The day began at St James the Less, Stubbings for an Advent Eucharist led by the Revd John Ainslie, Curate in Charge. Bishop Steven preached from Genesis 1 and encouraged clergy to have patience with one another as churches take different journeys emerging from the pandemic.
Listening and sharing
Bishop Steven opened the informal listening and sharing session over lunch inviting clergy to be honest and share their experiences of the church in their local contexts during the pandemic.
There were different experiences of the use of Zoom for church services and the rediscovering of the need for a physical space as well as what people could experience from church online. One church had a nursing home join their services online via Zoom which would not usually be possible when meeting in the building, whilst others shared that they moved to in-person services very quickly after the lockdowns as their congregations really valued the sense of place of the church building and the importance of fellowship in person.
Clergy shared how some had seen a decline in the numbers willing to volunteer in their churches as well as some regular attendees not coming back to church but recognised that numbers were not always most important.
“Our vision is to have a healthy church, not a fixed number of people”.
Others described making changes to their mission and ministry to meet the needs of their local communities. In Maidenhead, churches have been forming new partnerships with Hong Kong refugees, there has been a large increase in the number of baptisms in Windsor, and in the Cookhams clergy have been supporting families living in hidden poverty with financial planning.
Windsor Christian Action
The first community visit of the day was to the Holy Trinity Parish Rooms in Windsor, soon to be the new home of The Windsor Homeless Project, one of the four projects run by Windsor Christian Action.
The Windsor Homeless Project currently supports 35 homeless people in and around Windsor. The demand for the service is growing so much that the project has outgrown its current home in the Mountbatten Room at Holy Trinity Church.
Bishop Steven met with the Project Manager, Nick Roberts, and the Revd Canon Sally Lodge, Rector of Holy Trinity, and heard about the partnership between the charity and the church and the exciting plans to refurbish the building as a multipurpose space for the homeless project and the community to use seven days a week. The building will house a learning centre where homeless and vulnerable people can gain new skills to help them into work, a consultation and advice room, a kitchen and garden to teach skills for cooking and growing produce, and a cold weather shelter accommodation.
Bishop Steven blessed the building as the new centre for the homeless project by chalking on the entrance wall and praying for the launch of the building in the months ahead.
Before heading off for an evening meal with Lay Leaders of the deanery in Cookham and an evening service with PCCs at Holy Trinity Church, Cookham, Bishop Steven put his gaming skills to the test and joined in with the young people playing Minecraft Church at St Michael’s Church in Bray!
Minecraft Church was started by the Revd Kevin Coyler as a way of engaging young people with the church after he joined the church at the height of the pandemic in 2020. The group now meets weekly and even has others joining virtually via Zoom from across the country.
During the live Minecraft session, young people worked through the diocese’s Dwelling in the Word resource to inspire their gaming. The young people are encouraged to reflect on the words from a Bible passage in 1 Peter and use them to inform the story they build in the game.
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 Bradfield Deanery on Thursday 9 December.