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Wonderfully Made

Clergy from Nandyal, south India, smile as they are taught to play croquet by clergy from the Diocese of Oxford

The Diocese of Oxford hosted its 2022 Clergy Conference, looking at themes of lament, returning to the heart of our calling, and looking forward with hope.

Almost 300 clergy from across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire gathered at The Hayes Conference Centre from Tuesday 7 - Thursday 9 June for Wonderfully Made, the first diocesan clergy gathering in four years. With a busy programme of events, Bishop Steven kicked off the conference with a Eucharist on Tuesday morning, during which clergy were encouraged to treat the time away as one of reflection and restoration. Reflecting on the past few years, Bishop Steven explored Paul's letter in 2 Corinthians, visiting a different passage each day of the conference in Engaging with God's Word.

"Paul offers us a response to great suffering which dares to open our hearts to God and one another in compassion."

It was striking how many new faces were at the conference, with a large number of new clergy moving into or being ordained in the diocese since the 2018 conference. For many, this was the first chance to meet their peers and share meals with friends old and new.

The first keynote address was an engaging talk on peace, justice and integrity by the Rt Hon Paul Boateng. Lord Boateng became the UK’s first Black Cabinet Minister in 2002, and now sits in the House of Lords. With the day being dedicated to lament and healing, Paul's talk looked at how we, as a society, can find answers to three core issues facing us today - contagion, conflict and a crisis in confidence in our institutions.

"Each and everyone of you… individually by your calling, by your anointing and his divine grace, but also as part of the church and wider community... has a critical part to play in that answer. The jars await their filling."

EA member of clergy concentrates as he builds with Legoach afternoon, clergy were invited to attend workshops of their choosing, which featured everything from building with Lego and experiencing a Godly Play session to leadership seminars and pilgrim walks around the surrounding areas. Clergy commented on the 'much-needed refreshment' offered through the variety of workshop, a testament to the Conference Planning Group and all who ran the spaces.

In one workshop, Poetry as meaning/less, former artist Gary Collins invited clergy to explore what theology and faith could gain from recognising their poetic instincts. The Revd Peter Wright and the Revd Benji Tyler shared their own moving poetic responses. 

Ian Parkinson led two leadership workshops which were well received by attendees. Resources from Ian's workshops are available online now.

Day two of the conference saw the theme shift to 'returning to the heart of our calling', and the Rt Revd Dr Graham Tomlin and Dr Isabelle Hamley delivered moving keynote speeches. Graham Tomlin, the Bishop of Kensington, reflected on our call to be a priestly, pilgrim, prophetic church, and the wisdom that can be gained from refugees on our position as a church in today's society.

"Refugees remind us who we are as Christians. We too are migrants. We have so much to learn from the experience of refugees and exiles as to how the church should be."

Dr Isabelle Hamley, secretary for Theology and Ecumenical Relations and Theological Adviser to the House of Bishops, explored mission and ministry in 'post-Covid world' - though was clear that the world as it is is not yet in a post-pandemic state. Reflecting the move to the 'new normal', Isabelle remarked; "Was it ever normal that some had so much food they wasted daily while others had to beg on the side of the road?" All three keynote addresses can be watched at any time on the diocesan YouTube channel.

On Wednesday, the Revd Canon Felicity Scroggie, Bishop's Advisor for Women's Ministry, preached in the Eucharist service, looking at Mary and Elizabeth and the callings that so disrupt their lives. You can read Felicity's sermon below and find out more about her work in women's ministry here.


Read the Revd Canon Felicity Scroggie's sermon
Coming home: The visitation of Mary to Elizabeth

In the eaves of my horse’s stable, every year a swallow returns from Africa and finds her way back into the small opening between the same two beams. There she builds her nest and hatches out her young. Sometimes one clutch, sometimes two. No journey is too long when you are coming home.

Home is where you belong - your shelter and place of rest. The place where you can be yourself and be known for who you are. The very word speaks to us of our deepest longing to belong, to be accepted, and known. It may be a geographical place (Beverley in East Yorkshire would be my geographical place), or a relational belonging (this weekend I found myself in a context where I felt known and could be myself and extraordinarily - really extraordinarily - I found myself dancing. Please note I NEVER dance - ever! It was possible only because of that relational belonging - and it came from a place deep within). Home, I suspect, is where all human beings yearn to be.

At her time of challenge, Mary returned to a place where she could be understood, accepted, and believed. In fact she went to the only place where that was possible; to her cousin Elizabeth, who would certainly believe her and whose story she shared. They had so much to ponder together. There was so much to come to terms with. Fear, loss, shame, trust, meaning, God whose call disrupts... Elizabeth alone could understand. And they had three months together, the younger woman in her first trimester and her older cousin in her last trimester. I like to imagine how they talked in those three months, perhaps sitting in the shade, Elizabeth heavily pregnant, Mary with it all to come, sharing their stories, praying, learning how God works, making sense of it all, and strengthening each other for the times to come. All of this takes time... The text indicates that Mary was there for the birth too.

But our passage focuses on Mary’s arrival. As Mary arrived there was a leap of recognition; a joyous leap from the very depths of Elizabeth’s body.

The child in her womb, John the Baptist, whose call was always to point away from himself to Jesus, recognises him now as very God of very God. A baby who has no language, no agency, yet is so much aware of the very presence of God.

And his response is with his whole being, from the very depths of who he was in response to the encounter with Christ. He leaps and dances with his whole being.

This is vocation - the leap of the heart as deep calls to deep (as the psalmist puts it) where our deepest need meets God’s all-sufficient presence. This is communion with God - where we are known and filled and completed. ‘Lord you have searched me out and known me. You search out my paths, you hem me in behind and before and lay your hand upon me, For it was you who formed my inward parts, you knitted me together in my mothers womb...' (Ps 139). Neither child has verbal language but holiness and response are of a deeper language than human words.

It is this call and response that makes up who we are as baptised Christians, deacons, priests, bishops, theologians, human beings. We do not just do a job or play a role, we are animated by that call of the deep that makes our hearts leap again. And it is to this that we need to return, time and again, and especially at the time of challenge. Here is the place where we are known fully, and understood, hemmed in above, below and all around by the love of our maker. Here is our home where we are indeed the beloved.

And maybe we forget it sometimes as the years go by, and the machinations of the system wear us down, and the sheer demands of it all exhaust us, and the human frailty of all those who make up God’s gloriously messy church demoralises us, and the inherent tensions of a broad church make us question, ‘do I belong here any more? Is there still a place for me? Can this be home?' (Church can be a cruel place). And we feel the burden each night of the people we have failed this day as we try to fulfill an impossible job description. And the international and global tragedies seem too big and too heavy. Surely there are challenges all around us. Just look and see.

And in these times we are invited to turn again. To return to the place where we are known for who we are. To journey back again to that animating encounter with God where the depths of God's heart speak to the depths of our heart and we remember our foundational call. That call to which we said ‘yes’, with Mary. And then our hearts leap again within us as we allow God to re-member us - to put us back together again. And we, who no longer have any or words to say, may hear Christ's voice, that gentle call to us. “Yes my child, even you.especially you, beloved. For I formed you in the womb and knew you through and through. And I call you over again to be mine.”

And like the little swallow creeping back between the beams, we will know that we have truly come home, and that the journey was indeed worth it.


Comedian Barbara Nice leans on her microphone stand onstageIt was a delight on Wednesday evening to offer a night of play and laughter as Ian Macdonald, one of the diocesan Discipleship Enablers, presented Folk On and Barbara Nice. From comedy line-dance calling to a diocesan-wide game of musical statues, the evening was enjoyed by all as a chance to laugh together. Attendees were even treated to a spot of karaoke courtesy of the Bishop of Dorchester!

It was an honour to also be joined at this conference by representatives from our link dioceses in Sweden, South Africa and India, both online and onsite at The Hayes. Over mealtimes, clergy were able to meet and converse with clergy from the Diocese of Vaxjo, Sweden, and the Diocese of Nandyal, south India, and in the closing Eucharist, the diocesan bishops were blessed by our Nandyal guests. Bishops from each link dioceses joined Bishops Olivia and Steven one afternoon for a Zoom conversation, and Bishop Brian, of the Kimberley and Kuruman Diocese, shared his thoughts on the diocesan partnership via video.


Keynote addresses and Bishop Steven's Engaging with God's Word sessions are available at any time on the Diocese of Oxford's YouTube channel, alongside Bishop Olivia's conversation with our link bishops.

Page last updated: Wednesday 22nd June 2022 9:51 AM
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