The Bishop of Oxford continues his Deanery visits with a trip to FarmED in Oxfordshire.
The Bishop of Oxford's latest visit saw him travelling between Chipping Norton and Woodstock Deaneries for a day of listening and learning. Beginning at St Mary the Virgin, Shipton-under-Wychwood, clergy from both deaneries joined Bishop Steven for a Eucharist service. Bishop Steven shared his experience of a demanding five years of ministry before Covid, and his changing understanding of his own self as he acknowledged his move from son, father, husband to husband, father, grandfather.
Reflecting on how the emotional demands of that time compare to the weight of post-pandemic ministry, Bishop Steven acknowledged the 'magnificent' work done by clergy over the last two years and encouraged them to find time in this period for spiritual renewal.
"How are you receiving the food and drink that God is giving you for the journey through the desert?"
Together, clergy travelled to Farm ED, an educational centre promoting regenerative and agro-ecological farming systems. After lunch in the adjoining FarmEAT cafe, clergy were invited to share their current moods and ask any questions of the Bishop. Among the concerns were the survival of the smallest rural churches whose service patterns were deeply disrupted through the lockdowns, but the group also shared a gratitude for the opportunities brought about by online church - regular Zoom prayer meetings continue to be a success across the board.
The group also stressed the importance of networking and sharing information, both between parishes and to and from the diocese. One vicar shared an analogy of how, during Covid, many trees were felled, but now the offcuts are growing roots and need nurturing.
After lunch, Bishop Steven was treated to a tour of the FarmED facility by founder and director Ian Wilkinson. Ian shared the importance of understanding agricultural practices and the need for diversity in our farmed landscape - particularly in Oxfordshire, which is almost three quarters farmland.
Since acquiring the land in 2014, Ian and Celene have removed insecticides and fungicides, have doubled the bird species found on site, and see around 20,000 people a year attend their educational talks. The site also hosts a community-supported agriculture scheme, supplying local produce to their surrounding communities and sharing both risks and benefits with supporters. Their dream is to see a CSA model in every parish.
In the Woodsotck Deanery, Bishop Steven ate an evening meal at St Mary Magdalene with local lay leaders before spending the evening with PCCs and others in another time of listening and learning.
Bishop Steven's deanery visits resume after the Jubilee weekend and Clergy Conference. On 15 June, the Bishop will be in Aylesbury Deanery, and 23 June sees him visit Mursley and Claydon. Catch up on the visits so far.