Spirituality ‘for the long haul’

“YOU can’t give what you haven’t got.” That was the message from James Catford, former Chief Executive of Bible Society and Chair of Renovarè Britain and Ireland during a day on Spiritual Formation at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, in Oxfordshire. Read more

Diocesan Canon Precentor : The Revd Dr Grant Bayliss

Christ Church and the Diocese of Oxford are delighted to announce the appointment of The Revd Dr Grant Bayliss as Diocesan Canon Precentor.

God in the Life of a Science Missioner


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.

Around the Deaneries – Aston and Cuddesdon


THE Revd Alan Garratt, who I met in the Thame Barn Centre, is the Area Dean of the Aston and Cuddesdon Deanery. The Thame Barn Centre, next door to the traditional St Mary’s building, is used for church events and is often hired as a reception for weddings. The church owns 50 per cent of the building and the town the other 50 per cent. It is run by a trust and used widely by the church and the community for a range of events. St Mary’s Church office is in the centre, which was originally a dilapidated barn that was refurbished in the 1990s.

The Revd Alan Garratt, Area Dean of Aston and Cuddesdon.

The Revd Alan Garratt, Area Dean of Aston and Cuddesdon.

Alan says the deanery he serves is a huge one, stretching from Chinnor in the north, down to Benson and Berinsfield, and taking in a massive swathe of primarily small, rural churches.
Alan clearly enjoys living in the quintessentially English town of Thame, where he has been Vicar of St Mary’s for seven years. He took over as Area Dean two-and-a-half years ago. The deanery’s three biggest centres are Wheatley, Thame and Chinnor, and there are a variety of smaller places including Benson, with a population of 3,000 and its military base, and nearby Berinsfield.

“The size and geography mean having a sense of oneness of vision in terms of mission is an area of prayer for us,” says Alan. “There are lots of small churches with small congregations that are very much at the heart of their villages and greatly loved by villagers. They are a strong presence but we are short on resources. Some of the villages are also affected by the commuter effect; with people moving in who have little connection with the community because their time is spent travelling to London to work.”  Alan’s own role involves being Vicar of St Mary’s and Team Rector of the Thame Team although he spends most of his time at St Mary’s, which is one of two Anglican churches in the town. “Thame is a classic market town that still has its cattle market.

“St Mary’s is a classic parish church. That’s what we seek to be. We are involved in the community at every level, running toddler groups and parenting courses along with others.
“In Thame, within the Team, there is also Barley Hill Church which meets in a school and we work closely with them and the other churches, which are well thought of in Thame. It’s a very traditional town.
Each year we get a thousand people at the War Memorial on Remembrance Day. Between Barley Hill and St Mary’s we have very healthy congregations, around 200 adults and 70 children.”

Vital statistics

Area Dean: The Revd Alan Garratt
Deanery Lay Chair: Simon Richards
No. of churches: 51
No. of benefices: 12


Refurbishment plans gather pace

AT St Mary the Virgin, Wheatley, plans for a major refurbishment are beginning to take shape. The Vicar, the Revd Nigel Hawkes, said the cost of the project was not yet known, but was expected to run into hundreds of thousands of pounds. With some funds already bequeathed to the church, the hope is that new heating, lighting and an all singing, all dancing sound system will be installed.
“It’s a big piece of work and we are looking very carefully at the building and expecting it to take five to 10 years to get all of that underway.”
Nigel was also aware of pressure on space in the graveyard at St Mary’s, and said the church was working closely with the Wheatley Parish Council to work out where new burial space could be found in the village.
Another exciting project is the plan to become a five parish benefice which will include Wheatley, Holton, Waterperry, Waterstock and Albury with Tiddington. The formalities were completd last year and the benefice will form one third of the new Shotover group, which was formed from the old Wheatley Team Ministry.

A village with its own ‘Hogwarts’

IN Cuddesdon the relationship between Ripon College, where clergy are trained, and the villagers is a strong one. The college, known locally as ‘holy Hogwarts’ is nestled within the small village.
Villagers are proud that former students include Archbishops Robert Runcie and George Carey and villagers are proud of the college. The village fete is held in the idyllic grounds and this year raised £6,000.

All Saints, Cuddesdon. Photo by Jo Duckles.

All Saints, Cuddesdon. Photo by Jo Duckles.

The Revd Emma Pennington, Vicar of Garsington, Cuddesdon and Horspath, said: “Students use All Saints, the parish church, almost daily. We have a lot of college families who come on a Sunday morning. It’s a really interesting place. It’s unique because I never know who will come through the door. It’s this wonderful, eclectic movement of people.”

Many students and their children serve in All Saints (pictured above) during their time at Cuddesdon. At the end of the year the church holds a farewell service for them, giving the children a gift to go away with.
Emma added: “Each year we hold the enormously successful Festival of Prayer at Cuddesdon in July which encompasses the church, college and village.  It has a main speaker in the church and workshops on prayer and spirituality ranging from the traditional like Benedictine and Celtic to the contemporary such as contemplation, photography and mindfulness. We are into our fifth year this year and it is, like all the others, sold out.”


Lighting up the summer

ONE of the major joint church projects in the town is Lighthouse, a week-long event at the start of the summer holidays that is attended by up to a thousand children and young people, from Thame, Long Crendon and Haddenham. The event has a budget of £40,000 and uses 300 volunteer helpers.


The Lighthouse summer event in Thame.

Lighthouse summer event in Thame

Lighthouse summer event in Thame


A new era for Cuddesdon

Lord Blair and Lord Bragg. Photo Mike Nelson.

Lord Blair and Lord Bragg. Photo Mike Nelson.

New Principal Humphrey Southern talks to Sarah Meyrick

Ripon College, Cuddesdon, entered a new era last month with the arrival of its new Principal, the Rt Revd Humphrey Southern. Bishop Humphrey, who was until recently Bishop of Repton in the Diocese of Derby, takes up office after the departure of the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy who was installed as Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, in October.

The Rt Revd Humphrey Southern at Ripon College, Cuddesdon.

The Rt Revd Humphrey Southern at Ripon College, Cuddesdon.

Bishop Humphrey was a student at Cuddesdon himself in the 1980s, and professes himself mildly surprised to be back after 30 years. “I’ve never moved back anywhere,” he says. “Someone suggested to me the other day that it was all ‘chaps in tweed coats with pipes’ when I was here. That’s not quite right, but certainly there are changes. Cuddesdon today is a place of parity between genders in a way that seems quite relaxed. There’s real inclusion: people are seriously received and welcomed for who they are, as created by God, and I’m excited by that.”

It’s also time of great challenge and change in theological education. A recent report from the Archbishop’s Council, Resourcing Ministerial Education, has raised a number of questions about the future of ordination training, and, specifically, has called for a 50 per cent increase in ordinations. Cuddesdon has a long and distinguished history as a theological college – it lays claim to having trained a third of current bishops, deans and archdeacons in the Church of England – and is the largest provider of ordination training in the UK. There are currently over 150 students training for ordained ministry, and a growing number preparing for LLM, Pioneer and other lay ministries.

“It’s a time when our core business is up for grabs,” says Bishop Humphrey. “But there’s nothing in that report that frightens us. We already provide a range of different training pathways. That’s one of our strengths. We have students in a residential and non-residential mould, and we have a close engagement with Oxford University.

“But if that 50 per cent figure is realistic, the Holy Spirit will call people from an even broader diversity. The core of what we offer isn’t different: it’s about that shared journey into understanding who we are before God. Each of us makes that as an individual, but in community. As you walk along that journey, which is frightening, puzzling, uncomfortable, and full of joy, you encounter the people who walk alongside you, and there’s a richness.”

So what of Bishop Humphrey’s own journey to ordination? After reading History at Christ Church College, Oxford, he went to what was then called ACCM (the Advisory Council for the Church’s Ministry, now the Bishops’ Advisory Panel) and was told to go and do something else before beginning his training. Through the Diocese of Salisbury’s link with the Church in Sudan, he found a placement in Africa.

“I was sent against my will to a culture that couldn’t be more different from Christ Church,” he says. “There was no electricity, no water, nothing but a church full of vibrancy, excitement and danger. It was a rich and colourful experience that was life changing. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. Thank God for the Diocese of Salisbury and ACCM and Sudan.”

It was, he says, one of the most formative times of his life. As well as furnishing him with a store of after dinner stories, he learned “something about the Gospel and culture”, he says.

“I was 22 and had never been outside Europe. I arrived in Khartoum and had to climb through a hole in the wall to get my luggage because the conveyer belt was broken. It was a fragile, delightful, completely alien world, quite extraordinary. I began to learn something about hospitality, about being entirely dependent on complete strangers. I couldn’t communicate with home – there were no phones, and letters would take three or four weeks.”

Cuddesdon seemed luxurious after Sudan, though he has particularly strong memories of the cold in the parish church. He was ordained in 1986, and served curacies at St Margaret’s Rainham in Kent, a very busy commuter parish (“I took 100 funerals in my deacon’s year”) and St Mary’s, Walton, in inner-city Liverpool. Between the two, he was seconded to a township parish in Harare in Zimbabwe following the unexpected death of the priest there.

This was followed by a first incumbency at Hale in Guildford Diocese, where he was also Diocesan Ecumenical Officer. During this time he met (at a baptism) his wife Emma, a district nurse, and their two daughters were born. Seven years later the family moved to Wiltshire, where he had grown up, and became Rector of Tisbury. To begin with, he had oversight of seven villages, but by the time he left the benefice encompassed 16 villages, with populations varying from 36 to around 1,500.

From Wiltshire, he was appointed Bishop of Repton. “It’s been interesting being the sole suffragan in a small and quite varied diocese, just one county, and a mix between the comfortable rural idyll of places like Chatsworth but also the ordinary everyday reality of post-industrial, post-mining Derby.

“My role there included a lot of responsibility around vocations and ministry, the formation of the clergy and their learning as curates. There was also quite a lot of seeing in the new ways in which clergy are supported, such as Ministry Development Reviews and Common Tenure, which is a change of culture for the clergy.”

This, he says, brings him a useful perspective on the world the clergy are being trained for. “I don’t come from the theoretical, academic side, so I’m pleased to have such distinguished colleagues, but I think I know what the Church is looking for and wanting.” He says he is excited about the Edward King Chapel, which opened in 2013 after the sisters moved to the College. “It’s not just the Chapel but what it represents – the resource the sisters offer. The decision to do something as powerful and bold as that says something about our seriousness, and what, at our heart of hearts, this place is about. It’s a place that is confident about its purpose, as we wait on God.”

Growth inspires modern facilities

CUDDESDON has seen a period of strong growth and development over the last 10 years. Student numbers are at their maximum, the research centre is thriving and the College is sharing its resources more widely through new courses, guided retreats and lectures. However, the current single student accommodation has changed little since the College was built in 1854.

“In order to remain an outstanding provider of theological education, we now need to upgrade our study bedrooms to offer more comfortable and modern accommodation to our students and visitors,” says Sophie Farrant, Development Director.

The College has therefore begun a project to refurbish two floors of two wings in the original buildings. As a result of the refurbishment – which will take place over the two summers of 2016 and 2017 to minimise disruption – 24 rooms will gain en-suite facilities, an extra study bedroom will be created, and each floor will gain a kitchenette/utility room.

The project will cost almost £1 million, but thanks to an extremely generous donation of £500,000 by an anonymous donor, and further grants and donations, the campaign is in search of the slightly less daunting figure of £390,000.

The Bible and the Bard

One of the first events attended by the new Principal was The Bible and The Bard, a special gala dinner at the Globe Theatre in London. Those attending the event were treated to a tour of the unique theatre and a conversation between Lord Bragg and Lord Blair on their shared interests in Shakespeare and the Bible.

Ian Blair, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, is a Trustee of the Globe. (He is also well known in the Diocese of Oxford as a member of the Bishop’s Council.) Before the dinner he interviewed Melvyn Bragg on his career as a broadcaster and writer, his love of the language of Shakespeare and the King James Bible, and the role of religion in today’s society. The event was the launch of the new Refurbishment Campaign.


Appointment of new principal

THE Rt Rd Humphrey Southern, suffragan Bishop of Repton in the Diocese of Derby, has been appointed Principal of Ripon College Cuddesdon. Subject to legal formalities, Bishop Humphrey will take up the post on 1 April 2015.

 Bishop Humphrey was born in London and brought up in Wiltshire. He was a student at Christ Church, Oxford, and trained for ordination at Ripon College Cuddesdon in the 1980s. He was a curate in Kent and Liverpool, and served as a parish priest in the dioceses of Guildford and Salisbury. In Guildford he served as Diocesan Ecumenical Officer and Tutor for training of curates, a role he continued in Salisbury, where he was also a Rural Dean and Chair of the Diocesan House of Clergy.

In 2007 Humphrey became Bishop of Repton and has developed a particular interest in ministry and ministerial development, both of ordinands and curates, and of longer established clergy and readers. He serves as Chair of the Diocesan Board of Education and has taken a leading role in developing the diocese’s response to new opportunities and challenges in the world of schools. In addition to his involvement in the 110 Church Primary Schools in the diocese, he has had a particular ministry of engagement with sixth-formers across Derbyshire on issues of faith and faithfulness.

Bishop Humphrey has a strong interest in the wider Anglican Communion. He has served in Anglican Churches in South Sudan and Zimbabwe, and has studied Anglican mission in Australia and the United States. He chairs the Ecumenical Partnership of Churches in Derbyshire with the Church of North India and has recently been developing personal links with the Church of Pakistan. He has led pilgrimages to the Holy Land and is passionate about the plight of Palestinian Christians. Humphrey is married to Emma and they have two daughters at secondary school. The family also currently includes two ex-racing greyhounds, a horse and two goldfish.

Bishop Humphrey says: “I am both honoured and humbled to be invited to be Principal of Ripon College Cuddesdon at such a pivotal moment in the history of the College and the Church. This is a time of great opportunity for the Church of England as we are challenged to grow in faithfulness, service and witness to our nation and communities, in numbers and confidence, and above all in the life of prayer and worship.

“Ripon College Cuddesdon has grown and developed so that it is uniquely well placed by the grace of God to rise to this challenge and to serve this vision for the Church. I look forward to being part of this and to the exciting times that are to come.”

The Right Reverend Christopher Foster, Bishop of Portsmouth and incoming Chair of the Board of Governors, says: “We are delighted that Bishop Humphrey has accepted our invitation to lead Ripon College Cuddesdon as it continues to serve the mission of the Gospel by training and forming ordained and lay ministers for the Church of England. His vision and experience will enhance the breadth and diversity of what the College offers as we respond to the need for confident and committed disciples, sensitive to God’s leading.”


New Cuddesdon chapel up for award


02-BishopEdwardKingChapelThe Edward King Chapel at Ripon College Cuddesdon, is one of the six buildings shortlisted for this year’s most important architectural award, the RIBA Stirling Prize.  RIBA says “the judges look for original, imaginative and well executed designs which excellently meet the needs of their users”.

The College’s brief for a new chapel on its historic site in Oxfordshire, asked for it to be “foremost a place for the cultivation of personal prayer as well as of public worship. What is needed is not just a building but a work of art that will touch the spirit.”

Architect Niall McLaughlin won the commission through his deep understanding and interpretation of the brief.  Niall says “We have two important architectural ideas. The first is a gentle hollow in the ground as a meeting place for the community. The second is a delicate ship-like timber structure that rises into the treetops to gather the light from the leaves.

“The first idea speaks of ground, of meeting in the still centre. The second idea suggests an uplifting buoyancy, rising towards the light. The way in which these two opposite forces work off each other is what gives the building its particular character.”

Ripon College Cuddesdon has around 150 students training for ordained ministry in the Anglican Church and a growing number preparing for Reader, Pioneer and a variety of lay ministries.  It is the largest provider of ordination training in the UK, and has trained a third of current Bishops, Deans and Archdeacons in the Church of England.

The College Principal, Revd Canon Prof. Martyn Percy added: “The Chapel is the heart of any worshipping community. This vision for a new place of worship – with its use of light, space, glass, wood and stone – really captures our hope for the church and the world, and for the shaping of religious and spiritual life.  We are absolutely delighted that it has been shortlisted for the Stirling Prize.”

The winner will be announced on 26 September.