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God in the life of cadet chaplain Mark Newman

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THE Revd Mark Newman tells Jo Duckles about his career, from being a car mechanic and a builder to studying theology at Oxford University and recently becoming a Chaplain to Oxfordshire’s Army Cadet Force.

The Revd Mark Newman in his padre’s uniform. Photo: Thomas Newman.

The Revd Mark Newman in his padre’s uniform. Photo: Thomas Newman.

Oxfordshire born and bred, Mark’s family moved from Blewbury to Grove when he was very young, and then to Wantage, where he attended King Alfred’s School. Mark, who was an Army Cadet himself as a teenager, married his wife Julia in 1997.  Before meeting Julia and her family, Mark admits he had very little experience of Christianity. “There was little mention of faith at school but when I met my wife-to-be I was very open to spiritual things. It was the mid 1990s and there was plenty of New Age spirituality around, but I had never met a genuine group of Christians.”

As he dated Julia and got to know her parents, Mark learned what a genuine Christian faith could look like, which was different from anything he had been taught at school or experienced elsewhere. “It showed me that I could have a very real, living faith. Julia was going to church and it was awkward because I wasn’t, but through her family’s prayers I came to faith,” he said.
“As far as the cadets are concerned the whole of Oxfordshire is now my parish.”

Mark’s path to ordination was unusual as he left school with no GCSEs due to undiagnosed dyslexia and worked as a mechanic and later a builder. “Those jobs never stretched me academically. However, one of the gifts of dyslexia is to be creative and artistic and to think illogically. You solve problems in a different way,” he says.

He was finally diagnosed when he was 40 and at Wycliffe Hall Theological College. “I did a diploma rather than a degree. It wasn’t easy but my experience of getting support at Wycliffe was completely different from what I had experienced at school. Wycliffe was an amazing time of academic testing, being with some extraordinarily clever people as a mature student, where the other students were half my age. I was going through the whole Oxford experience of matriculation and lectures while reflecting on the town and gown element of the city.

“We had always come to Oxford to either go shopping or go clubbing and this showed me the other side of the city, which was interesting. It was a stretching time, but even though I wanted to give up at a couple of points I kept going, got lots of help and got through it.”

Pleased with the grade from his diploma, Mark was ordained into the St Alban’s Diocese in 2012, and served his curacy at St Mary’s, Eaton Socon. “It was a really great training parish. I experienced every age group, ran school assemblies, conducted baptisms, funerals, marriages and everything in between,” he says.

Mark was aware that 95 per cent of curates go on to become incumbents while some teach at theological colleges and/or write academically. Also aware that the Church of England needs younger priests to replace those who are retiring, Mark began applying for parish posts. “From January to April last year my wife and I prayed more than ever and I found myself pushing on doors that weren’t opening,” says Mark. Before he was ordained, Mark had been part of a team from St Aldate’s Church in Oxford, who ran an Alpha Course at the Dalton Barracks.

“That’s when I met military chaplains and began to think about ordination and some kind of call to military ministry.During that Alpha Course I was introduced to the Armed Forces’ Christian Union,” says Mark. The AFCU approached Mark in 2015, asking him to join them for a week at New Wine, praying for the organisation and Mark’s future plans.

This led to a number of conversations and lots of prayer. He joined them in June 2016 as a non-stipendiary staff member. “My ‘nine to five’ job is supporting military Christians, in particular chaplains. At the weekends, in the evenings and for two weeks in the summer I’m the chaplain for the Oxfordshire Army Cadet Force,” he says. “I may have given up the house and the stipend but I haven’t left the Church of England. I have just taken a sideways missionary role that happens to be in the UK. As far as the Cadets are concerned the whole of Oxfordshire is now my parish.”

Mark describes a chaplain’s role as offering pastoral care and Christian support to everybody on their patch. For him that means the Army cadets and the adult leaders, regardless of whether or not they have a faith. Oxfordshire Army Cadet Force comprises 560 cadets, aged 12 to 18, and around 180 adults. About half of those attend the annual summer camp where they are given a fictional military scenario and spend their time involved in training, tactical exercises and adventurous training.

“I work very closely with the welfare team. You, of course, get problems from home cropping up, problems on camp, problems with friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, all of the issues that come up when you put a group of teenagers together for two weeks. We have the GCSE and A Level results coming through during the camp and I have teenagers who haven’t got the grades they wanted coming to ask me “Padre, what am I going to do? These are young people wondering what their place in the world is. They bring all of these issues to the camp and you are in a position of locoparentis responsibility to take care of them.”

The adults on the camp will also look to the Padre for help and advice. “For those two weeks I’m effectively their parish priest. They can come to have a conversation with me about anything at any time. I’m available outside of those two weeks as well, but while on camp that is the main time when I’m available from 6.30am until 10.30pm. They are long hours but very rewarding. What’s extraordinary about working with the cadets is watching young people do wonderful activities together while growing and maturing, not just as individuals but as groups.

“The camp brings together young people from places as diverse as Blackbird Leys, Burford and Henley, from across the social spectrum, so it is an interesting social experiment and is about expanding horizons. My role is to be roving eyes and ears and to be constantly thinking in terms of pastoral care and support.”

Mark also presents the Padre’s Trophy each year to a detachment for their efforts during the previous year where they go out and help people in their community. This year he awarded it to the Blackbird Leys Detachment in Oxford. He enjoys seeing young people from a range of back-grounds gain life skills. “It’s not about them joining the Army; we are not a recruiting agency. It’s about giving them an experience that helps to shape them with outstanding life skills. We have a set of values and standards that are the same as in the military; selfless commitment; respect for others; loyalty; integrity; discipline and courage.

“It’s amazing to see the adults give up their time, many of them giving up their holidays for the cadets. I’ve come from a parish role leading a communion service three to four times a week to a post that’s so different in its context. This is about meeting people where they are, which is what I love. Coming from a background as a builder and a mechanic, they were not industries where you met a lot of Christians. The Army is similar.”

In his AFCU role, Mark’s role is to support Christians who are constantly moving, every couple of years, as the Armed Forces post them to different locations. “They are having to change church every couple of years and we try and provide a constant presence in their lives, by visiting, by Skype, email and Facebook, and all the time supporting them in prayer. We have weekends and conferences to give Christians in the military the chance to keep in touch and grow in their faith.”

Mark is looking for opportunities to share his work and his role with the Army Cadet Foce and AFCU. For more call 07585 446034 or email marknewman@afcu.org.uk

God in the Life Of the Rt Revd Steven Croft

BORN and brought up in Halifax, the new Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft has moved more than 140 miles from Sheffield to the city of dreaming spires to take up his new post. It was during his move that he sat down to tell Jo Duckles his story.

The Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft.

The Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft.

We meet in Bishop Steven’s new office in Church House Oxford. Over a cup of tea, Bishop Steven, the son of a warp twister who worked in the carpet factories in Halifax, remembered his childhood church experiences. “I was part of the generation whose parents weren’t churchgoers but who were sent to Sunday school as children. I was welcomed and nurtured within the ordinary parish church,” he says. He was one of three youngsters who were the first members of a youth group set up a by a young mum in his church when he was just 13.

That group, and a diocesan youth weekend when he was 16, helped Bishop Steven to grow in his faith and inspired his life-long commitment to youth work in local churches. It was also where he began to sense a call to priesthood. “I became aware God was calling me to ordained ministry when I was 17. I grew into that vocation over the following nine years and was ordained at 26,” he says.

Despite claiming never to have had a ‘proper job’ the gap between school and ordination was filled with various roles, working in shops and gardening at a local park. He also studied hard, reading Classics and Theology at Oxford’s Worcester College and training for ordination at Cranmer Hall, St John’s, Durham, where he was awarded his doctorate on the Psalms in 1984. He was an undergraduate in Oxford when he met his wife-to-be Ann, who was training as a nurse at the then Radcliffe Infirmary. “We lived the first two years of our married life here,” says Bishop Steven, whose parish ministry began as a curate at St Andrew’s, Enfield, before he became the Vicar of Ovenden, back in Halifax, where his dad grew up and grandmother still lived.

From there he went on to spend eight years as the Warden back at Cranmer Hall, training people for Anglican ministry. It was there that he took the call from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Chief of Staff, inviting him to take up a completely new post within the Church of England.  “The call came out of the blue and I was asked to talk to Rowan Williams. I was to set up and lead this project on Fresh Expressions in the Anglican and Methodist churches.”

So in 2004, when both of their sons were at university, Bishop Steven and Ann returned to Oxford, where they were based during the Fresh Expressions project. Their two daughters attended the Cherwell School and the family worshipped at St Andrew’s, Linton Road. Bishop Steven also assisted at St Michael’s. His innovative Fresh Expressions role saw Bishop Steven travelling the length and breadth of the country, discovering how fresh expressions were reaching those who had little or no experience of Christianity. “I largely set everything up from scratch, setting up a team and telling the Fresh Expressions story. It’s hugely encouraging 12 years later. We had some research done in Sheffield where 2,500 people attend Fresh Expression style churches and there is a similar project taking place in Oxford. One of the things I had to do was learn to see the Church from the perspective of someone outside.”

When he became the Bishop of Sheffield, Bishop Steven admits that having never been on the senior staff of a diocese, or worked in a diocesan setting, he faced a strange but enjoyable learning curve.
Sheffield is the fourth largest city in the UK with two universities and 60,000 students. The Sheffield Diocese takes in the whole of South Yorkshire and parts of East Yorkshire which were carried over when it was formed from the York Diocese 100 years ago.

“It is one of the poorest dioceses in the Church of England and the most generous in terms of its levels of giving. In my seven years there it celebrated its centenary,” says Bishop Steven. “I think the focus of my time there was helping both lay people and clergy to engage with God’s mission. I hope I laid the foundations for the Church in the Diocese of Sheffield to grow again. I loved my time there and loved the Diocese deeply.”

While he was there he took part in the first Northern Bishops’ Mission, which saw 23 bishops gather in Sheffield to run mission events that involved 20,000 people over four days. Another high point of Bishop Steven’s time in South Yorkshire was securing £1m from the Church Commissioners for development workers in deprived parishes. “In a middle-class parish, churches employ staff to do things like sweeping up broken glass and maintenance, or they have retired volunteers. In some of the more deprived parishes this doesn’t happen so the development workers were there to support the clergy,” he says.

Bishop Steven and I met the day after he had left the House of Lords as the Bishop of Sheffield and been officially re-welcomed as the Bishop of Oxford. He describes the Lords as remarkable. “It feels a great privilege to be there. The debates are engaging and interesting and I’m looking forward to taking a bigger role than I did when I had to clear a whole day to travel there from Sheffield.” And he says he is hugely looking forward to settling back into Oxford. “It feels like an immense privilege to be here. It’s a very different place to Sheffield. During this first year I’ll be growing some big ears, listening to the Diocese and getting a sense of what God is doing in this place at this time, and what God might want to do in this next chapter.” Bishop Steven is planning visits to each deanery to meet clergy and the leaders of the major institutions outside of the Church.

“I am really glad to be here and I am looking forward to doing the work of listening. I would like to communicate directly with as many people as possible. People can email me directly and I’ll be communicating via my blog. One of the things I enjoy is being in different churches Sunday by Sunday and not always for special occasions.”

Bishop Steven’s hobbies are cooking and he has recently taken up running. As I interviewed him he was wearing a fit-bit style watch, in a purple that matched his clergy shirt. He is also a prolific writer. His latest book which was due to come out this autumn is The Gift of Leadership which contains 10 biblical reflections on leadership for people from all kinds of organisations.
“One of my passions is forming disciples and I encourage all churches to teach the faith to beginners.” It was that passion that inspired Bishop Steven to join Paula Gooder, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell and the Rt Revd Robert Attwell to co-author Pilgrim, a widely respected resource to help churches to do just that.

Bishop Steven and Ann have four grown-up children, three based in London and one in Bristol. They have one grandchild and another one on the way.

God in the Life of Nicholas Cheeseman

THE Revd Nicholas Cheeseman knew he was called to be a priest from the age of 13. Nicholas, who recently took on a new role as the Director of Ordinands for Berkshire, tells Jo Duckles about his journey.

“My parents went to church, my dad was a Reader so I was going to church before I was born. Asking when I first knew God or Jesus is like asking someone when they first met their parents. Christianity has always been part of my experience, from my earliest memories. I was confirmed when I was 11 on 1 April 1984 . My first really vivid experience was when I had a sense of being called to be a priest when I was about 13 at an Easter vigil service. I had a really clear sense that God wanted me to be a priest, which was an enormous shock,” says Nicholas, who says he was very shy. “The idea of preaching or doing anything involving standing up in front of people, I felt, was utterly beyond me.
“I had a really clear sense that God wanted me to be a priest, which was an enormous shock.”

Growing up in Sevenoaks in Kent, Nicholas and his family worshipped at St John the Baptist, where the priest was keen on making children and young people part of the life of the church family. “That is quite a big ask because my two younger brothers and I weren’t the best behaved children,” he says. “Going to where they are is harder than expecting them to put up with where you are.”

Nicholas admits that he did nothing about his sense of calling until he was 20, by which time he was heavily involved in church, doing readings and leading the youth group. “I did those things because I was too shy to say ‘no’ when I was asked,” he says. “I was coming up to my final year at university and I had met my wife-to-be. We met through the diocesan youth synod. It was a diocesan synod with youth representatives alongside it and two volunteers from our deanery. After four months we were engaged and nine months later we were married.”

Nicholas, who has now been married to Anne for almost 23 years, was leading a youth group at this time when he approached his vicar to say he thought he may be called to be a priest. “To my amazement he said ‘of course you are’ and told me he had been waiting for some time for me to talk about that.”
Shortly afterwards Nicholas spent six months ill in bed, getting well enough for his wedding in the August. Anne was studying and moved to London, so the couple lived with his grandmother in Sevenoaks. “My grandmother had dementia. That was both sad and hilarious in many ways. We lived with her for several months until she became too ill and had to go into a nursing home. We were with her when she died and that was amazing.”

Nicholas spent nine months unemployed, before doing a range of part-time jobs including being a clerk to the Guild of All Souls. He went on to become a lay worker and parish assistant at All Saints, Perry Street, in the Diocese of Rochester. By that time Anne had completed her PGCE and started working as a teacher. “It was at that time that I went to see the DDO to explore my vocation and I ended up going to Mirfield to train. After getting through the selection conference I wasn’t going to train for another 18 months. I was committed to seeing some stuff through in the parish which was definitely the right thing to do.”
Mirfield, in West Yorkshire, is a long way from Sevenoaks, taking Nicholas and Anne away from their families, but he says they had a fantastic three years. “It was a great place to be, an amazing privilege. It was great for Anne as well. The college was really welcoming of ordinands’ partners. Nicholas served his curacy in Wantage in Oxfordshire, under the Revd John Salter.

“He was just amazing, it was absolutely brilliant. That felt like the right place and I was blessed enough to have four years there as a curate. It was an amazing place to be and John was a superb training incumbent. I had the freedom to try things out and be creative and he was just so supportive. It was as close as you are going to get to an ideal curacy.” During this time he also finished his MA and was delighted to do lots of schools work, becoming a governor, doing lots of collective worship and even some cricket coaching.
After the curacy, moving to become Vicar of All Saints’ Reading, which later joined with St Mark’s to form the new parish of St Mark and All Saints, felt like the right move. “It was meeting the people of that church that cemented the rightness of it for me and reminded me of the church I grew up in,” he says. “It was an amazing place where people were enthusiastic about being a family together and supporting each other. It’s been really good. I was very happy being a parish priest.”
Once again, the call to move on came to Nicholas during an Easter Vigil service. “During the Eucharistic Prayer I had an absolutely clear sense that it would be my last Easter there. I found that upsetting and did a lot of praying.” When he spotted the Area Director of Ordinands role advertised, he felt it was the wrong time. “We’d just moved house, from the new vicarage to a much nicer house and my computer was broken.”

But, despite the broken computer, Nicholas felt he should apply and managed to get the application in on time. “After the interview I was convinced I wasn’t going to get the job, and was surprised when I was offered it. It’s exactly where God wants me to be at the moment. I’m loving the job and the team I am working with is fantastic.”

God in the Life Of John Earwicker

Raised in a Brethren family, John Earwicker made a personal commitment to follow Christ when he was 14. Qualified in urban and regional planning and public policy making, he has gone on to use his professional skills to serve the Church internationally. Now the Executive Director of Medic Assist International, John tells Jo Duckles his story.

John Earwicker, CEO of Medic Assist International

John Earwicker, CEO of Medic Assist International

 

John came to Church House Oxford where we met in the new café. “My parents were a very upright Christian couple who adopted me when I was six weeks old. I always had a sense that it was amazing that someone chose me. I grew up with a respect for the Bible and Jesus’s death and resurrection were very central. Now I strongly agree with Tom Wright that the Creed should also say much more about his earthly ministry,” says John.

John was conscious of how different Brethren people were. His father was on the General Oversight of Counties Evangelistic Work. “Dad took me to a tent mission in a village wearing my smart ‘Christian’ clothes on a Saturday. I was quite scared when confronted by a gang who asked me what I was doing in their village!”

From the age of 11, John began to attend an interdenominational Crusader group. Three years later, through the encouragement of an Anglican leader, John chose to follow Christ for himself. Subsequently, he left his parents’ church after a difficult and sad encounter.

“A member of our church who used to sell Bibles and literature from door-to-door was very narrow minded and critical of the fact that my father worked in a brewery. The final straw for me was the morning after President Kennedy was shot this man got up and prayed ‘Thank God we are not like all these other people worshipping a man; we are worshipping Jesus.’ I had an impassioned argument with him, wrote to the elders and left the church.”

John, then aged 16, moved to another Brethren church where he says there were more girls. It was when he went off to study Urban and Regional Planning in Coventry that he explored the world that was forbidden by his strict Brethren background including going to the cinema. “I had fun but I came to realise that although I had lots of friends, the people back in the church loved me for me, and weren’t trying to exploit me or use me. That was part of being brought to my senses in terms of faith.”

Before John returned to a serious commitment to Christ, he was going out with a girl who was a church goer but not a follower of Jesus. “We went on a five week holiday around Europe. I’d given her Michael Green’s book Runaway World to read and before we came home, she had committed to following Christ. Next Christmas we were engaged,” he says.
John’s first experience of working with people internationally was during the fourth year of his five year undergraduate course – a work placement with the Greater London Authority. “I was working with Polish, Ghanaian and Indian people, which was very stimulating.”

At the end of the year Heather and John married and 10 months later, their first child, Mark was born. Sadly, Mark had a rare form of epilepsy and the couple thought they shouldn’t have any more children. “Amazingly Heather was just pregnant with our second son when we made that decision. It was God’s grace really.” While completing his Masters and subsequently lecturing at Birmingham University, John was involved in youth work in and between churches in Coventry, when he met Peter Meadows, the then editor of Buzz magazine.

Through Peter he met Graham Kendrick and Clive Calver, who were running Youth for Christ and encouraged him to apply for a job as Clive’s deputy. He got the job, but the family’s move to BYFC’s Wolverhampton location was delayed for six months. This delay was another example of God’s grace because a week before they were able to relocate Mark died aged just seven, when Simon was six and their daughter Jessica was just two.

Later, John became involved with Youth for Christ International on the European Team. The role saw John meeting leaders from all over the world and attending the Lausanne Younger Leaders conference in the Philippines and the Lausanne II Congress. “Lausanne II brought together as many nations as the UN and was a profound experience of solidarity,” says John. “Another person who had a big influence on me was an Indian theologian who said please don’t bring the Gospel as a potted plant, give it as a seed that we will plant in our own soil and see how it grows.” John moved on, acting as Church Life Director for the Evangelical Alliance, including examining why those aged 20 to 40 were not in church and a deeper understanding of discipleship.

Later, both John and Heather were taken on to work for the Zacharias Trust, which brought them to Oxfordshire. After redundancy, John was doing consultancy work when he was approached by Eddie Lyle, then Director of Release International, to help with the newly formed Medic Assist International.

MAI was originally set up to help the victims of the violent clashes between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria. However, RI’s constitution only permitted them to help persecuted Christians but there were people of other faiths and none dying in need of healthcare.

“After a consultation in 2003, Medic Assist International was established, borne out of the persecuted church experience but committed to serving all people in the name of Christ,” says John.
Initially John started working for MAI on a part-time basis, becoming full-time in 2008. “It’s been an exciting journey because part of my task is to enable sisters and brothers from really tough parts of the world to do what God has called them to do: giving access to transforming healthcare. Another thing that has excited me is that I’ve lived through a time when the Church in the West has been outgrown by the Church in the rest of the world.

“I like how Medic Assist International works. We are committed to partnerships that are relational. We assess the project and, once begun, we visit our Partners regularly and bring them to the UK once a year so that supporters can look them in the eye. We are confident that these sisters and brothers are people of integrity and have so much to teach us about faith, vision, passion and commitment.”

Currently MAI works in South Sudan, Lebanon and South Africa with completed partnership projects in four other locations. “It is such a privilege to work with these people because they are so humble but are doing such transforming things. “ In the past two months, Partners from KwaZulu Natal and South Sudan have been in the UK reporting on the Clinics that MAI has enabled them to provide where access to such healthcare was non-existent.

John is a mission partner in his home church, Christ Church, Abingdon. MAI Partners regularly visit the UK so if churches are interested in hearing from global Christians, John is happy to arrange for them to preach at services or speak at events.

 

God in the Life of a Science Missioner

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The Revd Jen Brown tells Jo Duckles how she became a Science Missioner in the Churn Benefice as well as running the Cuddesdon School of Theology and Ministry at Ripon College.

The Revd Jen Brown. Photo by Jo Duckles.

The Revd Jen Brown. Photo by Jo Duckles.

We meet at Ripon College where Jen tells me her story from her office. “I was raised in a Christian family so church has always been a part of my life,” says Jen, who grew up in the US, just outside of Washington DC. She married her English husband Chris, whose background is also in science, in 1996 when he was working out there, and they moved here in 1999.  “I loved doing science at school. At university, I started as a biology student then changed to psychology. Psychology remains my main area of interest, but I have always maintained an interest in the other sciences, especially biology and astronomy.”

Before ordination Jen was a medical writer with connections in the biomedical and pharmaceutical industry. “I first felt a sense of call to ordination when I was at university but that was accompanied with a sense of ‘not yet’ and it wasn’t until I was settled here in the UK that it became clear to me that the time was right,” says Jen, whose theological training was on the Oxford Ministry Course.  In the States, Jen attended an Episcopal church which blended an evangelical focus on the Bible with a more high-church liturgy and emphasis on the Eucharist.”Being an Episcopalian, the Church of England felt like a natural home for me when we moved here.”

The eldest of six half brothers and sisters, Jen has six nephews and she has regular contact with her family in America via email and Skype. “Modern technology makes living at a distance far easier for families than it would have been 20 to 25 years ago,” she says.  Jen has a Masters in the Psychology of Religion, and has recently started a PhD, studying how faith and ethical behaviour overlap. “I think that sort of thing is really important for Christians,” she says. “I’m hoping something will come out of it that the Church can actually make use of in a practical way in helping people to be better disciples.”

Her studies put Jen in touch with other researchers and scientists and means engaging with those who are not necessarily people of faith. Being involved in research also helps her in her role of Science Missioner to engage with research scientists.
“Christians can be portrayed by non-believers as people who accept things unconditionally and in most cases that is not how it is at all. The way the science and religion story is told in the media is often too simplistic.”

And while Richard Dawkins and his supporters may see religion and science as polarised, Jen has never taken that view.  “It has never occurred to me that there should be a conflict. I have never felt that science calls into question my personal faith. I think that the area that I study raises questions about what discipleship is and what it means to live as a Christian and the psychological processes that go into worship and prayer.”

Both of her roles are part time, and currently the science missioner role is about encouraging people to engage, mainly through putting on public events. So far this has included a series of talks on issues including neuroscience, psychology, physics and theology, and one on the history of science and theology. When we met Jen was preparing for a talk on the environment to be delivered by the Revd Dr Gillian Straine, an Anglican priest who used to be based in Kidlington, Oxfordshire and has written widely on the issue of science, religion and the environment. Gillian’s story was featured as a God in the Life of in the Door.
The Science Missioner role was created in 2014 by the Revd Jason St John Nicolle, after a donation from a private individual. As that money was coming to an end, the Revd Professor Alister McGrath, the Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre at Oxford University, secured a grant for £128,042 from the Templeton World Charity Foundation to extend and expand the project. “The grant extends the project for another three years, so it means we can spend time thinking and planning what we want to do,” says Jen.

Jen’s varied roles mean there is no such thing as a typical week for her. “As a Science Missioner I could be doing anything from sending lots of emails looking for speakers for an event, or going out and speaking with someone on site up at Harwell, or writing my blog. At least once a month I preside and preach in one or two of the churches in the Churn Benefice, to keep me rooted and I am part of a book group that meets every two months.” In her spare time Jen is a keen gardener. “I like engaging with the living environment,” she says.

Jen’s interest in astronomy was buoyed by her latest birthday present, a telescope, which she was planning to use once it was dark on the day we met. “On the days we have clear skies that will occupy me in the hours of darkness. It’s my first one and very exciting.” She also has enough books to keep her going for months, so tries to carve out time for reading, and is involved in the Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals. “I have always had pets and spent a lot of time with animals and there is some good science that says we should be re-thinking how we relate to our fellow creatures on God’s earth,” says Jen, who has a cat and a dog.

Coming soon:
The next events Jen is arranging are a talk by Bishop Lee Rayfield, the Bishop of Swindon, on genetics and human identity on Thursday 19th May at Ripon College Cuddesdon, and a public conversation between experts in the fields of science, art and theology on the subject of science, art and spirituality, on Friday 27th May at the Cornerstone Arts Centre in Didcot. Both begin at 7.30pm. Click here for more information.

God in the Life Of Kathy Winrow

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Kathy Winrow during a trip to North Hinksey. Photo: Jo Duckles

Kathy Winrow during a trip to North Hinksey. Photo: Jo Duckles

Kathy Winrow has known her vocation since she first set up a Sunday school for youngsters at the local children’s home when she was just 14. Despite retiring as Headteacher of Ranelagh CE School in Bracknell, she is busier than ever making a difference in the lives of children and young people.

Kathy lives and worships in Berkshire but is a frequent visitor to Diocesan Church House, so we met round the corner for coffee at The Fishes pub in North Hinksey where she told me her story, writes Jo Duckles.

Originally from Barnsley, a mining town in South Yorkshire, Kathy credits her success to the people in her life who have made a difference to her. “I have a good life. My parents did everything they could to support me particularly through my education – the essential gateway for northern working class families in post- war Britain.”

She moved to London to study when she was 18, starting her teaching career four years later in Hounslow. She was there at the time of the Southall riots and enjoyed the challenge of new community schools, working in the borough for 18 years. Kathy says, “These multifaith schools were exciting and invigorating and provided a great start for my career.” Kathy became a deputy head at the age of just 32 – a real achievement for a woman at that time. She then moved to Hampshire as Education Adviser/ Inspector working on management development in 14 schools.

Always motivated by her faith and involved in Anglican churches, the move to Ranelagh three years later was very natural. She was the only woman who applied for the headship and, at interview, Governors were still talking about the new headmaster. Things were to change. She has proudly led the school through several outstanding Ofsted inspections as well as national initiatives including the transition to Academy status.

As a national leader in education, Kathy has supported several schools in the South East in their journey to become good. “I just have this passion for making sure that young people have the very best deal possible. Sadly I think we live in a society where teenagers are often put down. Some adults don’t see them as the wonderful individuals they are or realise all they can do,” says Kathy. After leaving Ranelagh last year Kathy continued with her work as Chair of the Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust (ODST) and Executive Head at the Aylesbury Vale Academy.

Kathy is just as proud of her hands-on teaching role as of her leadership and management. Whether teaching very able A-level students or youngsters with special needs, she has relished the challenge to enable them to learn.

“I remember teaching year seven geography and helping a girl with Down’s Syndrome to understand six figure grid- references. She is 19 now, at college and following her passion working with horses. I am still in contact with her,” says Kathy, telling just one of many satisfying anecdotes from a long teaching career. She proudly states that she is still in contact with many former students who have gone on to work in a range of professions.

While Ranelagh is recognised as an outstanding school, life there was not always easy, particularly when Kathy experienced four student deaths in four consecutive years. “Leading Ranelagh through that period was challenging but also affirming because the school came together and individuals supported each other. It was my faith that led me through that time.” Kathy also enjoyed seeing the school celebrate its 300th anniversary with a service at Christ Church Cathedral.

As she retired from Ranelagh, after 22 years as headteacher, the students persuaded the governors that an additional House was needed, due to the expansion of the school and that it should be named Winrow House. A sculpture ‘Seeds of Learning’ was also commissioned, incorporating words students used to describe Kathy. At the end of term concert, apologies were made to Carl Orff as the words to O Fortuna were changed in her honour! “These events were so important to me, especially as the ideas came from the students,” says Kathy.

“I had a real hang-up when I knew I was retiring from Ranelagh as I did not understand how I could put down a vocation. After talking to the then Archdeacon of Berkshire, Norman Russell. I realised I wasn’t putting down but just serving in a different way.”  She had already been part of the early planning for the Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust. “We knew there was a huge risk involved but that it was the right thing for the Diocese,” she says. “It is so important to have church school multi-academy trusts that are focused on providing quality education and are also rooted in Christian values.”

Kathy is also involved in the National Centre for Universities and Business, and amazingly finds time for hobbies, one of which is listening to inspiring talks and she regularly attends the Inspiring Leadership Conference. Kathy also enjoys a bit of amateur dramatics, and loves having Newbury’s Watermill Theatre on her doorstep. “It’s a busy lifestyle but it’s the lifestyle I have chosen,” she says, happily describing a myriad of roles she has at St George’s, Wash Common, where her husband, the Revd Terry Winrow is part of the ministry team.

She met Terry at a church youth club aged just 12. They went their separate ways, but eventually got together and have now been married for 42 years. Terry spent most of his life in business consultancy, before becoming an LLM and eventually going forward for ordination. Together they lead the youth work at St George’s—the secondary age ‘Justacross’ group meet regularly at Terry and Kathy’s home; they run the annual holiday club for over 100 local children, ably supported by a large team of helpers; and Kathy leads the Sunday Club for five to 11 year olds. She also leads the Vision Group on Nurture and Discipleship. The life and work of St Benedict resonates with her: “His teaching on Contemplative Action is still so relevant today—although I admit I can be more into action than contemplation.”

Full of energy, she remains committed to working for young people and believes Nelson Mandela got it right when he said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

God in the life of… Reggie Heyworth

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Reggie at the lemurs’ feeding time.

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Ruby and her son Ian at the Cotswold Wildlife Park

Not everyone grows up with first-hand experience of rhinos and other endangered species. For Reggie Heyworth, the various animals and beautiful gardens at the Cotswold Wildlife Park have been part of his life since he was just eight. Reggie, who juggles running the park with a role as a churchwarden, tells Jo Duckles his story.

In Reggie’s office the walls are decked with pictures of animals, including some striking black and white images of elephants. There are ostrich eggs, peacock feathers and even a defunct wasps’ nest which Reggie lets me handle.

Brought up in a family where going to church was compulsory, Reggie remembers the vicar, the Revd Stanley Fisher, a don from Merton College who wrote a history of the local area. “I was christened by him and he remained our vicar until I was 10 or 11. He was a figure of great importance and my parents respected him enormously. We were lucky to have such a wonderful man and such an academic,” says Reggie, who was quickly inspired by the “wonderful” people he met through the church. He was privileged to follow in his late father, John’s footsteps, not only as the Managing Director of the family business, but as churchwarden of St Mary the Virgin, Holwell.

John founded the wildlife park in 1970 as a way of reinvigorating the decaying Bradwell Grove Manor and its surrounding estate, with a £40,000 bank loan and a passion for animals and gardens. The investment in the land, which had been in the family for generations, clearly paid off as 45 years later the wildlife park is both thriving and evolving.

A full history of the park was published in 2012, entitled Rhinos on the Lawn. It was named after the iconic rhinos that graze on the lawn in front of the manor house and have become the defining characteristic of the park.

Reggie is passionate about rhinos, and they even inspired a career change when in 1990, and bored of working in banking, he moved to Tanzania on a wing and a prayer, first working on camping safaris and quickly moving into rhino conservation.

“I’ve always been mad about rhinos,” he says. “They are just so sweet, gentle and docile and so vulnerable.” He explained how, because of their gentle nature, it is so easy for them to be shot for their horns, which are valued in traditional Chinese medicine. “They don’t have a mean bone in their body. They are great big herbivores and they are magnificent.”

Since taking over management of the family business, Reggie has also been a trustee of the Tusk Trust www.tusk.org – a charity that works to initiate funding, conservation, community development and environmental education across Africa. Part of its work is particularly focused towards stopping the poaching of rhinos and elephants.

Reggie stayed in Tanzania until his father turned 70 and a diagnosis of Parkinson’s led to him needing help to manage the park. “We ran it together and we very much agreed together all of the decisions,” says Reggie, who since taking over has continued to provide a subtle message about the importance of conservation.

“It’s about letting nature do the talking really. I hope visitors leave with an enhanced love and respect for nature, even if it’s subliminal. The trees, gardens and landscape are as important as the animals. We want people to appreciate nature and learn in their own time. It’s stunning and it’s there for everyone to enjoy,” says Reggie, who doesn’t own a television and rarely looks at a screen. The manor house, as well as being home to some of the park’s staff, is used for all sorts of meetings for the 12 churches in the Shill Valley and Broadshire Benefice. It’s a rural area with 3,000 people all under one ministry team, led by the Revd Harry MacInnes.

When he was growing up, Reggie would sit at the front of the church, but now, as churchwarden, he often just enjoys sitting at the back, looking at the roof and experiencing a sense of peace in a beautiful building. “You can’t beat it as a way to spend an hour once a fortnight,” he says.

With 125 full-time equivalent employees at his park, Reggie is no stranger to co-ordinating a lot of people. Those who live outside the park stay in the surrounding cottages, or in the West Oxfordshire towns nearby. And all of them can access the pastoral care from the ministry team in times in their life when they may need it. Once a year they can enjoy the children’s carol service and tea party. “The minister who does it is popular with children and staff but there has never been any attempt by my father or me to proselytize anyone,” says Reggie.

The only days the dedicated Reggie is not at the park is when he is away on holiday. “It must be a nightmare for the staff but I love seeing the animals and the gardens,” he says. As we walk around he picks up any litter he spots. “I’m very proud of it. We employ lots of people. I hope that it’s a fulfilling workplace. I think because there is a strong ethical approach in what the wildlife park runs and what it’s here for and what it tries to achieve. I think most if not all of the staff buy into that and feel proud as well.

“I am often on site, picking up litter, walking around and talking to visitors. I reply myself to every email and letter, so any complaints come to me,” adds Reggie.

He holds just one meeting a month for his managers, and says that all of the staff are busy, knowing what needs to be done and getting on with it.

While not looking to be a global player, Reggie wants the park to be somewhere visitors from the surrounding area return to and continue to enjoy. As we walk around he points out an enclosure within the walled garden, the area that includes both the penguins’ bathing area and the Madagascan Walkthrough, where visitors can meet Lemurs face-to-face. It is an aviary which, when improvements are completed, will provide another walk-through experience. “Our latest innovation was our new children’s playground,” adds Reggie. “We are always looking for ways to improve.”

 

 

God in the Life Of BAFTA winning entertainment expert Justin Scroggie

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WHEN he graduated, Justin Scroggie had no idea what he wanted to do. Now he tells Jo Duckles about his life in television.

Justin offers me a cappuccino in the vicarage he shares with his wife, the Revd Felicity Scroggie, and their three cats in Kidlington, Oxfordshire. I caught up with him between the travels that have seen him visit Seoul, Cannes, Belfast, Capetown, Johannesburg, Toronto and Mumbai in the last six months alone. He tells me how, as he was coming to the end of his theology degree at Keble College, Oxford his dad wrote to him, expecting him to be thinking about his future career. He had studied theology as he saw it as an exciting alternative to English, offering a broader range of ways of analysing the core text, the Bible, through the lenses of different movements from the time the scriptures were first recorded, up to the present day. His international work has continued to inform and broaden his understanding of cultures and faiths.

Justin at home in Kidlington with his Bafta award. Photo: Jo Duckles.

Justin at home in Kidlington with his Bafta award. Photo: Jo Duckles.

Current projects include a cooking competition he devised, in production in Toronto and Montreal, talent search for electronic dance music DJs in Africa and a video games magazine programme in Uganda as well as a teen spy show in Toronto. “I have a window into different countries. In Mongolia, we built a new TV station from scratch, and in our new daily live breakfast show we planned an item on weddings on a budget, but there is one Buddhist wedding temple and they do all of the catering. Weddings cost the same there. I’ve done a lot of work with secular Jews in Israel. I had always experienced Judaism as religious before that.

“In South Africa I consulted on a big talent show, I Want To Sing Gospel. Gospel music is huge out there. I helped them to see that how the person singing communicates spiritually should be part of the judging process. The work I do has brought me into touch in interesting and unusual ways with other religions. Television is a window on a culture and broadens your mind,” says Justin, whose career began with a dissatisfying spell in finance. He only considered his chosen career path when a friend-of-a-friend suggested television.

A three week contract on a Channel Four late night talk show turned into three-and-a-half years, starting as cuttings boy. This provided a much needed introduction to current affairs as Justin scoured daily, weekly and monthly newspapers for interesting stories. With a colleague he invented the panel game Don’t Quote Me about things people wished they hadn’t said. This sparked a promotion and he went on to work on various programmes including Gloria Live, a morning talkshow and Behind the Headlines – a daily talk show taking a sideways look at current stories. “I also did a documentary with Norman Tebbit stating the Church of England should be privatised,” says Justin, who got a wake-up call when he was rejected from a job on a serious religious programme because his CV was too eclectic. “The rejection was despite two theology degrees,” he says. Moving on to have “immense fun” on The Crystal Maze, he would work on location, designing and overseeing games for this cult TV gameshow. He moved on to Treasure Hunt, thoroughly enjoying flying the clue-trails he designed. “I love helicopters and tried to work them into everything,” he says. He also produced CITV reality series Starfinder, which won a BAFTA for its interactivity.

Justin thoroughly enjoyed taking some time out to write books, a faster creative process than television. He wrote a series of 10 Smarties books, including joke books and a non fiction book for adults on secret signs and symbols. Now known as the Format Doctor, Justin heads a global TV consultancy with a business partner, Michel Rodriguez, who is based in Los Angeles. They have a whole range of freelance consultants on the books of The Format People. Formats are the structured narrative or blueprint for a TV show, potentially including script, camera directions, location details and character details. They work for fiction and non-fiction and can be translated easily for other cultures and countries. Justin was asked to teach a course for broadcasters and producers in making entertainment television. This gave him the chance to put everything he learned in television into a form he could communicate to others and was where he discovered he really enjoyed teaching.

He says: “A lot of people working in national television were not aware of how these international formats work. I was going away every few months to a different country and each session was in a different country. I was in Northern Ireland, Cape Town, Germany and Switzerland. Because I was teaching people from all over the world they started to ask me back to their countries to look at individual shows that they were having problems with and I became known as the Format Doctor.” His work includes helping professionals navigate the international trade for show formats.

While he relishes the travel, returning home is important to Justin. “Home for anyone is where you feel rooted and coming back to a vicarage and a parish is more than that. I plug back into something that is always there. “It’s part of the fabric of the England I grew up in and it centres me hugely. When I come back I do two things. I go for a walk so I can geographically find my way home and the other is to go to church with Felicity. To me the Church of England is rooted in our history and that makes me a traditional Anglican. Living in the vicarage has put what I do into context.

“It’s stupid getting stressed about things that are far less important than the things Felicity is dealing with. I came home once after making a game show where people were throwing footballs into fake volcanoes. The balls were bouncing out and it was all going horribly wrong. We had a crew of 70 people waiting for it to go right. It’s important that production goes right, especially if the crew are on double time. If it doesn’t, it is expensive. However, when Felicity is dealing with a suicide call or acting as a person of responsibility at the police station, the contrast is very levelling.”

“Being in a vicarage means you plug into the centre of a community, rather than spending six years trying to join it. I see all aspects of life, happiness, sadness, excitement, when I go to church. I meet people from all walks of life and all stages of life,” added Justin. As I left the vicarage he was planning to fly to Belfast the next day for a business meeting.

Justin is married to Felicity, the Team Rector of Kidlington with Hampton Poyle. They have one daughter, Nat, 23, who is training to be a vet.

God in the life of Matt Power

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MEETING the Queen last year has to date been the highlight of Matt Power’s career. The Head Verger at Christ Church Cathedral told Jo Duckles his story. matt moving hundreds of chairs mm MW5A0236

Matt (pictured right putting out chairs before the Queen’s visit in 2013) and I chatted in the sacristy (verger’s office) tucked away at the back of the medieval building. As we talk clergy, volunteers and staff wander in and out, some with information, some with queries about the day to day life of Christ Church.

Matt, who has a love of art history and music, is clearly in the perfect job. “I was brought up in a typical parish church,” he says. “It was a Wiltshire village where my father was the organist and also a local teacher. It was a small but lively parish and our family were pivotal in the church. I was in the choir, a server and when I was six or seven I remember holding the incense for the Bishop of Salisbury. This all happened by default, I grew up with it,” says Matt.

“Music and art were very much part of my childhood and I ended up doing a fine art degree in London. All the time music and church architecture interested me.” He tells an old joke about the question you ask a person with a degree in fine art: “Could I have a burger and fries please?”

“Most people with fine art degrees wonder what they are going to do afterwards. This job came at the right time. I wasn’t sure what I would do. I wasn’t interested in the new modern art movement that was going around in college. I took a gamble in applying for a job that would immerse me in my own interests. I thought it would give me the space to decide what I wanted to do,” says Matt, who was 21 at the time and the youngest of a four-strong team. He is still there 19 years later, loving being at the heart of Cathedral life. One highlight that stands out was the Queen’s visit for Maundy Thursday in 2013. It was Oxford’s turn for the Queen to come along and hand out Maundy Money to selected pensioners in honour of their work for the Church.
“The event was so carefully put together with meetings and strategy documents so nothing could go wrong,” says Matt, who loves the careful ‘stage management’ that ensures that all Christ Church services run smoothly. “At 5am I would have been cleaning the toilets, at 11am meeting the Queen and later in the evening washing altar linen. It’s an incredibly varied job where one phone call can take you all day to sort out.”

A combination of clever marketing and the Harry Potter connection (many scenes from Hogwarts were shot in Christ Church) mean that the cathedral and adjoining college has become a lot busier since Matt started to work there. “When I first started you could sit and read a book at times, it was calm. It’s now on the map of Oxford as one of the places to visit and is open 365 days a year,” says Matt, who worships in the cathedral but also takes time out to go to Evensong in the Merton College Chapel in term time.

At Cathedral services the vergers may not take centre stage but they have an important role. “I don’t want to be in the limelight but I get a quiet sense of satisfaction from helping the service to enhance someone else’s faith,” says Matt. “I’ll be sitting in the corner with a wry smile at the end of a service knowing that it’s gone well.”
On a typical day, a verger will start at the cathedral at 6.30am, ready for morning prayer at 7.15am and 7.35am. “It’s the nicest time of the day. There’s a sense of calm and there are some wonderful effects with the light coming through the building, it’s magical.”

Those early morning services attract between two and 12 people before 8am when the choristers from the cathedral school arrive for a practice. From 10am tourists begin to arrive and the calm turns into a busy chaos.  “You meet lots of different types of people. It’s not like being in an office where you report to one person,” says Matt. “You are mixing with the public and different types of cathedral staff and volunteers. We deal with a huge number of people throughout the day and each of us has our own responsibilities for preparation of services,” says Matt, who sees ironing the altar linen as a welcome retreat from the crowds. “Ironing time is thinking time and it’s important to take pride in what you do.”

“I like to think of this as the equivalent of preparing for your great aunt who is coming around for tea. There’s a reason for doing it and showing that you have made an effort.”
The verger’s role includes concert management and the newest member of Matt’s team is Christopher Waterhouse, who used to work as the stage manager of the Sydney Opera House.

“Christopher sees everything like a theatrical performance. It has to be polished from start to finish with the blessing being like the final curtain in a show. People expect that from a cathedral service,” says Matt.  Back in 1998, Matt’s interest in art history came in useful when he found forgotten fragments of stained glass and began to piece them together. They turned out to be a window depicting a story from scripture that had been destroyed in the Reformation.

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“The windows were put in just before the Civil War by Van Linge in the 1630s. We have spent a long time piecing them together. It’s like doing a jigsaw without the lid and without all of the pieces. It’s like delving back into the history of the building,” says Matt, who is proud that some of his prized ‘jigsaw’ has been displayed in the Tate.
He pointed to an ancient record book with an entry for 2 June 1651, asking for the picture to be taken down. “Later one of the Canons appointed by Cromwell was responsible for stomping up and down on it. This is real history, written down in our records, it’s not assumed. I have been researching the poems that go with it. I was a bit like a hermit for a few years putting sky and limbs back together.”

Matt lives in Christ Church but is far enough from the cathedral to have a sense of leaving for work in a morning and going home again.