat pump, and install solar panels on the roof, all to support the diocesan commitment to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2030.
Catherine Bunting, from the Green Prestwood and Missenden environmental group, shared an update on a new climate cafe project which started at the end of the summer to help tackle climate anxiety among adults in Prestwood. The cafe was set up as a space for people to meet and talk about their concerns about the climate, share their experiences, and feel less alone with their views.
Pippa Moreton, a retired GP from Wendover, described the work of Wendover Dementia Support, an organisation she founded in 2019, to provide a support service for those living around Wendover with a dementia diagnosis and for their families and carers. They have been partnering with St Mary’s Church to offer a regular memory-friendly church service that caters to the needs of those with dementia.
The presentations were a great opportunity for the three community projects to identify ways they could work together in the future and build strong partnerships with the church.
Before heading off to an evening meal with lay leaders of the deanery, Bishop Steven met volunteers at the local shop Just, part of St Mary’s vision to be a ‘Church at the Heart of the Community’. The shop offers an extensive range of ethically sourced gifts and food.
An evening with Bishop Steven
After a meal with lay leaders of the deanery, Bishop Steven joined local clergy, PCC members and lay leaders at St Mary’s Wendover. The Revd Sally Goring led the Prayer for the Evening. Bishop Steven started the session with a sermon on Matthew 5:13 reminding those present to hear the words of affirmation from God “You are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world.” – tiny and fragile yet immensely powerful to create change.
Bishop Steven urged them to hold onto a desire to see people come to faith but to let go of a concern about numbers and be content with those whom God has given them to guide and walk alongside.
“We are not called to be a large or majority church”
Bishop Steven answered a number of questions from those present on a range of important topics including engaging with young people, church finances, and Living in Love and Faith. He encouraged people to consider incorporating Personal Discipleship Plans, part of the diocese’s Everyday Faith initiative, into their churches and to explore these with members of their congregations. He spoke about a need for each of us to get back into the habit of conversation with one another about discerning the voice of God to help us to be continually rebuilt and renewed by him.
Over the next six months, Bishop Steven is travelling to each deanery in the Diocese of Oxford to meet with and hear from local people and church leaders. Bishop Steven will be visiting a range of community projects, schools, charities and more to hear about their important work and the growing mission and ministries of parishes across the Thames Valley. The next visit is to the Maidenhead and Windsor Deanery.