On the Money: Mission in the World

by Alison Webster

Alison Webster

The needs of a tiny village, or one street of an urban estate, to wider issues controlled by global forces are all part of the work of the Diocese of Oxford’s Mission in the World team.

Christians might intervene on many different levels and what happens locally has a global dimension. There are people from all over the world living in most communities in this diocese. A lot of issues that are perceived to be local are driven by international forces.

A concrete example is employment opportunities. The job market in any location is driven by global economic trends and situations. Local education and services will be largely dictated by national policy. There are four headings that set the agenda for what the Mission in the World team do:

We look at what is happening on a parish level. It may be engaging with those experiencing domestic abuse or those with mental health issues. As churches we respond through practical support and the more we engage practically, the clearer we see the systemic and structural causes of injustice. This in turn can lead us to work for change through advocacy and campaigning, which leads us into partnerships with other denominations, faith and secular agencies.

All this is embedded in deep theological reflection. We work for nothing less than the care and healing of God’s people and God’s world.

The Mission in the World Team:

  • Alison Webster – social responsibility adviser
  • Bethan Willis – assistant social responsibility adviser
  • The Revd Canon Glyn Evans – rural officer
  • The Revd Joanna Collicutt – Spiritual Care for Older People (SCOP) adviser
  • Maranda St John Nicolle – world development adviser
  • Victoria Slater – researcher, Living Well in the End Times project (externally funded)

Partnerships for Creation

PARTNERING with other people in care for creation can be an important part of a church’s witness and outreach, a way of practically showing the love of God and neighbour. But how can we work effectively with partners in the community? And how can we build positive relationships with local politicians?

Jo Musker-Sherwood, Neil Clark, Karl Wallendszus and Richard Foster discuss how churches can partner with politicians and others in their communities. Photo: Maranda St John Nicolle.

Recently in Oxford, Christians from different churches came together to think through these questions. In the morning Alice Hemming, coordinator of Oxfordshire’s Community Action Groups network, and John Clements, from the Parish of North Hinksey with Botley, spoke about the way in which community sustainability groups operate and how churches can start their own or get involved with them.

Inspired by examples like the Botley Community Fridge, participants brainstormed about activities their churches could undertake and community partners they might work with. In the afternoon, leading environmental charity Hope for the Future ran a session on how to build a constructive relationship with your MP. Using – for the first time – their newly published workbook, which brings together expertise gleaned from research and dozens of MP meetings, Director Jo Musker-Sherwood and Assistant Director Sarah Robinson discussed how parliament works, techniques that are effective in meetings, and how to continue a relationship beyond a single meeting.

The afternoon culminated in a role play exercise in which a group of participants planned and carried out a meeting with Jo standing in as their MP. The response to both sessions was enthusiastic.

If you’d like to find out more or want to receive a Hope for the Future workbook, contact the diocesan world development adviser

Volunteers help clothe hundreds of Bracknell’s poorest

by Jo Duckles

A van is loaded with clothes to be given away. Photo: St Mark’s, Binfield.

THE poorest and most vulnerable people in the Bracknell area are being helped by a clothing bank run by churches and volunteers in the deanery.

The idea started in Binfield when a mum had a bag of clothes to give away but felt the local charity shop was setting prices too high for those living in poverty.
“We got our heads together and decided to give clothes away to families in need. We have four seasonal giveaways each year. We get donations from churches around the deanery. They are not just Church of England, all of the churches in the area get involved,” said Gisele Taylor, who co-ordinates the project. The scheme was inspired by Jesus’s words in Matthew 25, vs 36: “I needed clothes and you clothed me…”

Clothes are picked up by volunteers and taken to a container at St Mark’s Church in Binfield. They are sorted into ages for children and sizes for adults. For the giveaways, 70 to 80 boxes are taken to St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Bracknell.

Clients are referred from a variety of charities and agencies. These include Bracknell Women’s Aid, mental health charities, Christians Against Poverty, Social Services, Lighthouse Homeless Project and various foodbanks.

“The project is in contact with a breadth of projects and schemes that help people in situations where they find themselves in need. The clothes are taken to St Joseph’s by volunteers. Some are taken in cars, one person once delivered some in a horse box. It brings the community together to help, which is wonderful,” said Gisele.

Clients who are referred to the clothing bank receive vouchers which allow them to visit St Joseph’s during a giveaway and take whatever clothes they need.
“We restrict the new clothing people can take away and some of what we receive isn’t appropriate. The majority of clients are aged between 20 and 40. Two thirds of the clothes we give away are for children and one third for adults. We don’t have a lot of need for older adult clothing or smarter clothes. We have emergency referrals too between giveaways. We recently had a family of refugees so we clothed them.” Gisele said that any clothing unlikely to be wanted by the core client group was sold on Ebay and the money used to buy new underwear and pyjamas, which can’t be given away second hand.

“We get 90 to 130 clients each time. I co-ordinate the project but it is very much a joint effort and we couldn’t do it without all of the volunteers we have on board. We have people from industry, someone from Microsoft and a number of people from Lloyds who are given a number of days per year to work within the community.”

Volunteers also deal with the administration of the project. New for 2017 is a specific school uniform giveaway. “School uniforms don’t tend to go during the regular giveaways but we wanted to do something for families at the crunch time of year, before the new school years starts,” added Gisele.

For anyone living in the Bracknell area who would like to donate clothes or get involved, contact St Mark’s Binfield on or 01344 421079.

Loving the Stranger

 A sermon given by Alison Webster at Jesus College, Oxford, October 2016.

Readings: Deut 10:17-22; John 4:7-15; Ps 133.

A story….

In July 2016 a protest rally was held in my home city, Norwich, in protest at the result of the EU Referendum. At 3am the following morning, a brick was thrown through the window of an Eastern European food shop in that same city, along with a petrol bomb that caused fire damage. The owner and her daughter were asleep in the flat above the shop. They were scared for their lives.

On the face of it, this is a bad news story. Except for what happened next. Whilst the police kept ‘an open mind’ about suggestions that the attack was racially motivated, a fundraising appeal was launched by a local resident, who posted on a crowd funding website: “While protesters rallied against Brexit in Norwich last night, an Eastern European food store was petrol-bombed. The owner has no insurance. She could do with an act of kindness from her neighbours. Please donate. A small token will go a long way.”

The ‘ask’ was for a few hundred pounds to enable the shop to start trading again. Within a few days, the sum raised was £28,509. Not only that, but messages of support began to appear, spontaneously, written on post-its and cards, and stuck to the window of the shop.


The God of gods and the Lord of lords is characterised in Deuteronomy by two things – the protection of the vulnerable (widows and orphans), and love for the stranger. These things are presented as the very essence of justice.

Right now, particularly in our UK context, it seems that migrants, of all kinds, are our ‘strangers’. Worldwide, people are being displaced in unprecedented numbers by catastrophic war and conflict, by the effects of climate change, and by extreme poverty. People are on the move because they desire, simply, to survive. Widows and orphans abound, their vulnerability often further exploited by people traffickers, who sell women and children into slavery and servitude.

Yet rather than loving the stranger, our collective response, especially in the political sphere, is one of rejection. Why?


According to the philosopher Julia Kristeva there is a category of stuff which is considered neither subject nor object, but abject. ‘It is not’, she says, ‘lack of cleanliness or health that causes abjection but what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite’. The loathsome, she says, is that which disobeys classification and does not respect boundaries.

And in her book Purity and Danger, anthropologist Mary Douglas puts forward her now famous definition of dirt as ‘matter out of place’. That which society constructs as ‘dirty’ or ‘polluted’ is not so because of any intrinsic qualities of its own, but is a relative concept. A shoe on your foot, in contact with the ground, is not dirty. Take it off and put it on the kitchen table and it becomes so.

Crossing boundaries

So, with human beings, context is everything. When God says, ‘You shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in Egypt’, I think this goes beyond, ‘you should love the stranger because you know how it feels to be one’. It is, rather, a recognition that all of us are potentially strangers. We may live securely now, as part of the dominant group, which makes us simply ‘ordinary’. But at any point we could be plucked from that location and find ourselves elsewhere, or flung into a different situation in the same location. Either way, we may find ourselves to be newly marginalized and unsafe. Vulnerable. This is happening to thousands of people in our society through job loss, bereavement, debt, mental and physical ill health, increasing levels of racist and xenophobic hate crime, and the increasing frailty that comes with growing older.

Those who migrate physically, most obviously cross boundaries and are therefore perceived to be a danger or a threat. But there are others whose essence causes horror amongst some sections of our communities. Trans, intersex and genderqueer people defy categorisation as they transcend the gender binary that keeps the rest of us in our place; lesbian, gay and bisexual people likewise disrupt the perceived necessary connection between gender, and opposite-sex sexual object choice. Homeless people may be living on the street, and that is not what the street is for; those in mental distress may display forms of behaviour that challenge social norms. Stigma is the result.


Our gospel reading provides an interesting insight into how Jesus dealt with the stranger, and the common-sense ‘othering’ processes of his own social context.

With the woman at the well, Jesus initiates a conversation with one who should have been his ‘other’. She is a woman, and she is a Samaritan, but nevertheless he tells her to give him a drink. The dialogue that follows is intriguing. It is banter between equals. She challenges his request on the grounds that he is a Jew and she a Samaritan; his retort is that if she had recognised the opportunity his request afforded her, she could have had access to ‘living water’. She comes back with, in effect, who do you think you are to promise this? Are you saying you are of greater historical significance than Jacob, whose well this is? When Jesus explains that he is talking about eternal life that will be more like a welling spring than a deep well, she expresses a desire for the living water.

There’s an intriguing mutuality about this encounter. And as the story continues beyond what we heard read this evening, it becomes clear that he knows things about this woman that he has no reason to know (that is, that she has had four husbands and now lives with a man who is not her husband), and this leads to a deep theological interaction, culminating in her recognising his identity as the Messiah who is coming. Here is powerful mutual recognition and understanding. Their conversation is interrupted by the disciples, who are of course perplexed by the fact that it is happening at all, and the woman returns to her city saying to her family, ‘come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done.’ In other words, ‘come and see a man who really gets my life’.


And the Samaritan woman was just one of many people whom Jesus freed from social stigma. There was Legion, for example, who was so distressed he self-harmed with rocks and chains, and lived naked amongst the tombs, outside the boundaries of his town; there was Zaccheus, the tax collector, who had ‘gone over to the dark side’, colluding with the Roman occupiers to extort money from his own people. There was the woman ‘caught in the very act of adultery’ who had thereby broken a fundamental rule of Jewish society. And the woman with the flow of blood was ritually unclean, but Jesus called her ‘daughter’.

Jesus liberated potential within people that only he could see. He cut people loose from their physical, psychological and spiritual chains. He proclaimed liberty to oppressed people.


Jesus embraced those whom others considered to be strangers through listening to them, hearing them, and understanding. ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he said. We see in his encounters what the psychologist Carl Rogers would call an effective empathic response. Rogers describes what happens in therapy when real empathy is present, ‘I have noticed that the more deeply I hear the meaning of a person, the more there is that happens. Almost always, when the person realizes he has been deeply heard, his eyes moisten. I think in some real sense he is weeping for joy. It is as though he were saying, ‘Thank God, somebody has heard me. Someone knows what it’s like to be me’…By that one simple response he is released from his loneliness, he has become a human being again.’

Jesus made strangers into human beings again. Their response to this was intense joy. They gave themselves to him. They wanted to commit. They desired to follow.

But where did his empathy come from? When Jesus looked into the eyes of those in the teeth of alienation and marginalisation, he understood them completely. He got them. And here, I think, is why. Jesus is the only human being ever before, or since, to know what it feels like to transcend, and thereby dissolve, the most important and fundamental boundary of all. That between the divine and the human. How lonely must that have felt? He was the quintessential boundary-crosser, and therefore embodied all that it meant to be a stranger, in a way that he alone understood.

Fullness of life

Back to our opening story. Mary Douglas says, ‘The quest for purity is pursued by rejection…It is part of our condition that the purity for which we strive and sacrifice so much turns out to be hard and dead as a stone when we get it….Purity is the enemy of change, of ambiguity, of compromise.’

Those who throw petrol bombs, or exercise more subtle forms of rejection of otherness, are siding with contraction and death. But fullness of life is to be found in diversity. God made a world which tends towards diversity, and therefore fertility and creativity. In our Psalm we are told that living together in unity is like precious oil running down. It is God’s blessing – life forevermore. It is the living water that Jesus talked about with the Samaritan woman. The ‘other’ who knew the truth about Jesus a long time before many others.

Alison and Melanie’s charity headshave

Alison Webster and Melanie Hawgood from the Diocese of Oxford’s Mission Department had their hair shaved off by Dorothy Beaumont on Monday 1 February 2016.  The two charities they are supporting are The Archway Foundation (serving those hurt by loneliness) and Amaka Beautiful Child (empowering young and old to find their voice through the arts). To donate click here. 

Watch a video of the shave here:

Tackling loneliness at the next Social Justice forum

LONELINESS will be the theme of the next Justice Forum organised by the Diocese of Oxford’s Mission in the World Group.

Aylesbury’s More Café is just one of the Diocese’s social action projects. Photo: Alison Webster

Aylesbury’s More Café is just one of the Diocese’s social action projects. Photo: Alison Webster

The event, taking place later this month, comes hot on the heels of a report by the Church Urban Fund that stated that “Loneliness is seen as the most significant social problem in local communities – cited by 64 per cent of church leaders.” The report, Church in Action: A National Survey of church-based social action, was released last month and can be read here;

Alison Webster, Social Responsibility Adviser, said: “This Justice Forum will explore the nature and complexity of loneliness in our society, and ask how churches can be good news for those hurt by loneliness and social isolation, as well as addressing the structural injustices that give rise to them.”

Speakers will include Sheila Furlong, Chief Executive of the Archway Foundation; Rachel Mann, author of Dazzling Darkness and poet in residence at Manchester Cathedral; Stacy Bostock, Community Researcher for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation; and Joanna Collicutt, Adviser for the Spiritual Care of Older People for the Diocese. It will be chaired by Revd Canon Bruce Gillingham.
The event takes place on Tuesday 28 April from 10am to 2pm with a free lunch for networking at Wesley Memorial Methodist Church, New Inn Hall Street, Oxford, OX1 2DH.

Eat or heat? A Justice Forum on fuel poverty

PEOPLE on low incomes are struggling to make ends meet, facing declining incomes and rapidly rising food and fuel costs. For increasing numbers the choice this winter will be to ‘heat or eat.’

Almost four million households in the UK are officially classed as being in ‘fuel poverty.’ This can only get worse as gas and electricity prices continue to increase. With elderly people particularly vulnerable during the winter months, fuel poverty is a significant factor contributing to illness and death throughout the winter. Vulnerable customers who are put on prepayment meters (as an alternative to disconnection) are particularly at risk. Being unable to top-up their meters because they can’t afford to puts them at risk of ‘self-disconnection’, being left without heat or power for hours, days or weeks.

Eat or Heat? A Justice Forum on fuel poverty. 18th November 9.30am Wesley Memorial Church Oxford

This round table event chaired by Alison Webster, Social Responsibility Adviser to the Diocese of Oxford, is a joint initiative of the Oxford Diocesan Board of Mission and the national campaigning body Church Action on Poverty.

Through a range of national speakers and local projects the event will explore:

  • Who is affected by fuel poverty in our own communities?
  • What more should Government and the energy companies be doing to tackle fuel poverty?
  • What practical support is available to people to help reduce their bills, or to help with energy efficiency measures?

Doors open at 9.30am for welcome with tea/coffee. Event finishes with a free lunch at 1pm with time for networking.

To book your place please click on this link which will take you to the Eventbrite booking website.

Hunger in the UK: what can we do about it

Press invite to the launch of 999 Food the Diocese of Oxford’s own response to the escalating problem of Food Poverty.

ONE in five working parents have had to choose between paying an essential bill or putting food on the table, a survey has revealed.

Meanwhile sanctions on benefits are seeing more and more vulnerable people forced to use foodbanks to feed themselves and their families.

999 Food explores why people are in need of foodbanks in Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire and how the church can and is responding. Alison Webster, Diocesan Social Responsibility Advisor and author of 999 Food said: “Evidence emerging from various pieces of research suggests that falling benefit levels, low wages, reforms to housing policy, the bedroom tax, benefit sanctions and suspensions, and debt problems, are having a catastrophic effect on children and families in the UK.”

Speaking after a survey by Oxfam, the Trussell Trust and Church Action on Poverty revealed that the number of people needing emergency food aid had risen by 54 per cent between 2012 and 2013, Alison added: “Trussell Trust figures give only a partial picture. For instance, in the diocese of Oxford only about a quarter of emergency food activity is linked to the TT. Churches are at the forefront of feeding hungry people, but also of campaigns to combat the unjust policies that are pushing people into destitution and extreme vulnerability.”

The Rt Revd John Pritchard, who joined End Hunger Fast campaigner the Revd Dr Keith Hebden for a meeting with the Prime Minister, David Cameron, to press for an end to food poverty last month, among the speakers at the 999 Food launch.


Reporters and photographers are welcome at the launch at 999 Food at Arts4every1, Desborough Road, High Wycombe, HP11 2PU, 6pm to 8pm on Wednesday, June 18.

For more contact Alison Webster on, or phone (01865) 208213 or Jo Duckles on 01865 208227 or 07880 716761.







Bishops pledge to End Hunger Fast

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By Jo Duckles

THE Senior staff of the Oxford Diocese are joining the End Hunger Fast and will be going hungry for 24 hours to back a campaign to end unnecessary food poverty in the UK.

Volunteers sort food donations at a Food Bank.  Photo: The Trussell Trust

Volunteers sort food donations at a Food Bank. Photo: The Trussell Trust

They will fast during a routine meeting of the Bishop’s Staff meeting on 19 March.

The End Hunger Fast campaign is calling on the Government to ensure that:

  • The welfare system provides a robust line of defence against hunger in Britain
  • Work pays enough for employees to properly provide for their families
  • Food markets function, promoting long term sustainable and healthy diets with no one profiteering off hunger in Britain.

The campaign is calling on thousands of Christians to fast as an expression of faith during Lent to bring them closer to God and their neighbour. It is inspired by the shocking statistics that in the UK more than 10 million people live in poverty and half a million are dependent on food aid.

A national day of fasting will take place on Friday 4 April and high profile figures will be pledging a full day’s fast, resulting in a fasting chain throughout Lent until Holy Week. It will culminate with a vigil in Parliament Square on the Wednesday of Holy Week where as many people as possible will gather to stand in solidarity with UK people who go hungry, and call on the Government to act.

The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, said: “Being hungry is one of the most miserable experiences and being hungry day after day, month after month, with all its consequences of illness, weakness and inability to work, must be desperate. One day’s fast doesn’t seem much to remind myself of all that and to make me try by any means to end the scourge of global hunger.

“We celebrate the fact that Christians of all denominations are working alongside those of other faiths and none to mitigate the immediate effects of food poverty. However, whilst it is an imperative of our faith tradition to feed the hungry, our prophetic tradition also requires us to ask why the hungry have no food. We have therefore been carrying out our own explorations of the structural root causes of the need for emergency food aid, whilst also contributing to national research initiatives, through the work of our Diocesan Social Responsibility Adviser, Alison Webster, and her team.”

Alison Webster, Social Responsibility Adviser for the Diocese said: “Fasting has always been an important way for Christians to show solidarity with those experiencing injustice. As it says in Isaiah 58: ‘Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?’

“In Britain today the gap between rich and poor is growing ever wider. Adults and children are going hungry, and the use of food banks is growing exponentially. In this diocese all the indications are that low wages, under-employment, benefit reform and sanctions, and personal debt, are the root causes. Taking part in the End Hunger Fast campaign is a great way to highlight these crucial issues.”

She added:  “Over the last four months I have visited about a third of the emergency food aid initiatives in the Diocese, and have held a forum at which many more were represented. I have talked with organisers, volunteers and clients. It is clear that the economic downturn, and the choice to pursue an austerity agenda in response to it, have had a big impact on those in our communities that have little by way of an ‘economic cushion’ to protect them from crises.

“There seems to be a rapidly expanding gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, and the scary thing is that the ‘have nots’ could by any one of us. They are people in transition – from employment to underemployment or unemployment, or from one form of benefit system to another.”

Background information

1. The Diocese of Oxford is co-terminus with the Thames Valley sub-region, and therefore includes some of the most prosperous parts of the UK. It is therefore a matter of particular concern that the past two or three years have seen a rapid growth in food bank activity across our area.

2. There is now a diverse range of Emergency food aid projects across our diocese, covering towns, cities and rural areas. Projects are centred in Aylesbury, Banbury, Bicester, Bracknell, Burghfield, Chesham (Chiltern Food Bank), Crowthorne, Didcot, Henley upon Thames, High Wycombe (One Can Trust, Bucks), Milton Keynes, Newbury (West Berks Food Bank), Oxford City (Oxford Food Bank, Oxford Emergency Food, Iffley Community Cupboard), North Oxfordshire Food Bank, Oxfordshire West Food Bank, Reading (Readifood), Slough, Thame and Wokingham (NB this may not be a comprehensive list).

3. The Bishop’s Staff who are fasting are: The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard; the Bishop of Buckingham, the Rt Revd Alan Wilson; the Bishop of Dorchester, the Rt Revd Colin Fletcher; the Bishop of Reading, the Rt Revd Andrew Proud; the Archdeacon of Buckingham, the Ven. Karen Gorham; the Archdeacon of Berkshire, the Ven. Olivia Graham; the Archdeacon of Oxford, the Ven. Martin Gorick; the Director of Mission, Canon Dr Michael Beasley; the Diocesan Secretary, Rosemary Pearce; and the Director of Communications, Sarah Meyrick.

4. The organiser of the End Hunger Fast the Revd Dr Keith Hebden is fasting for the whole of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday (5 March 2014) and ends on Easter Day.

5. The Diocese also has a special Lent course around Food and Fasting, which is part of our Food Matters campaign.

For more information, contact Sarah Meyrick on 07824 906839.

Feeding the 500,000

by Jill Moody

AROUND 100 people from the Diocese and beyond packed into the St Clement’s Family Centre to take part in a conference on the future of foodbanks. It was organised by the Diocese of Oxford’s Social Responsibility Adviser, Alison Webster along with Niall Cooper from Church Action on Poverty. The invitation to the ‘Beyond Foodbanks’ conference had been sent out to various groups with an interest in food poverty.

A report by Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty (Walking the Breadline) estimates that 500,000 people in the UK are now reliant on food aid.

They heard a controversial message from Liz Dowler, a Professor of Food and Social Policy who told the group: ‘Food banks are not the way ahead for food poverty.’ She said they address some of the symptoms but not the cause and people turn to foodbanks when their income is too low or when state systems like benefits fail.

Sticking plaster solution

Another speaker was Mark Ward from the Trussell Trust, which itself has around 400 foodbanks across the country. He said they were a sticking plaster because systems that should have worked haven’t and added they would continue to be a sticking plaster for a certain part of the population because things like the welfare system will go wrong.

Delegates at the conference also heard from the Church of England’s National Rural Officer and Jane Benyon who runs a foodbank in Oxford. There was time for the group to talk about their own experiences and share ideas, including foodbanks being run alongside credit unions and offering free school meals to all primary children.

Throughout the day, which was attended by the Bishop of Oxford, there was a quote from the book of Proverbs on a banner behind the speakers which read: ‘If you oppress the poor, you insult their creator’. As one of the speakers talked of the campaign for a living wage, she warned: ‘People you are working with are being insulted on a daily basis.’

Speaking after the day Alison Webster said : “The response to this event has been phenomenal, and the level of engagement, commitment and passion demonstrated by the attendees has been both exciting and humbling.

“Members of the Christian community are playing their part alongside others in responding with compassion to those in desperate crisis situations.”

As the Door went to press the bishops of Oxford, Dorchester and Buckingham were signing up to join credit unions on International Credit Union Day.

Credit Unions are another way the Christians are being encouraged to tackle poverty by investing in, borrowing from and volunteering to help these viable alternatives to pay day loans.