In his second visit of the week, Bishop Steven travelled to the largest deanery in the diocese to join clergy, lay leaders and PCCs for a full day of listening, learning and community visits.
The day started with a Eucharist at St Nicolas, Earley hosted by the Revd April Beckerleg. The Eucharist was attended by clergy from across the deanery and was led by the Revd Dr Liz Ratcliffe, Rector of Tilehurst. Bishop Steven spoke in the service reflecting on the impact of the pandemic on church and parish life. He thanked the clergy for their efforts to keep going and their ability to creatively adapt to meet the changing needs of their communities during this time.
“Order, sustainability and predictability are all significant parts of the Anglican tradition that we enjoy but every so often things happen that disrupt this and create a continuous determent of hope.”
Clergy joined Bishop Steven for a lunch at the church with the opportunity to share their experiences, the challenges, and the more life-giving moments of their ministry. They highlighted how the pandemic had reminded them that pastoral work is the most important part of their ministry, their excitement about the engagement of young families with faith, and the positive impact of the Parish Giving Scheme. One clergy person said:
“My hope is that we will be a church more broadly able to equip our congregations to know that they too are called to pastor and share Jesus’ love with one another.”
Loving and feeding Reading
Faith Christian Group was the next stop of the day. Bishop Steven visited the ReadiFood warehouse, where donated food, toiletries and household cleaning products are packaged and distributed to families across the city. Alison Peyton, the food bank manager, described how the pandemic and the rising cost of living have led to an increase in people seeking help from the food bank. Currently, over 200 households are being fed by the food bank every week in Reading, and the team is planning to open a food pantry in the city soon to cater for more in need.
ReadiStreet, another project under Faith Christian Group, has also seen a rise in the number of homeless and rough sleepers in the city as a result of the pandemic, from 35 to 65 people. Four evenings a week, a team of volunteers serve sandwiches, hot food and hot drinks from the Minster to people living on the streets in the city. The team also signpost clients onto other support services to help them into stable accommodation and to gain further support.
Wendy Harris, ReadiStreet Manager, described some of the work:
“It’s not just a meal for the night, we offer fellowship, support and advice to the people we work with. It’s not ‘them and us’, it’s ‘you and me’. We build good relationships with the clients, and they trust us.”
Later in the evening, Bishop Steven met some of the volunteers working with the ReadiStreet clients setting up to serve much needed food and drink to a queue of people at Reading Minster.
A season of spiritual renewal
Bishop Steven joined a group of Llay leaders from across the deanery for a fish and chip meal at Reading Minster. Bishop Steven answered questions from the lay leaders including about the future of the church and how churches can increase their engagement with the younger generation.
“This is a season for the church to seek spiritual renewal.”
Come and See
The final part of the day was an evening service for PCCs at Reading Minster led by the Revd Sonya Wratten, Vicar of the Minster, and worship was sung by the Choristers.
Bishop Steven introduced the Come and See daily Lent reflections for this year, which look at the Lord’s Prayer. He shared the significance of each line of the prayer and the words of Jesus as a resource for us.
“When I say that first line each morning, it helps me to find my place in the universe. In the vastness of everything, I am not just a bunch of atoms, but a person made in the image of God… It sets my pace for the coming day.”
Following the service, the Q&A session saw PCCs asking Bishop Steven about a range of current issues in the church including the climate crisis, the Living and Love and Faith agenda, and the relationship between the Church and society. Bishop Steven also had the opportunity to meet a local Tradecraft fair trader during Fairtrade Fortnight providing refreshments during the evening.
Bishop Steven is travelling to each deanery in the Diocese of Oxford this year 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 Bracknell Deanery on Thursday 10 March.