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Bishop of Reading to retire in 2019

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The Bishop of Reading, the Rt Revd Andrew Proud, has announced he will retire next year. His last official engagement

Headteacher set to become Berkshire’s new parish development advisor

A HEADTEACHER is leaving his career in education to join the mission team at the Diocese of Oxford. Read more

Restoration, Renovation and Revitalisation project wins Heritage Lottery Fund support

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The village church of St. Mary’s in Hampstead Norreys, Berkshire, has today received £57,800 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to enable them to start this month on their ‘3R’s Churchyard Project’.Tombs

Led by local volunteers, the ‘3R’s Project’ will focus on the conservation and restoration of nine architecturally interesting and historically important tombs and the research and recording of details of old village families. The project will also include the creation of a wildlife garden providing a wide range of habitats for small endangered birds and animals and a new Churchyard Guide enabling visitors to enjoy the historically interesting area around the church.  To help ensure the future of the churchyard, the ‘Adopt-the Grave’ scheme, is seeking volunteers to help maintain this beautiful area.

Many of the unique monuments in St. Mary’s Churchyard are in a poor state of repair and, in some cases, are in imminent danger of collapsing.  The HLF grant will allow conservation work to  start this month and will be completed by September 2016.  The restoration work will be undertaken by craftsmen who will use old traditional methods of forging and casting iron and the damaged stonework will be repaired or replaced using locally quarried stone.

A local volunteer cameraman will record and follow the renovation process, from the initial site visit and the dismantling of the railings, the forging and making of the new ironwork and visits to the stonemason workshop to document the repairs to the stonework.  A significant part of the project will be undertaken by volunteers from the village genealogy group who will research and record information on the many old Hampstead Norreys families who are buried in the churchyard; to discover who they were, where they lived and what impact they had on village life.

Commenting on the funding, Sheila Craig, Project Manager from Hampstead Norreys  said “We are absolutely thrilled to have received the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and we are looking forward to the start of this exciting new project.  Without their support these unusual and unique tombs would, undoubtedly, collapse and if that happened a significant part of this beautiful village’s long history and heritage would be lost forever.

Stuart McLeod, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund South East, said: “Churchyards are a fascinating blend of social history and natural heritage, yet are often overlooked and unloved. We are delighted that, thanks to National Lottery players, we have been able to fund this exciting project which will protect both the monuments and the wildlife in the area, and allow local people to explore the history and heritage on their doorstep.”

God in the Life Of the Revd Lady Denise Brown

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The Revd Lady Brown (Denise) is passionate about letting the world know about the amazing and varied work of the Mothers’ Union, (MU). Denise tells Jo Duckles how joining the MU as a young mother paved her way back into the Church.

The Revd Lady Denise Brown during a visit to Diocesan Church House. Photo: Jo Duckles.

The Revd Lady Denise Brown during a visit to Diocesan Church House. Photo: Jo Duckles.

Now ordained and doing an extraordinary amount of work for the Church and the MU, Denise told me her story over a cup of tea, following one of the many meetings she attends at Diocesan Church House. While she grew up in the Church, she says her confirmation service when she was just 14 was like a passing out ceremony.

“I never doubted that God existed but I doubted that I could find him in the Church of England,” she says. “I looked for him in lots of other places and when I ended up in a village just outside Basingstoke I joined the MU branch. It was definitely part of my path back in to the CofE. I was invited onto the Young Families Committee in Winchester and my then one-year-old became a very experienced committee member. I travelled around to meetings with a box of toys.”

Denise had studied in London, becoming one of the first people to get a computer science degree and went on to work in telecommunications, where she met her husband David. “Before joining my only experience of the MU was being handed a little collecting box for overseas work,” says Denise. When she moved to Berkshire 23 years ago she joined an MU branch in Newbury and was soon part of the Diocesan Prayer and Spirituality Unit, (now Faith and Policy).

“I have always felt that when the MU asks you to do something it is like stepping out, off the edge of a cliff but you are supported by all of these lovely people who are egging you on and giving you advice.” Her various roles have included joining the central Faith and Policy Unit at the MU’s national headquarters, Mary Sumner House in London. Soon she was helping to run Faith and Policy conferences. All along Denise says the two elements of her ministry, her journey to ordination and service to the MU, were running in parallel.

“While I was doing all this I got more and more involved in my own church, particularly children’s services and family worship,” she says. All the time Denise was feeling called to a vocation, and when she talked her feelings through with her Vicar, it was suggested she become a Licensed Lay Minister.

“I’d been away from the traditional CofE and had to ask what an LLM was,” says Denise, who knew after two years of the three-year LLM training that it was not going to be enough. I was licensed in October 1998. I went to a selection conference for ordination training the following June, and started training on the St Albans and Oxford Ministry Course (SAOMC) in 1999, while continuing with my MU work.”

Denise was ordained Deacon in 2002, the same year David was knighted for services to British Industry. Her roles have included being Assistant Area Dean for the Newbury Deanery for five years. She ministers in the East Downland Benefice, with nine churches. Denise has an interest in young people and this has helped shape the Deanery Development plan. She chairs a Deanery Development team which includes ecumenical partners from COINS (Christian Outreach in Newbury Schools) and the Bus of Hope, a mobile youth centre launched by the Kennet Christian Centre, and is also a trustee of Berkshire Youth, a charity supporting voluntary youth clubs and projects. “With Government cutbacks in youth provision, the voluntary sector needs all the support it can get to help provide facilities for our young people and the churches are getting involved in that,” she says.

As Coordinator for the Diocesan Faith and Policy Unit and then Area Vice-President for West Berkshire, Denise has served for 12 years as a Diocesan trustee of the Mothers’ Union. During that time she has also been a central Trustee for three years. “I have just become the MU Diocesan Chaplain which is something that’s been on my heart for a long time. I now find myself having the opportunity to bring my priestly work and MU work together. It’s a wonderful complement.
“I find in my ministry of whatever kind, God really blesses what I offer. Nearly a year ago I was invited to be the chaplain to the Canterbury Province Conference for MU diocesan presidents. I met a lot of people and out of that was invited to lead Guildford’s MU diocesan retreat. I am now being invited to lead branch prayer times and quiet afternoons and I’ve just led a quiet day for the trustees. It’s a way of re-using the resources I spent time developing last year. God never wastes anything.”

Denise is keen to see the image of the MU transformed in the UK. “We have resources to help prepare people for marriage, resources for parenting, and last year I was invited to do a session on hard skills training for curates on baptism resources available for them,” says Denise, who reels off a long list of MU projects, including Fiddle Pinnies: members make quilts of different fabrics, which are given to people with dementia to help them to remain calm and are a focus for conversation. The Diocesan MU funds summer holidays for families in need, and provides a range of items for parents who find themselves in hospital with sick children, as well as having fellowship groups for their members, who raise money for diocesan and international projects and run activities in their local churches.

Being a trustee to the central MU has given her a completely different perspective on the organisation. In the last eight years, she has seen the national body receive two grants of just under £1m each from Comic Relief, a fact most members aren’t aware of. The charity has a permanent seat at the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which meets every February. “They want us there because we can tell the stories from the grass roots of how their policies affect women and children,” she says. Denise was privileged to go to Kellogg College in Oxford to hear United Nations Under Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, speak in June on the Millennium Development Goals that were launched by the UN 15 years ago. “Because the MU is so involved in that I had a chat with her and it was really good to hear about how our work is appreciated at the highest levels.”

Denise and David have two sons, Matthew and Andrew. 

God in the life of Revd Steve Gray

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The Captain who led the CofE cricket team to victory in a recent final against the Vatican tells Jo Duckles of his journey from a Brethren family upbringing to becoming Chaplain of Bradfield College in rural Berkshire.

“My sister and I were brought up in a strict tradition with two services on Sunday mornings and a Crusader class in the afternoon,” says the Revd Steve Gray. Steve’s dad was a dentist and he describes his childhood as a comfortable existence. He was sent to a school similar to the independent Bradfield College where he developed a passion for sport.

“Cricket was my passion but I was most gifted at hockey, I’ve played in the national league, and I was really into running half marathons and marathons,” says Steve, whose mountain bike catches my eye as we walk into the hallway of the building that houses his comfortable study. He remembers growing up in Eastbourne, Sussex and finding the scenery spiritually inspiring. “I would run on the South Downs and over the Seven Sisters regularly, alongside the sea and the sky,” he says.

“I was baptised at 14 and the Crusader classes had a very strong influence.”

While the Crusaders helped develop Steve’s faith, he left the Brethren in his mid-teens to worship at a Baptist Church where he was heavily influenced by the Revd Jonathan Woodhouse who is now Chaplain General to the Army. “I was looking for role models. I was baptised at 14 and the Crusader classes had a very strong influence. My best friend’s brother died in a rugby accident and I was fearful of what was on the other side of death.”

Steve at first wanted to be a PE teacher but was put off after a year and Jonathan encouraged him to think about theological college. Already considering ordination he did a year of Biblical Studies at Capernwray Hall in Lancashire, where he grew in confidence learning scripture and doing practical work in schools and prisons. On leaving he went on to do a degree at Spurgeons College (the Baptist theological college) but when he enquired about ordination he was advised to get more life experience. Inspired by an article in the Tear Times, he volunteered with the African Evangelical Fellowship.

He found himself in Durban, working in Indian townships. This was invaluable experience in 1989 to 1990 when FW de Klerk was dismantling Apartheid and Nelson Mandela was released from prison. Steve took up a PGCE place in Religious Studies at Cambridge University before spending a year teaching at Borden Grammar School in Kent. That was the beginning of his Anglican connections, as he married Fiona in 1992 and the couple got involved in Holy Trinity, Sittingbourne. Again Steve began thinking about ordination and was confirmed.

His sporting life was flourishing, as he was playing both hockey and cricket to a high standard and he moved on to become the lay chaplain of Wycliffe College in Stroud, following a Lay Readers course. It was on his second selection conference, in 1997 that Steve was accepted for training and was ordained in 2000 in Gloucester Cathedral. After a four year curacy at Christ Church, Cheltenham, Steve went back to see Jonathan Woodhouse, to enquire about becoming a Padre in the Royal Marines.

After training he was told there was a shortage of Navy Padres and was sent to sea, with no prospect of joining the Marines. Disappointed, he withdrew from the forces and, not sure what to do next, he worked in a tea shop, carried out weddings and funerals for the Gloucester Diocese and even swept leaves from the drives of former parishioners to earn a living. “It was eye opening. Even the tea shop showed me what it was to serve while having little. God really honoured that and it taught me so much. Obviously it was an up and down period,” he says.

Eventually Steve took a role as Chaplain at Sherborne School in Dorset. There he combined his school role with helping out in parish churches. He ran the original marathon from Marathon (the town in Greece) to Athens with three students, raising £15,000 for a Rwandan friend’s orphanage. After Sherborne Steve served as Rector of Graffham combined with a part-time Chaplaincy at Seaford College until September 2013 when he was contacted by Bradfield head teacher, Simon Henderson, who had worked with him in Sherborne. Now he combines teaching GCSE RE and history with coaching football, hockey and cricket alongside his chaplaincy duties. He runs services, including confirmation classes for students and has set up an alternative style Compline on Wednesdays, which is contemplative and candlelit. “It’s great because it’s a weekly day boarding school so on Sundays I help the priest in charge of the benefice,” says Steve.

“I have learnt more from cricket than from the more individual sports.”

And of course he remains passionate about sport, finishing his fourth triathlon this year. His enthusiasm for cricket is infectious. “I have learnt more from cricket than from the more individual sports. It’s a lot of fun and I’ve developed a lot of friendships through it. You never know what will happen from one wicket to the other.” He says it was an honour to captain the CofE side against the Vatican. “We had Evensong at Canterbury Cathedral then the faith forum. It was lovely. Both sides wanted to win but it was a fair and even game. We won with five balls to spare and the Vatican team was made up of Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Indian students.”

Steve is married to Fiona, a former physiotherapist who now works in schools supporting children with dyslexia and special needs. The couple have three daughters aged 12, 14 and 16.