At over halfway through his deanery visits around the diocese, Bishop Steven joined clergy and lay people in the Cowley Deanery on Wednesday 27 April.
Beginning the day at the recently reordered St Mary and St Nicholas Church, Littlemore, with a Eucharist for deanery clergy, Bishop Steven shared a message from 1 Kings 19 about the story of Elijah. He encouraged clergy that even as Elijah felt stretched and empty from the challenges he faced, he was able to hear the voice and experience the presence of God once again.
“What are you hearing from the living God speaking with that still small voice? We all need to hear the voice of God again and take time and space to rediscover the central threads of our vocation around which we can reorientate our life and ministry.”
Bishop Steven joined clergy for their deanery chapter meeting giving clergy the opportunity to ask questions, share their experiences and consider the future of their ministry in the deanery together.
Clergy spoke positively about the good interfaith relations they have developed with other faith groups in the area, the increase in the number of new people finding church during the pandemic, and the joy they and their congregations are experiencing as they are back meeting together to worship in person.
They also shared some of their struggles including trying to reengage with families after the pandemic restrictions have lifted, and their worries about the rising cost of living crisis and the impact of this on their communities.
Reaching out to the hard to reach
In the afternoon, Bishop Steven made a community visit to the Living Room Day Centre on St Clements Road, Oxford. It is part of the Oxford Winter Night Shelter, a charity offering respite, hospitality, and encouragement to those who are homeless and vulnerably housed in the city of Oxford.
Bishop Steven met with the Trustees of the charity, one of the 450 dedicated volunteers and manager, Russell Hemmings, and heard about the significant and life-changing impact of the organisation. During the dark winter months from January to March, 12 churches across the city work in partnership with university colleges to provide food and a place to sleep for those who are homeless or living in vulnerable housing.
The Living Room was developed in partnership with St Clement’s Parish Property, with close connections to the parish church of St Clement’s, and opened in September 2021 in a former Christian bookshop. The new space is a small, welcoming, and relaxing space open four days a week for clients to find support from the volunteers and staff and help tackle uses of isolation and loneliness, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Free washing, laundry and internet facilities enable the clients to maintain their dignity and have a safe space to take care of themselves.
The full day of listening and learning ended with dinner with deanery lay leaders St James Church, followed by an evening with Bishop Steven at St Mary and John. Local PCC members and other parishioners were invited to a share in a short act of worship and question and answer session with the bishop. Bishop Steven's deanery visits continue with Amersham on Thursday 5 May.