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 completed 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