Tough Talk: Engaging our children with life’s most difficult questions


Tough Talk is an opportunity for parents, carers, and teachers to hear from expert voices on important issues that people find most difficult to talk about as they are raising children.

The Revd Jarred Mercer, assistant curate at St Mary Magdalen, Oxford, said:  “From sexuality, to death, to racism and inequality, we want our children to feel comfortable being open with us about life’s toughest questions, we want our relationships with them to grow deeper, and most of all we want them to develop into responsible, loving people who can face both the everyday situations of normal life and the intense struggles that might come their way.

“This does not happen by accident but requires us to be prepared and intentional. Tough Talk offers free evenings for parents, carers, and teachers to come together in a relaxed and open environment to discover ways to engage our children with these difficult topics with purpose and confidence. At each meeting we will listen to an expert on the given topic, ask questions and get feedback on our own experiences, and have guided discussion relevant to our children’s ages and understanding.”

The first Tough Talk event is Monday 25 September, 7.30pm at North Hinksey Primary School. Nick Luxmoore will help us think about how to communicate with our children on the topic of ‘sex and sexuality’. Nick is a child psychotherapist who has decades of experience in teaching parents, carers, and teachers how to best discuss issues such as these with children, and is the author of 10 books in this area.

Come along as we learn to better lead our children with purpose and confidence. There will be wine and refreshment offered from 7.15pm. Contact Jarred Mercer ( for more information.

Canon Wilfrid Robert Francis Browning


A MEMORIAL service for Canon Wilfrid Browning, who sadly died on 23rd February, aged 98, will take place at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford on Saturday 27th May at 3pm.

Obituary by the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy

Many of post-war generation believed that it was axiomatic that at the heart of English life was the parochial system of the Church of England, and the only way to safeguard it, was the provision of a sufficient number of full-time priests.

Canon Wilfrid Browning during a visit on his bike to what used to be Diocesan Church House in North Hinksey.

Wilfrid Browning was in formation during this period, and with a keen mind and strong sense of mission, brought this insight with him when he was appointed Diocesan Director of Education and tutor at Cuddesdon Theological College in 1965.

Here, he became strongly influenced by Professor Owen Chadwick, one of the distinguished brothers Professor Henry Chadwick, who was made Dean of Christ Church in 1969. Owen Chadwick argued that one of the failures of the parochial system was that it did not penetrate the place of work.

‘The church must accept the factory as a new source of community, and use its sense of fellowship in creating a Christian fellowship. Therefore we must have priests who are factory workers; who do not in the first instance make any attempt to associate the workers with the parish church, but who gather round them a Christian fellowship within the working community.  We must have our altar in the house of one of the workmen, and let that be the first centre of the new Christian community.’ (A paper by Owen Chadwick re-printed in ‘Tentmaking’ Perspectives on Self -Supporting Ministry, edited by M. M. Francis and L. J Francis, Gracewing, 1998: pp. 81-90).

Wilfrid Browning was convinced by this approach, and visited Pontigny, the seminary of the French worker-priest movement, to explore how they went about training such priests. He set up a course for men experienced in the world of work, who would meet one evening each week at St Stephen’s House, supplemented by a number of residential weekends each term, to prepare them for ministry in the place of work, as auxiliaries to the parochial clergy.

As this ‘NSM Scheme’ (as it was titled) developed, Browning established a link with the Oxford University Department for Continuing Education, which advised on the structure of the course, and offered accreditation.

In the 1980’s with commendable foresight, he recruited women as well, some of whom eventually were among the first to be ordained to the diaconate and then priesthood.  The numbers at any one time were restricted to thirty.

He was a formidable presence in the Diocese and during Sir Henry Chadwick’s time as Dean, a proposal was considered that a new residential Canonry be established to increase links between the Diocese and its Cathedral Church, which in its unique dual role was not able properly to serve the needs of the post-war generation. Wilfrid Browning was the obvious person for the post; and the governing body approved his nomination. It was the beginning of a fruitful development in the attempt by the House to combine its roles as College Chapel, while being a focus and resource for the people of the Diocese; a project that continues to this day.

In 2008 Rowan Williams, who had been appointed Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Christ Church in 1986 at the end of Wilfrid’s ministry, honoured him with the Cross of St Augustine, which was in his gift as Archbishop of Canterbury.  It was given in recognition of his ‘outstanding service to the Church of England.’

In his retirement Wilfrid continued to minister and preach, offering friendship to his successor, as the old NSM course transformed into the Oxford Ministry Course and then the St Albans and Oxford Ministry Course, becoming an alternative to residential training rather than a supplement. It was a development of which he never really approved, and he was delighted when in the new millennium, responsibility for the course was located at Cuddesdon.

It was a mark of his modesty that for the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, he invited his friends and former students to the church in Botley where he was currently assisting.  He presided and preached to the affectionate delight of the large congregation.

It is fitting that his contribution to the Church should now be recognised by the House which provided the setting for such an important part of his significant ministry.

A Requiem Eucharist and thanksgiving for Canon Wilfred’s life took place in Bexhill-on-Sea on March 15.

Ministry for the Deaf

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The Door tells the stories of some of those involved with churches that cater specifically for the deaf and hard of hearing in the Thames Valley.
by the Revd Ben Whitaker

Martha’s Vineyard stands out in Deaf History. Through a mutation of a recessive gene brought about by inbreeding, a form of hereditary deafness existed for 250 years in this place in Massachusetts in the United States, following the arrival of the first deaf settlers in the 1690s.

Scarcely a family was unaffected and one in four people were deaf. In response to this, the entire community learnt sign language and there was a free and complete communication between hearing and deaf people. Deaf people were scarcely seen as deaf. The writer Oliver Sachs gave his impressions of Martha’s Vineyard when he visited the island: “My first sight of this indeed was unforgettable. I drove up to the old general store in West Tisbury on a Sunday morning and saw half a dozen people gossiping together on the porch. They could have been any old folks talking together – until suddenly they all dropped into sign. They signed for a minute, laughed, then dropped back into speech.”

In sharp contrast to those people in Martha’s Vineyard, sign language users in this country who are deaf, are largely separate from the hearing world. There is very little of the integration which Sachs describes. British Sign Language is a language which is clear and visual so most appropriate for deaf people. Church members have been using and teaching BSL for many years, believing that everyone is a child of God and should have access to the Gospel and to the ministry of the Church. Many clergy, including myself, learnt sign from deaf people themselves.

I have been a Chaplain with deaf and hard of hearing people for 21 years. Before then I worked in two parishes in different parts of the country. What drew me to deaf chaplaincy was that it was different to other forms of ministry I had experienced. I relished the challenge of learning a new language, and getting to know deaf people, to see their slant on the world. It has been a challenging and deeply rewarding experience. At the moment I work part time for the Oxford Diocesan Council for the Deaf. This is a charity and works with deaf and hard of hearing people to meet their spiritual, social and general needs, and to help give them a voice in the Church and in society.

The work I do is not of course limited to sign language users. There are many more who experience hearing loss who lip read to a greater or lesser extent. Some lip read as an alternative to BSL. These people may be profoundly deaf and manage to integrate into the hearing world. Others experience hearing loss due to their age.

Some people use hearing aids which are a great help. However their usefulness depends on the degree of hearing loss. They do not, for instance, help the user detect the direction of a particular noise. And they not only amplify particular sounds but all sounds around the user so that in large gatherings, as with many church meetings and services, holding conversations and hearing people properly can be difficult. Another barrier to using hearing aids is the perception that they are something to be ashamed about. Some people just like to complain that “people are mumbling” and cope as best they can.

There are an estimated 2,000 people in the Oxford Diocese with a total or severe hearing loss, and up to 70 of these are currently active members of the deaf worshipping communities. One in seven members of the population are reckoned to have a significant hearing loss, and their needs and potential contribution are not generally recognised in the hearing communities.

I work within a team of lay and ordained persons. And I work across the Diocese. In the same way as parochial clergy have oversight over people in a particular geographical area, so I think of myself as having concern for deaf and hard of hearing people who live in the Oxford Diocese. I take services in BSL, and support deaf people through pastoral problems. I take funerals in BSL, as well as being with deaf people at happier occasions like baptisms and weddings.
I would very much like to encourage clergy to get involved in the Deaf Church, to come and work with us, to get involved in this unique form of ministry.

The Revd Ben Whitaker is a part-time Chaplain to the Oxford Deaf Church.

Being part of a church signing team

George Chapman from Milton Keynes describes his journey from college to work and how he enjoys volunteering as part of the BSL team at the Cross & Stable Church.

George signs at a wedding at his church.

I’m 23 and live with with my parents. I have a younger brother and younger sister. I spent 10 years in a mainstream school, learning English, Maths, History and Geography as well as taking special lessons in BSL which I passed at Level 1 and 2. I enjoyed learning new things and I made a lot of deaf friends, and some hearing friends as well. I wasn’t very happy after my move to secondary school but I concentrated on my lessons as I wanted to make progress and get ready for my future.

I was at Milton Keynes College for about four-and-a-half years. In the first two years I did English and Maths and Life Skills (like money and community and how to get a job). Then I moved on to two years doing IT. That was excellent. I really improved. I did several work experience placements while at school and college: Newport Pagnell Library and the Co-op in Newport Pagnell, and an office work placement at the college. They helped me to learn how businesses work and to decide what job I’d like to do.

When I left college I started looking for work. It took me about a year. I did volunteering while I was looking, helping at signing classes and at the Job Centre. I did work experience at Morrisons and learned about health and safety and how a supermarket works. Then the Shaw Trust helped me get a job in Sainsbury’s café. That’s a real-life job and it’s been brilliant for me. I was nominated for a ‘Best Colleague’ award and while I didn’t win the national prize, I enjoyed the experience of the award ceremony in London in February.

I help at Cross & Stable Church, an ecumenical Church in Milton Keynes, as part of the signing team. I sign hymns and readings as well as the Lord’s Prayer and the responses. At Christmas I will be doing carols and I’ll help people feel welcome.
I first came to the church when I was young, but I got involved again about four years ago when Sue Baines (a BSL teacher) told me about the signing team and persuaded me to join. I love it.

In the past I’ve been part of a drama club. I was involved for 10 years. I’ve done sign acting as well as BSL interpreting for the Christmas panto. There were some changes at the club and since starting work I’ve needed to concentrate on that, plus saving money and hopefully getting ready for living independently.
At times I find it hard to join in the deaf community, as some deaf events happen in work time and that takes priority. These days I’m concentrating on work, and enjoying being part of the signing team at Cross & Stable.

No limitations for Elizabeth

Elizabeth Payne is deaf but refuses to be limited by other people’s ideas about what she can acheive.

Elizabet Payne

Elizabeth is a member of the Cross & Stable Church, Downs Barn in Milton Keynes, which she attends with her husband Les. She was born and grew up in Kenya, part of a big family, with three brothers and sisters and lots of half-brothers and half-sisters.

Elizabeth learned to sign at her primary school, which was a boarding school for the deaf started originally by Dutch missionaries and an hour’s journey from home. Kenyan sign language has a number of differences from BSL. The alphabet, for instance, is in a one-handed, American style. Elizabeth is multilingual in all sorts of ways, including signing.

Her secondary education was at a deaf vocational school where Elizabeth did a nursing and caring course connected to a local hospital. There she met Les, who came from England to work as a volunteer teacher at a boys’ polytechnic. One of his friends was a volunteer matron at the hospital, and Les and Elizabeth met at a birthday party.
They began their married life in Kenya, but moved to England where their children, Christopher and Joanne, were born. Chris is in the throes of university applications and hopes to do Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford. Joanne is in Year 9 and is starting her GCSEs. They are both hearing but good signers. “Joanne learned to sign very young,” says Elizabeth. “One of her first signs was ‘ice-cream’.”

Elizabeth is a determined learner. When she told her family in Kenya she wanted to be a copy typist, they said, “You can’t do that”, but she points out, “I went to a hearing teaching college and succeeded in qualifying.”

Here in England she has learned to swim and to cycle, and passed her driving test on her first attempt in 2005. Her biggest driving challenge was to track down a driving instructor willing to take a deaf pupil. Elizabeth’s priority is her home and family, but she likes to be busy and in the mornings and evenings she works as a cleaner. She enjoys opportunities to meet up with deaf friends and has a number of craft skills. She was once part of a deaf sewing group.

It was a woman at Homestart that told Elizabeth about the Cross & Stable Church and the signed services there when Chris was a toddler. Like many mums, Elizabeth has known the isolation of caring for infants at home while her partner is having to be out at work. But she still describes one of her greatest joys as family and seeing the children grow up and thrive.

Being deaf has had its frustrations, like people who tell her she can’t do things which she knows she can, or the lack of understanding by Government departments at times (DVLA included) but, says Elizabeth, there are advantages like being able to switch off sometimes.

And new technologies can be a great help in communicating with friends around the world – by text, Skype or Facebook. They’ve helped Elizabeth to keep in touch with her oldest son Kenneth, who’s doing development studies at university in Nairobi, and catch up with friends in Germany and the USA. For Elizabeth it’s ‘total communication’. She is used to living with hearing people and is a good lip-reader, but she loves the chance to be part of a signing community.

Pat Chandler’s story

I am in my 60s and live in Slough.  I am now retired, but worked for more than 25 years with disabled people, helping them on work placements, teaching them how to use the bus, how to shop, how to find work and other ‘ordinary’ life skills. Now retired, I am doing voluntary work in Slough, and volunteer at Oxfam.  My hobbies are doing cross-words, computer games, and learning about different religions from documentaries. I also like to travel.

I am a member of the Roman Catholic Church and I regularly worship at the monthly Cox Green Deaf Church Service run by ODCD.  My local Catholic Church has a link with the Church of England. The reason I come to the Deaf Church, is because it is easier, because it is in the sign language I understand.  The Catholic Church only gives services in spoken English, with no interpreter, but I have very little hearing, and so I do not know what they are saying, especially in the sermon. I just recite the rosary to avoid daydreaming. I did have a friend who interpreted a little bit, but she died some years ago, and no one else is available.  I have asked but my local church only provide signing during the mass. There is no sign language when the mass is over. That is why I like to come to the Deaf Church. All of the service and the preaching is signed in BSL, and I can get a full picture of what the priest or lay preacher is signing in the sermon.

My Christian faith means a lot.  When I go to church, I feel an inner peace within me.  I understand God better every time that I come to Deaf Church, because I can understand better: it helps me to improve and gives me strength and confidence.  I feel much better when I come to Deaf Church: it is really good.

I would like a chaplain who could sign BSL, and make me feel comfortable without worrying about being a Catholic, but would accept me as I am, so I could come and take communion.

I would like to say to other Christians, “Respect each other, respect that we’re all one church.  Whether we’re Jewish, Hindu, Catholic, Church of England, we are all equal.  The church should welcome anybody.  If they believe in God, that’s fine, we’re all equal.  It doesn’t matter if they don’t believe in God, as they are all welcome to God.”

Ken Dyson’s story:

I retired six years ago, and now volunteer for church visiting, and I am a Licensed Lay Minister with the Oxford Deaf Church. I am also a member of the executive committee of the Reading Deaf Centre, and its secretary.

 My main hobbies are sailing and cycling. I have two adult children with three grandchildren between them.  They live between North Oxfordshire and Essex, so living in Reading, I have to do a lot of driving backwards and forwards, visiting. Within the deaf community, I enjoy all the talking we do in our own sign language: sign language is good for telling stories, and they can be very funny. The difficulties of being deaf are those of communication.  For example, when driving to north Oxfordshire, I stopped off for food, and was asked what I wanted, but because of the background noise, people could not hear me, and I could not speak above the noise.

As a Christian, I believe that my life comes from God. I owe God everything, and I have to give something back: it saved me from depression when I was young, so it is important to me. I would like the hearing church to take more interest in the deaf church. Before, we tried to go to a hearing church, but we stopped, because we could not understand what was being said.

 I would like to see more chaplains to the deaf, especially chaplains who are deaf themselves. We need a chaplain who would welcome young deaf people and bring them in to church.

I also believe that a lot of people don’t understand what Jesus said. They need more education and the to read about him for themselves. I recently heard some deaf people arguing over whether or not Jesus was a Jew. Religious education, both in deaf and hearing schools is declining and this is a problem deaf churches and deaf schools need to address.

What can your church do?

Essential for all churches
• A high quality sound system of microphones and loudspeakers to be provided throughout the worship area; ideally bring in a sound engineer to advise you.
• A hearing loop available throughout the church worship area and meeting rooms. (ODCD and other charities can often provide contributions towards the cost.)
• A clear view of the worship leader and preacher.
• Good lighting, falling on the worship leader and preacher.
• A written service with clear responses, produced either clearly on paper, or visible onscreen.

Good to have
• Intercessions: written or on screen.
• Sermon: written and full text or summary points on screen.
• The provision of monitors in church “blind spots” such as behind pillars or in overflow rooms or chapel areas so that the worship leaders or preacher may be seen.
• A high quality sound system of microphones and loudspeakers to be provided in all meeting rooms.
• Avoid speaking over music.

Ideal, in addition to the above
• To provide a BSL interpreter within sight of the worship leader/preacher during services, and at meetings, especially public meetings.
• When available, provision of speech to text software projected onto a visible screen.

And now…
If your church already provides some or all of these facilities, let ODCD know so they can be added to the list of ‘deaf friendly churches’ on the website. Email:

Spiritual guidance for older people

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BISHOP Colin was among the gathered clergy, writers and other guests at a special choral Evensong and drinks reception at Christ Church Cathedral to launch the new Bible Reading Fellowship’s Bible Reflections for Older People series.

Acting Bishop of Oxford

The Bishop of Dorchester, Rt Revd Colin Fletcher

The Revd Canon David Winter, a regular contributor to the Door, was also among the guests. He is one of the contributors to the series, written by older people for older people. In the central section, Debbie Thrower of BRF’s The Gift of Years ministry offers interviews and ideas to encourage and inspire. Debbie spoke at the launch at Christ Church about the Bible study notes as well as the wider work of the Gift of Years programme which tackles the loneliness of old age by supporting people in this generation in practical ways.

As part of the work, there are Anna Chaplains to older people who deliver spiritual care services and provide a way for churches to draw alongside older people. These ecumenical, community-based chaplains are promoting older people’s spiritual welfare. This approach was pioneered in Alton, Hampshire, and is now being used in a variety of contexts in other parts of the UK.

Anna Chaplains frequent clubs and groups where older people gather. Such chaplains also create opportunities for two or three people to meet and talk, over books, poetry, crafts or other shared interests. They also make time to meet with people one to one.

Ruth Valerio at Lent course launch

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“As human beings,” says well known author and speaker Ruth Valerio, “we have been created to be involved in looking after this world that God has made.” And on Saturday 4 March, Ruth will be speaking at the first of four sessions designed to help Christians and churches in our area grow in confidence about doing just that.

She’ll be sharing the story of her own growing recognition that the Gospel is good news for all creation – and how churches can start on concrete ways of prayer and action that show love of God and neighbour and make a difference to our local communities, as well as the wider world.

If you’d like to explore how care for creation can be part of our personal discipleship and our churches’ wider mission, get tools to help your church save energy and care for your surroundings, find out about what local community groups are doing and how you and your church can join in, then this – and the later sessions – are designed for you.

The launch event takes place at the Wesley Memorial Methodist Church, New Inn Hall Street, Oxford, 2.30pm-5pm. To register, go to or ring 01235 851763.

Fight poverty with soup this Lent

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PEOPLE across the Diocese are being urged to support Christian Aid by eating soup this Lent.

For example, in the Hambleden Valley, there will be a series of Lent Lunches to raise money for Christian Aid’s work.

Organiser Penny Mcleish said, “Over the years we’ve raised thousands of pounds to help people in

Michael with his grandson

need.” The money raised is used to help people like Michael, who lives in South Sudan, where 6.1 million people urgently need humanitarian aid as a result of the conflict that erupted in December 2013. Ongoing fighting has displaced 2.4 million people, and up to 5.3 million people are at risk of severe food shortages.

Michael, who is in his 70s and has gradually lost his sight during the past five years, fled alongside his family when government forces came to his village. Soldiers killed people and stole cattle, forcing Michael to flee to the swamp where he resided with his family for two months. When they returned, most of their belongings were gone, and they were left with next to nothing. With the help of fishing hooks and nets from Christian Aid, Michael is now able to take the younger generation to the swamp to teach them how to fish so they can continue to feed their community.

Phil Evans, of Christian Aid’s Oxford office, said: “We are asking you to reflect each day on the blessings in your life through Count Your Blessings, inspired by daily opportunities to give, act and pray for communities like Michael’s, helping them to find a safe place to call home.”
Christian Aid is working with people displaced within South Sudan, who are living in some of the hardest to reach places, to provide much-needed food, safe water and sanitation facilities and essential household items, including sheeting for temporary shelters, as well as fish hooks and nets so they can start to rebuild their lives and become self-sufficient.

Just £15 could provide fishing gear for a family like Michael’s; £8.50 could provide two cooking pots so they can eat a hot meal; and £3 could pay for two plastic jerry cans so they can store safe drinking water.

Hambleden Valley Churches are holding three Lent Lunches on Saturdays 18, 25 March and 1 April in the Hambleden Parish Hall and at St John the Evangelist Frieth on Saturday 8 April noon to 2pm. For details contact Penny on 01491 571288 or

Praise from Ofsted for St Christopher’s CE School, Cowley

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Children ‘can’t wait to come to school in the morning’

IMPROVEMENTS at St Christopher’s CE School in Oxford have been praised by Ofsted inspectors.

The inspectors, who visited the school in January, rated it as Good in all areas. The report stated: “The Headteacher’s vision and dedication has transformed the school. She has made sure pupils’ welfare and safety is the top priority and raised aspirations among staff of what pupils can achieve. As a result pupils are happy, keen learners who, as one parent said, ‘can’t wait to come to school in the morning’.”

The inspectors praised the curriculum, stating: “Pupils enjoy a wide variety of lessons taught by specialists, including Spanish, computing and art. Pupils further hone their literacy and numeracy skills across the whole curriculum; l

Children enjoy the trim trail outdoor play area at St Christopher’s.

eaders place an emphasis on ‘real life’ problem solving to develop skills of independence and leadership and to help prepare pupils for their next stages of education.”

Teaching and learning were praised, as well as personal development, behaviour and the welfare of children. The report stated: “Pupils from all backgrounds thrive in this inclusive school. The vast majority of pupils are confident, self-aware, and are happy to talk to adults about their school and their learning.”

Inspectors stated: “Pupils’ confidence and resilience is further developed through attending the forest school. Here pupils actively engage in activities such as rope-walking, learning to ask for help when they need it and to talk about their experiences positively. Leaders are now making sure that those pupils who need to, transfer these skills to the classroom.”

Sheenagh Broadbent, the Headteacher, said: “This is such a great outcome for our school which reflects on the all the hard work of my talented staff team over the last few years. Our children are just fabulous and I’m so pleased that the inspectors could see how much they all enjoy coming to school and being part of one large family here.”





30 years of serving the homeless


To celebrate three decades of serving the homeless from its base in Magdalen Road, Oxford, The Porch held an open day recently.

The event was to thank local residents living around Magdalen Road and Essex Street for their support to the charity over the years. In the evening a special dinner party was held for the homeless.

Founded by the All Saints Sisters of the Poor in 1986, the day centre has become a place of welcome, friendship and encouragement for hundreds of homeless men and women over the years. As one of the members puts it: “I come for the two hot meals that are served every day. Over the years I have built up a network of friends at The Porch and I now come here for company. Loneliness is something that I live in fear of and something that they help with a lot.”

The Porch is open six days a week all year round. Without its services, many homeless or vulnerably housed people would be struggling to find a way out of homelessness. Each person attending is enrolled as a member, which aims to give them a feeling of belonging as well as ownership and an influence on how things are run. To support the Porch click here. 

The open day at the Porch

Book now for the first Festival of Preaching


THE FIRST ever Festival of Preaching takes place at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, this September.

The event, organised by Hymns Ancient & Modern, has already confirmed some top speakers. These include best-selling US author and pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, (pictured below), Vicar of St Martin in the Fields, London, Sam Wells, (pictured right), Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell and Mark Oakley, Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Nadia Bolz-Webber

Sam Wells. Photos Hymns A&M

The Festival of Preaching will be held between Sunday 10 September and Tuesday 12 September. A programme of talks, seminars and workshops will aim to inspire, nurture and celebrate all who are called to proclaim the Gospel today.

Sessions already confirmed include:

  • The craft of preaching
  • The worst the lectionary can throw at you
  • Preaching at baptisms, weddings and funerals
  • A week in the life of a preacher.

The Revd Christine Smith, Hymns A&M Publishing Director said: “We are thrilled and excited to make this announcement. We have worked long and hard on curating a programme that we hope will be the right mix of stimulation and encouragement. For those of us who preach week in week out, new ideas and fresh inspiration are always welcome. We hope that those attending will be refreshed and encouraged by outstanding speakers from across the Christian Church.”

The Very Revd Prof Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford said: “We are pleased and proud to be hosting this inaugural Festival of Preaching at Christ Church. The festival seeks to celebrate the art and craft of homilies and sermons, as well as explore and examine those theories and practices that best illuminate this kind of communication. Sermons and homilies continue to be a resilient feature of our common spiritual and public life, and this festival will celebrate their ongoing role in our contemporary culture. The festival will help to challenge, inspire and transform all those who come.’

Hymns A&M already manage the Church Times Festival of Faith and Literature, a literary festival held in Bloxham and organised by Sarah Meyrick, the Diocese of Oxford’s Director of Communications. The next Festival of Faith and Literature will be held in February 2018.


God in the life of cadet chaplain Mark Newman


THE Revd Mark Newman tells Jo Duckles about his career, from being a car mechanic and a builder to studying theology at Oxford University and recently becoming a Chaplain to Oxfordshire’s Army Cadet Force.

The Revd Mark Newman in his padre’s uniform. Photo: Thomas Newman.

The Revd Mark Newman in his padre’s uniform. Photo: Thomas Newman.

Oxfordshire born and bred, Mark’s family moved from Blewbury to Grove when he was very young, and then to Wantage, where he attended King Alfred’s School. Mark, who was an Army Cadet himself as a teenager, married his wife Julia in 1997.  Before meeting Julia and her family, Mark admits he had very little experience of Christianity. “There was little mention of faith at school but when I met my wife-to-be I was very open to spiritual things. It was the mid 1990s and there was plenty of New Age spirituality around, but I had never met a genuine group of Christians.”

As he dated Julia and got to know her parents, Mark learned what a genuine Christian faith could look like, which was different from anything he had been taught at school or experienced elsewhere. “It showed me that I could have a very real, living faith. Julia was going to church and it was awkward because I wasn’t, but through her family’s prayers I came to faith,” he said.
“As far as the cadets are concerned the whole of Oxfordshire is now my parish.”

Mark’s path to ordination was unusual as he left school with no GCSEs due to undiagnosed dyslexia and worked as a mechanic and later a builder. “Those jobs never stretched me academically. However, one of the gifts of dyslexia is to be creative and artistic and to think illogically. You solve problems in a different way,” he says.

He was finally diagnosed when he was 40 and at Wycliffe Hall Theological College. “I did a diploma rather than a degree. It wasn’t easy but my experience of getting support at Wycliffe was completely different from what I had experienced at school. Wycliffe was an amazing time of academic testing, being with some extraordinarily clever people as a mature student, where the other students were half my age. I was going through the whole Oxford experience of matriculation and lectures while reflecting on the town and gown element of the city.

“We had always come to Oxford to either go shopping or go clubbing and this showed me the other side of the city, which was interesting. It was a stretching time, but even though I wanted to give up at a couple of points I kept going, got lots of help and got through it.”

Pleased with the grade from his diploma, Mark was ordained into the St Alban’s Diocese in 2012, and served his curacy at St Mary’s, Eaton Socon. “It was a really great training parish. I experienced every age group, ran school assemblies, conducted baptisms, funerals, marriages and everything in between,” he says.

Mark was aware that 95 per cent of curates go on to become incumbents while some teach at theological colleges and/or write academically. Also aware that the Church of England needs younger priests to replace those who are retiring, Mark began applying for parish posts. “From January to April last year my wife and I prayed more than ever and I found myself pushing on doors that weren’t opening,” says Mark. Before he was ordained, Mark had been part of a team from St Aldate’s Church in Oxford, who ran an Alpha Course at the Dalton Barracks.

“That’s when I met military chaplains and began to think about ordination and some kind of call to military ministry.During that Alpha Course I was introduced to the Armed Forces’ Christian Union,” says Mark. The AFCU approached Mark in 2015, asking him to join them for a week at New Wine, praying for the organisation and Mark’s future plans.

This led to a number of conversations and lots of prayer. He joined them in June 2016 as a non-stipendiary staff member. “My ‘nine to five’ job is supporting military Christians, in particular chaplains. At the weekends, in the evenings and for two weeks in the summer I’m the chaplain for the Oxfordshire Army Cadet Force,” he says. “I may have given up the house and the stipend but I haven’t left the Church of England. I have just taken a sideways missionary role that happens to be in the UK. As far as the Cadets are concerned the whole of Oxfordshire is now my parish.”

Mark describes a chaplain’s role as offering pastoral care and Christian support to everybody on their patch. For him that means the Army cadets and the adult leaders, regardless of whether or not they have a faith. Oxfordshire Army Cadet Force comprises 560 cadets, aged 12 to 18, and around 180 adults. About half of those attend the annual summer camp where they are given a fictional military scenario and spend their time involved in training, tactical exercises and adventurous training.

“I work very closely with the welfare team. You, of course, get problems from home cropping up, problems on camp, problems with friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, all of the issues that come up when you put a group of teenagers together for two weeks. We have the GCSE and A Level results coming through during the camp and I have teenagers who haven’t got the grades they wanted coming to ask me “Padre, what am I going to do? These are young people wondering what their place in the world is. They bring all of these issues to the camp and you are in a position of locoparentis responsibility to take care of them.”

The adults on the camp will also look to the Padre for help and advice. “For those two weeks I’m effectively their parish priest. They can come to have a conversation with me about anything at any time. I’m available outside of those two weeks as well, but while on camp that is the main time when I’m available from 6.30am until 10.30pm. They are long hours but very rewarding. What’s extraordinary about working with the cadets is watching young people do wonderful activities together while growing and maturing, not just as individuals but as groups.

“The camp brings together young people from places as diverse as Blackbird Leys, Burford and Henley, from across the social spectrum, so it is an interesting social experiment and is about expanding horizons. My role is to be roving eyes and ears and to be constantly thinking in terms of pastoral care and support.”

Mark also presents the Padre’s Trophy each year to a detachment for their efforts during the previous year where they go out and help people in their community. This year he awarded it to the Blackbird Leys Detachment in Oxford. He enjoys seeing young people from a range of back-grounds gain life skills. “It’s not about them joining the Army; we are not a recruiting agency. It’s about giving them an experience that helps to shape them with outstanding life skills. We have a set of values and standards that are the same as in the military; selfless commitment; respect for others; loyalty; integrity; discipline and courage.

“It’s amazing to see the adults give up their time, many of them giving up their holidays for the cadets. I’ve come from a parish role leading a communion service three to four times a week to a post that’s so different in its context. This is about meeting people where they are, which is what I love. Coming from a background as a builder and a mechanic, they were not industries where you met a lot of Christians. The Army is similar.”

In his AFCU role, Mark’s role is to support Christians who are constantly moving, every couple of years, as the Armed Forces post them to different locations. “They are having to change church every couple of years and we try and provide a constant presence in their lives, by visiting, by Skype, email and Facebook, and all the time supporting them in prayer. We have weekends and conferences to give Christians in the military the chance to keep in touch and grow in their faith.”

Mark is looking for opportunities to share his work and his role with the Army Cadet Foce and AFCU. For more call 07585 446034 or email

Explore historic churches from the comfort of your own sofa

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TAKE a virtual tour of Oxfordshire’s historic churches from the comfort of your own sofa with a new website put together by Nikhilesh Haval.nik

Nikhilesh is an architectural photographer who has been authorised by Google to take shots for Street View. “Google extended Street View to go inside businesses,” says Nikhilesh, who remembers being impressed by St Paul’s Cathedral when he was studying for his first degree in architecture in India. It wasn’t until he came to the UK 16 years ago to do a Masters in Software Development, that he saw St Paul’s for real.

“I have always been fascinated by heritage architecture. I’d seen St Paul’s, which was Wren’s masterpiece, in books. When I moved here I visited all of Wren’s churches around London.”

After a similar project in London, Nikhilesh began to use the same processes to photograph churches in Oxfordshire. Using a normal DSLR camera, he takes multiple panoramic shots and uses computer software to stitch them together. The result is a virtual tour of the church.

The website, Oxfordshire Churches in 360 Degrees, has proved popular with Nikhilesh being featured in the Sobell house magazine and being asked to give a talk for the Oxfordshire Family History Society. “People may be planning to get married and have visited three or four churches. This gives them the chance to have another look when they get home,” says Nikhilesh.   The website is also useful for historians or anyone with an interest in churches who may want to check out a building before they visit.”




Join in the Reverse Advent Calendar

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by Sally Welch

A Reverse Advent Calendar is a way of bringing Christmas hope to those in need, moving the focus from receiving to giving and sharing.

What should I put in here?

What should I put in here?

St Mary’s Church in Charlbury will be organising a Reverse Advent Calendar in aid of the Porch Steppin’ Stone Centre, Oxford,  which provides day long support for homeless and vulnerably housed people wanting to move forward in their lives, away from street-life and addiction. At the beginning of Advent, those who wish to participate will be given a large cardboard box. Every day of Advent participants can place one item from the list into the box.

From Christmas Eve until the middle of January, these boxes can be taken to St Mary’s church where they will be collected and delivered to the Centre.

The Revd Sally Welch is the Vicar at St Mary’s, Charlbury.