Baptism – it’s all about the welcome

New baptism research and resources are having an impact nationally on church growth. The Door talked to churches about their approach to this important ministry.

THE highest number of baptisms in the Diocese of Oxford is in Thatcham, near Newbury. With two extra services at noon and 3pm dedicated to baptisms on the second and fourth Sundays of every month, and up to four baptisms at each service, the Revd Mark Bennet, the Rector, and his team are very busy.

Welcome to the Church: A baptism ceremony in Beaconsfield. Photo: George Mardall.

Welcome to the Church: A baptism ceremony in Beaconsfield. Photo: George Mardall.


Photo: Shutterstock

“Yesterday we put on an extra service in the afternoon to meet demand,” said Mark, speaking to the Door on a Monday during the summer. “Sometimes we’ll add a baptism service on a fifth Sunday.”
Mark said St Mary’s has an open policy in line with the Book of Common Prayer, which states that baptism should not be delayed. “We welcome anyone and have specific baptism services. If we baptise a child at a normal Sunday service, it is normally a family who are already associated with the church.

“We couldn’t fit all of the people who want baptisms into our normal Sunday worship and if they are not regular church goers, we want to make sure they come to a service where they are comfortable. We use as simple a version of the liturgy as we are allowed to use to engage people with the Christian faith.”

The team at Thatcham regularly discuss creative ways of making the baptisms accessible. This year they have been giving away the book The Servant Queen and the King She Follows at each baptism.
Samples of books and Bibles that godparents might want to give as gifts are displayed at preparation sessions, that normally take place on Saturdays. After baptisms, families are kept in the parish’s prayer cycle and contact is kept through the Adults, Babies and Children (ABC) mother and toddler group and Sunday on Saturdays (SOS) messy church.

The Revd Brenda Harland, who organises the children’s work in Thatcham, said: “ABC started in 1999 and attracts around 30 to 40 children and 30 to 40 adults. That often leads to baptism by word of mouth.” SOS also takes place on Saturdays, as the name suggests, and attracts up to 100 people. “We get everyone including little babies,” says Brenda. A Café Church run by St Barnabas Church, every couple of months at Thatcham Park School, is a way of connecting with people who may want their children baptised. All baptism families are invited to the various events and services at St Mary’s and St Barnabas.

Mark added: “We want to make connections in the local community. We give families permission to speak to us and ask us questions, making an effort to say ‘yes’ to requests as often as we can.” Thatcham has also seen a rise in the number of adults wanting to be baptised, some so that they can become godparents. “We’d like to see more adults go on to confirmation, and I know that’s something the Bishop wants,” he says.
The Revd Marion Fontaine is a retired community midwife turned part-time priest. She said: “A lot of the people who come for baptism come because ‘grandma said we ought to have the baby done’. For them coming to church may be the equivalent of me going to a betting shop. I’ve never been so I wouldn’t know where to start.

“There are three hurdles for most people: making the phone call, getting over the doorstep of the church and having the initial meeting. Those are before you can even have the baptism. For most people having to do anything more would put them off.”

Marion says she still meets people who are aware she was the midwife when they were born. “That’s about them seeing someone who has been part of their life and is still a member of the community in a formal role,” she says. “For baptisms it’s about letting them know the church is central to community life and not giving them too many hurdles to coming along.”
Mark added: “It’s about being a parish church and keeping as much contact with people as possible. It’s about commitment and consistency over time. People know what to expect and the message has got out that we are approachable.”

A family friendly church in Beaconsfield

BAPTISMS are just one way that St Mary’s in Beaconsfield encourages people to see the church as a place of blessing.

With a ‘Who Let the Dad’s Out’ group once a month and a weekly parent and toddler group as well as Messy Church within the Anglican team in Beaconsfield, there is plenty to help families stay connected once their child has been baptised.

The Revd Dr Jeremy Brooks, the Rector, said the church has high numbers of baptisms because Beaconsfield has a traditional community where people consider getting a child christened the right thing to do. “Our geography helps as most people know there is a church in the old town.”

Beaconsfield is a large town with a population of around 12,000. St Mary’s has around 350 members, with around 200 at Sunday services. Baptism families are invited to go through the service on a Saturday lunch time so they know what to expect on the big day. They are also invited to church and other activities, but with no obligation to attend.

Jeremy works closely with his colleague, the Revd Narinder Tegally, Team Vicar of St Thomas’, Beaconsfield, who takes many of the baptisms at St Mary’s.
Narinder said: “Baptism should be available for everybody and people here know that their child should be welcome for baptism. We are lucky at St Mary’s as we do a lot of occasional offices, weddings and funerals as well as baptisms. That is who we are as a church.”

Baptisms are carried out on the first and second Sundays of each month, with up to three children being christened at each.
Narinder said: “When you tell families that there may be other baptisms in the service the reactions are jolly. No one really minds sharing the service with others. We try and accommodate people’s needs. If a family is flying in from Tokyo, we will fit in with that. It’s about welcome.

Jeremy added: “The whole concern about people taking vows and not being part of the church in which they can fulfil those vows is not my primary concern. Well over half of the families who come for baptism I will see three or four times a year. They are part of our community and we let them find their own way in to church at their own pace.
“I hope that the community at St Mary’s, not just the church services but the whole community, is a family-friendly place. That is about more than just getting them into the church on a Sunday. It’s about encouraging people, whatever they believe or don’t believe, to see St Mary’s as a place of blessing and that is central to our understanding of who we are.”

Witney’s gracious welcome

By Toby Wright

IN Witney we are fortunate that people are still coming regularly to seek Baptism – what St Clement called in Quis Dives the ‘freshness of grace’. We see this freshness as a vital part of our ministry of welcome to those who are not yet convinced of the Gospel.

We have an amazing baptism co-ordinator, Esther Partridge, who is the first point of contact for people. Her gracious welcome helps to put people at their ease and reassure them that they will receive a warm welcome at any of our four churches. Once Esther has completed the administrative detail she arranges for the parents to come, with the godparents if they wish, to a preparation morning. This is as an opportunity to ask ‘How is baptism a means of sharing in the life of God?’.

This gives us a great opportunity to reach out and talk about faith in simple terms. We ask challenging questions about what people think baptism is, why they want their child baptized, whether they believe the good news of the Gospel and, of course, what’s the point of church? It is relaxed, with toys for children to play with. There’s coffee and biscuits or doughnuts. We take the opportunity to talk though the service and use the symbols of the cross, water, oils, and candles to explain baptism. We emphasize that they are signing their child up to a life-long adventure, not a one-off event. We encourage them to spend time talking with the other participants.

Esther then invites the parents or guardians to bring the child to church on a Sunday for a commissioning. This is an opportunity for the parents to see the community into which their child is becoming a part – not a chance for the congregation to have a gorp at them! Then the big day comes and the adventure of sharing in the life of God takes a leap forward. Our hope is that people will have learnt the church is a human place where different people come to share mercy and kindness as we renew the ‘freshness of grace’.

The Revd Toby Wright is the Team Rector of the Witney Benefice.

The journey of life

SHOES representing the journey of life have been lining the path to St Mary’s, Hampton Poyle to create a Journey of Life art installation.


Congregation members were invited to leave any shoes, just as they are or painted, new or old, and/or with the name of a loved one or someone who has influenced their life.

Photo by John Morris.

Churches join forces on an expanding estate


Tim Stead

A PARISH on a deprived estate on the edge of Oxford is joining forces with a packed city centre church.

St Mary’s Headington, is based just outside the ringroad, on the Barton estate, an area where hundreds of new homes are set to be built to combat Oxford’s chronic housing shortage. The church will be partnering with St Aldate’s, to share resources and unlock its ‘mission potential’. The Area Dean for Cowley, The Revd Tim Stead said: “We had a vacancy and didn’t just want to throw an incumbent in on their own in a difficult place and looked at a number of ideas for a partnership with a much larger church.” Tim said there is currently a small congregation at St Mary’s, and with the new estate of up to 1,000 houses in the pipeline and the possibility of further expansion in the future, the parish could double or even triple in size. The Revd Eric Bossward will be moving to Headington from Preston in Lancashire, with his wife Lynn to take over at St Mary’s. Eric will be part of the leadership team and attend weekly staff meetings at St Aldate’s, a church that holds three services every Sunday and is often so full there is standing room only.

The Revd Charlie Cleverly, the Rector of St Aldate’s, said: “We have enjoyed very much the beginnings of a partnership with the people of St Mary’s. St Mary’s is a great community that will have a greater responsibility as new housing is built. We look forward to seeing what happens in the future as this exciting project develops.” Trevor Jones, Chair of the PCC at St Mary’s, said: “Over the past few months both churches have begun to embrace the idea. It’s too early to make a judgement on success but we at St Mary’s look forward to this exciting opportunity of working with St Aldate’s to extend God’s kingdom.” The Archdeacon of Oxford, the Ven. Martin Gorick, described plans for the partnership in a short film about the wider work of the Diocese. He said: “Barton is one of the five most deprived parishes in the whole diocese. There will be up to 3,000 new people moving to the area over the next few years and this is a once in a generation opportunity for the church.”

Ewelme’s Angels are going to the armories

ST MARY’S, Ewelme is proud to be lending two carved oak angels from the tomb of Alice de la Pole, Duchess of Suffolk to an exhibition marking the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt to take place at the Royal Armories in the Tower of London from 23 October 2015 – 31 January 2016.

Alice, who was the grand-daughter of Geoffrey Chaucer, is preserved in Ewelme Church. Her first husband, Sir John Phelip, a close companion of Henry V, lost his life on 2 October 1415, after contracting dysentery at the siege of Harfleur during the Agincourt campaign.  The Angels will be part of the section on Agincourt War Widows, which traces the hardship of women who lost husbands during the battle and the campaign which began when Henry set sail from Southampton in August 1415.

To mark the event here the church is holding two events on Saturday 24 October, the Eve of St. Crispin, exactly 600 years before the battle began.  Dr Rowena Archer, Lecturer in Medieval History at Christ Church (since 2004) and Fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford (since 2010) will give a Lecture – Widows of the Battle of Agincourt Followed by a tour of the church, chapel and cloisters founded by Alice de la Pole. This will take place at 3pm and will include afternoon tea.  At 6pm the Amici Voices will perform music from the time of Agincourt. For more details contact the Revd Jonathan Meyer on or 01491 837823.

Churches provide night shelter for the homeless


SEVEN churches have joined forces for the second year running to transform their premises into the Slough Night Shelter.

Charities Slough Homeless Our Concern (SHOC), a day centre for the homeless, and the London and Slough Run, collaborated with the churches to set up the shelter during the harshest months of the year.  Slough Homeless Concern is a day centre for the homeless and the London and Slough Run is a charity that provides items such as food, drink, clothing, bedding and toiletries to over three hundred people who come along to the various distribution points situated on the streets of London and Slough.

The Revd Peter Wyard, of St Mary’s Datchet, one of the participating churches, said homelessness in Slough had risen by 100 per cent in the last year. So St Mary’s was delighted to be able to host this year’s night shelter in its new community centre (pictured above) which opened in December 2014.
He said: “Where last year we made do with an old and damp church room that barely made it through the health and safety checks, this year we have been delighted to welcome our guests into the newly appointed Church Community Centre.

“Every week volunteers welcome the guests with tea, coffee and snacks. They provide a hot meal and a warm place for them to rest for the night. Volunteers mingle with the guests, playing cards with them, chatting and providing companionship. Others keep watch overnight, providing company to those who can’t sleep and serving breakfast to all in the morning. Plus, there are those who are happy to clean up the next day.

“Aside from the many individuals helping out, we have been touched by the generosity of local businesses who’ve given fresh bread, sandwiches and magazines and more. This year, Churchmead school in Datchet have also got involved, not only in cooking hot meals for our guests every Friday but sending them personalised messages of support, and bringing smiles to their faces. We hope we can continue the night shelter over the years to come.” For more information see and

The new hall at St Mary's, Datchet.

The new hall at St Mary’s, Datchet.

Good food at St Mary’s, Haddenham

CELEBRITY chef Raymond Blanc gave a passionate speech on the importance of good food to gathered headteachers at a food conference at St Mary’s School, Haddenham.

Raymond Blanc delivers an impassioned speech. Photo by Sophie Song Gilbert.

Raymond Blanc delivers an impassioned speech. Photo by Sophie Song Gilbert.

The Frenchman famous for his nearby restaurant, Le Manoir, at Great Milton, talked of how he learnt about food from his mother who had five children to feed, and early in life got into gardening. He explained how growing varieties of mushrooms had made him rich before expressing his disappointment at the levels of obesity and related diseases in the UK.

“We have separated food from everything when really food is connected with everything,” Raymond said, explaining how he first took on the garden at Le Manoir in 1983, when he said it was a scary mess full of dead plants and overrun by rabbits.

Returning to the subject of food, he talked of the importance of seasonality. “The consequences are enourmous. If you buy seasonally you help your farmer to keep his business fresh.”

He said: “I feel not anger but disappointment about the choices we make and the consequences of those choices.”

Raymond was speaking at a day-long conference organised by Karen Collett, headteacher at St Mary’s Haddenham. He was followed by Myles Bremner, national-co-ordinator of the Schools Food Plan a plan that has the backing of the Secretary of State that aims to  help headteachers improve food in schools.

Up next was Amanda Ursell, a food writer who spoke about nutrition and the importance and health benefits of eating three balanced meals a day. She echoed Raymond’s disappointments with the obesity situation, stating that almost 10 per cent of reception age children are obese, with that figure rising to 18 per cent by the time they reach year six. “That rise has happened in the last 10 years,” Amanda said.

A marquee in the school garden was put up for lunch and conference participants got the chance to sample the wares of local farmers and other food producers. Oli Blanc and Charlotte Salt spoke about Henri Le Worm – an app that teaches children about food in a fun way.

The conference was arranged as Karen bids for funding to improve her school kitchen. Raymond had already been to St Mary’s in January, when he helped children to learn to cook using healthy ingredients. He took pupils into the school’s Eco Lodge, where they got ot create a Mice in Mayonnaise dish.

Sowing the seeds for better mental health


FOR Charlie Powell horticulture provided a welcome respite from the hectic world of PR and advertising she used to work in.

Phil Chattie and Charlie Powell from Lindengate chat to Bishop Alan.

Phil Chattle and Charlie Powell from Lindengate chat to Bishop Alan.

So Charlie, who worships at St Mary’s, Wendover, retrained as a gardener, and with Sian Chattle, is launching Lindengate, a start-up charity aiming to support people with mental health problems, through nature and horticulture.

Sian met Charlie in the singing group at St Mary’s and they have been friends for years. After becoming an Eco Schools Ambassador at Wendover Junior School, and 30 years in teaching, she was looking for a new challenge.

Lindengate will be open in mid September, on land next to the World’s End Garden Centre in Wendover. Charlie and Sian are hoping to launch academic programmes as well as therapeutic gardening to clients, who will be referred to as ‘gardeners’ rather than patients. Polytunnels that act like greenhouses will ensure that gardening can take place in all weathers and throughout the year.

The project impressed the Bishop of Buckingham, the Rt Revd Alan Wilson, so much that he held a garden party complete with a hog roast, entertainment and a raffle, which raised £1,000 for the charity. Charlie was quick to point to statistics that demonstrate the need for help for those with mental health problems. “12.1 per cent of the population (61,200 people) in Buckinghamshire, suffer from clinically acknowledged depression. It’s not just the prevail of the poor. We are on the London commuter belt and a lot of people are in highly pressured jobs,” she says.

“I wanted to provide something that I had not had. All my life gardening has provided me with an outlet that no NHS clinical provision has. When I was working in advertising and PR I couldn’t find enough time gardening to feel the benefits.

“The NHS are great and staff work hard to provide a first stage intervention, but they don’t have the resources for non-clinical therapies.”

Lindengate’s branding and business plan, from the logo, publicity leaflets, website and uniform demonstrates a high level of planning and professionalism. Charlie says: “We are being highly strategic. We have thought things through and drawn on the experience of people who have been doing this for decades.”

A hog roast is served up at Bishop Alan's

A hog roast is served up at Bishop Alan’s

Sian’s Eco School’s work saw her planting a wildflower meadow. “It was particularly good for children who weren’t brilliant academically. We had an Eco Club were those with behavioural problems were all on an equal footing. Gardening was something they could succeed at,” she says. “My son is 26 and has aspergers and once he became an adult there was a vacuum. He was isolated and could only go out of the house with a family member because he was terrified of social situations. There is a need for provision.”

They have now secured five acres of land and are attempting to raise £70,000 for their projects. “We have been overwhelmed by the support,” she added.

Lindengate is looking for volunteers who can dig and help create it’s garden and is still fundraising. Contact, 07837 239328.


Youth Award celebrations for North Leigh


TEENAGERS from the North Leigh Youth Project in Oxfordshire, are celebrating after coming second in the Oxfordshire Youth Awards.

Youngsters from North Leigh Youth Project recieve their award at Oxford's New Theatre.

Youngsters from North Leigh Youth Project recieve their award at Oxford’s New Theatre.

The youngsters were driven to Oxford’s New Theatre in a Hummer for a ceremony in which they went on stage to receive their award. The Oxfordshire Youth Awards announcement said about the club: “In second place are a group of very enthusiastic leaders that provide activities to a growing number of local young people. We received an astonishing 19 separate nominations for this group alone! It’s a vibrant youth club, and encourages active participation by members, families, helpers, the church and the community as a whole.”

The project was set up by Alice Dore, the youth worker at St Mary’s Church, North Leigh, who simply wanted to give young people in the village something more exciting to do in their spare time.

Alice said: “We’ve had residentials and summer clubs, Bishop Colin has visited and we’ve had some very well-known artists come to do work with the young people. The award was for overall recognition of what we’ve done over the year. There were 500 youth projects at the awards ceremony and 1,500 young people packed into a sold-out New Theatre. It was amazing.”

The proms come to Twyford

The Royal Albert Hall, the venue for the Proms. Photo: Istock

The Royal Albert Hall, the venue for the Proms. Photo: Istock

THERE will be plenty of pomp and circumstance in St. Mary’s Church, Twyford, on September 7 as villagers enjoy The Last Night of the Proms on a big screen in the church.This traditionally British night of celebration is being relayed live from The Royal Albert Hall, with the Twyford audience also being entertained by local performers during the first half of the evening. Doors open at 6.30 pm and the entertainment begins at 7.15 pm with a performance by Stage Fright, a drama based charity that runs imaginative workshops for young people.

Following this The Scoops, whose band members are all originally from Twyford, play a mixture of music from the 60s through to the present day.
Then mezzo-sopranos Felicity and Liberty Buckland, also from Twyford, will sing two themed pieces to end the first part of the evening.
In the second half of the evening, which is expected to end just after 10.30 pm, St. Mary’s will be filled with the music of The BBC Symphony Orchestra, The BBC Symphony Chorus and guest mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato conducted by Marin Alsop.

Paul Bromley, one of the evening’s organisers, explained “Inside the church Felicity and Liberty will be hosting the Proms on the big screen and encouraging the audience to sing, wave their flags and blow horns We intend to make the evening as much fun and as uplifting as the real thing. I am sure the Twyford audience will join in with gusto when we get to last-night favourites such as Rule Britannia, Pomp and Circumstance and Elgar’s Jerusalem among many others.”

A posh ploughman’s supper, locally brewed beer from Bingham’s Twyford Brewery and Pimms will be available to buy.Any proceeds from the event will be put towards changing the church lighting to modern eco-friendly units which will use far less energy, give improved lighting levels and reduce the church’s carbon footprint.

Tickets are available at £5 each from Brightons newsagent in Twyford and St. Mary’s Church Office in Station Road. They are also available by contacting 0118 934 4792 or or 0118 934 0642. Tickets cost £6 on the door on the evening if not sold out by then.

More than 4,000 people flock to Witney Food Festival


The one word that keeps being used by everyone that visited the First Witney Festival of Food and Drink on 18th May in St. Marys Church, Witney is ‘Fantastic’. A dedicated and energetic team organised the event in just a few months.SONY DSC

Around 4,000 people came through the gates to visit the 40 stall holders, food demonstrators, those giving talks, and were inspired and motivated by Alexander Armstrong, the presenter and comedian who came to open the Festival. He said: “I am thrilled to have been involved in the first Witney Festival of Food and Drink, and to have witnessed the huge number of inspirational food growers, rearers, curers, producers and of course preparers that are now flourishing in our area. It’s good for the soul to see local food so enthusiastically embraced at the heart of the community. Here’s too many more!”

It was so incredibly busy that stall holders were selling out of produce and having to send out for more, some having bought two to three times more than they thought they would need. But most of all it was so good to see so many local people and those from further afield, enjoying the wonderful atmosphere within the church and its surroundings and such a positive response from the local community.



Charlbury wins the first Youth and Child Friendly Church Award

by Jo Duckles

MEMBERS of St Mary’s, Charlbury have been awarded the first Diocesan Youth and Child Friendly Church Award. The two-tier award scheme was launched last year by Yvonne Morris, diocesan children’s adviser and Ian Macdonald, diocesan youth adviser.

Celebrating the award are children and youth and children’s leaders with Yvonne Morris and Ian Macdonald. Photo: KT Bruce

Celebrating the award are children and youth and children’s leaders with Yvonne Morris and Ian Macdonald. Photo: KT Bruce

“We are really excited about the Youth and Child Friendly Award. It is a great opportunity to look at how any church can be more welcoming to children, young people and families; as well as looking how to more fully engage with them,” said Yvonne. Churches first look at the ‘Welcome’ they offer. They next move on to the Good News award, which is presented after the church explores how it engages young people in the living faith community of their local church.

The Revd Jan Fielden, of St Mary’s, said: “Our children and young people’s leaders work so hard they are just amazing. We cater for crèche age children right through to when they go to university. Some of them have been in post for years and it’s amazing how they give their time to the church.” She said the church has been encouraging congregation members to find out the names of two children each week and make a point of talking to them. JAM (Jesus and Me) is the Sunday morning group for older children and teenagers.

David Nicholls, who works with JAM said the process had helped identify new opportunities: “We recognised, for example, a need to look more closely at our work amongst children with special and additional needs. And that was very timely – Jan, Christine and I recently attended the ‘All Inclusive’ training evening at Diocesan Church House, which gave us a lot of food for thought as we explore this area further.”
As well as the various youth groups, mothers and toddlers meet at the Font Café, which recently re-opened after it was damaged by fire last year. The Bishop of Dorchester, the Rt Revd Colin Fletcher, recently visited the café.

Christine Pierce, a teaching assistant, has run the Sunday Club for children aged three to eight for 30 years, said: “It’s really great that it has been acknowledged and recognised that we do welcome children and families at St Mary’s. We moved here in 1980 when my daughter was a toddler. I started to help in the crèche and quite soon after I started helping with the older children. Apart from a few short breaks like when I had my son, I have been doing it ever since.

John Clifford has run You are Only Young Once, (YO YO) for 10 to 14-year-olds for 15 years. The group recently had a bell ringing mystery with a ‘kidnapping victim’ locked in the bell tower and a safari meal, with different courses at different people’s houses. John said: “The number of members varies. At the moment we have 10 and two of them regularly come to church.”

Ian added: “It was exciting to hear how much the process of going for the award helped Charlbury to look with fresh eyes at their engagement with children and young people.”

To find out more about the awards scheme call Carolyn Main on 01865 208257.