In a joint visitation on St Patrick’s Day with the Vale of White Horse and Wantage Deaneries, Bishop Steven spent time with clergy, lay leaders, churchwardens, and dairy farmers learning about their experiences over the past couple of years and their hopes for the future.
Bishop Steven travelled to St John the Baptist in Grove, Wantage for a Eucharist for clergy led by the Revd John Durant. Bishop Steven shared a message about leadership and the impact of the pandemic on energy and capacity levels.
“It will take time for capacity in us and the church we care for to develop again. We need to have confidence that both will come…we need patience, not everything in creation was done in the same day.”
Clergy from the two rural deaneries shared their experiences over the past two years with Bishop Steven and the Archdeacon of Dorchester. They shared honestly about the change in volunteer numbers, fear and loss about the situation in Ukraine, and the departure of a number of church leaders in a short space of time. Clergy also shared positively how the benefices bonded during the pandemic and the hopeful opportunities the pandemic brought in speeding up developments that might have previously taken a number of years including expanding children and families ministry.
The first community visit saw Bishop Steven meet the Ridgeway Benefice Lay Ministry Team and hear about the important work they have been doing over the past 10 years to build connections with the community. Through careful listening and prayer, the team of dedicated volunteers has developed mission in many areas of community life from supporting the local schools with reading and maths to establishing the diocese’s first Anna Chaplain working with the older generation.
Step Farm just outside of Farringdon town, was the next stop for Bishop Steven. The dairy farm is one of a number of farms in West Oxfordshire practicing solely organic farming but was the first large organic farm in the UK to be certified in 1982.
During a tour of the farm and its organic practices, Bishop Steven spent time hearing from the current three generations of tenant farmers, Miles and his son, and his father Patrick, and had the chance to meet some of the 400 pedigree dairy cattle. Miles shared some of the highs and lows of rural farming, including the difficulties with recruiting farmworkers in recent years.
Joining a meeting with churchwardens from the two deaneries, Bishop Steven heard truthful reflections about the experience of the churchwarden role in rural parishes and the strong community connections they have been able to establish despite the pandemic.
“The pandemic experience has been different for churches in rural areas, it has brought people together and our sense of community is even stronger than before.”
An evening with Bishop Steven
The final stop of the day was an evening service with PCCs and clergy at All Saints, Farringdon, led by the Revd Steve Bellamy, and with a special time of prayer and reflection for Ukraine. Those who attended heard Bishop Steven speaking about the Lord’s Prayer, part of this year’s Come and Se and had the opportunity to ask questions. Bishop Steven shared how he had been inspired by the people he met throughout the day and was pleased to see
“little local ordinary churches alive in the Spirit.”
Bishop Steven is travelling to each of the 29 deaneries 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 region.
The next two visits are to the Witney Deanery on Tuesday 29 March and the Wallingford Deanery on Thursday 31 March.