A grand time at the Grand Day Out

Listen to Bishop John’s sermon

AROUND 2,500 people flocked to Oxford for Saturday’s Grand Day Out event, complete with the opportunity to say goodbye to the Bishop of Oxford.

The Rt Revd John Pritchard, who retires at the end of October, preached at an open air communion service, was presented with a leaving card and gifts, at the conclusion of the day-long celebration. The Grand Day Out provided everything from in-depth speakers to a bouncy castle and puppet show for children across a variety of venues in Oxford city centre. The organising team’s prayers were answered when the rain held off for the whole of Saturday, September 20.

Claire Lewis, of St Andrew’s, Oxford, said: “I think it’s great that everyone has come together from the four archdeaconries. We don’t have many opportunities for people to get together from so many different places and who have so many different types of churchmanship.”

Andrew and Jane Jowitt, from St Lawrence’s, Bradwell, Milton Keynes, said: “We’ve been in the Living the Difference Café in St Ebbe’s and we are going on to hear Ruth Valerio speak at St Michael at the Northgate. We are then going on to Emma Bridgewater and Matthew Rice and we are trying to spot other people from our church.”

The Revd Richard Lamey, from St Paul’s, Wokingham, was proudly displaying a banner made up for his church’s 150th anniversary service. He was having a picnic in Christ Church with members of his church. He said: “Some people here heard Mary Berry. I have been to the Messy Fiesta and we are going back to the bouncy castle. There is such a range of things to do, everyone has had a problem deciding which things to go to.”

After communion Bishop John left Christ Church Meadow in the side car of a vintage-style motorbike. He did two laps of the meadow before disappearing off to his home in Linton Road.

Reflections from the sessions:

The Madhatter’s Tea Party, Alison Webster:

Running throughout the Grand Day out, the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party provided a safe space for gentle conversations about wellbeing and mental health. Run by Louise Longson of the Time to Change project in Oxford, and a team of volunteers, the aim was to challenge the stigma around mental health issues that is prevalent in our society. Participants ate cake, drank tea and coffee, and chose between a range of creative activities: poetry reading and writing; fairy cake decorating; self portrait painting (looking through distorted mirrors!); hat and mask making and plate decorating. Participants were also encouraged to contribute to the ‘tapestry of life’, drawing or writing their feelings on a large cloth. Children, in particular, made brilliant contributions. Throughout it all, there were many significant conversations about wellbeing and identity, and many models shared of how to become a more inclusive Christian Community.

Emma Bridgewater & Matthew Rice: Making It Work

Report by Jill Ling

From the moment Emma, Matthew and interviewer Revd Charlotte Bannister-Parker sat down on the three comfy chairs placed on the platform in St Aldate’s Church, we the audience were transferred from sitting in rows in the large church auditorium to a cosy, intimate environment where we were invited guests, listening in to a lively, fun, thought provoking after-dinner conversation which ranged from working together as husband and wife, living with teenagers, chasing hens onto a London bus, church architecture, playing the organ, Matthew’s and Emma’s books and family relationships. The hour passed in a flash as these two creative, lively entrepreneurs answered questions in a chatty, informal way, allowing us a glimpse into the various ways they have sculpted their vision into reality (to quote Aurora Chiste).

It all started, we found out, years ago when Emma was searching for a suitable mug as a gift for her Mum which would say ‘I’m sorry for being too busy; I want to rebuild relationship with you’. There was nothing suitable in the shops and so Emma set about building a business to fill that gap in the market. Not easy, but she persevered and in pursuing this path she entered into the world Matthew had found himself in; the two fell in love, married and now have four children and the business. Their accounts about all of this were entertaining and often amusing, but two were particularly thought-provoking; one, that the kitchen table is the altar in the home around which family life gathers and the other their love for Stoke-on-Trent. Emma explained that once she had realized the loss, bereavement even, she saw in the centre for English pottery she just could not turn her back on the town and so they have chosen to manufacture their pottery there, to bring hope where they saw no hope, life where they saw despair and self-worth where they saw abandonment. This means that their pottery is at the more expensive range of the market and the reason why I for one enjoy looking at it in the shops but own none – up to now anyway, but I do have a ‘big’ birthday on the horizon, maybe if I put it on my birthday list someone will be kind enough to buy me an Emma Bridgewater mug!

Imagine what you can see – Andy Gosler and Andrew Lock.

 Report by Josie Midwinter

Andy and Andrew were both well qualified to lead us on a short walk along the footpath by University Parks. In their eyes all nature is both wonderful and wondrous and as they gave a talk that would make even the most sceptical person see that wonder.

However we who joined them for their afternoon ramble were already half way there and willing to be led further into fascinating details about nature. Birds, insects, plants, trees – there was so much to look at and learn about, but this was not just a glorified nature walk. We needed to think about what we were seeing. So they began by posing a question: “What use are we as humans? Are we just animals?” Well we are animals but …. We were left to ponder that as we walked, to pick it up at the end.

At the end we discussed our answers. At creation God commissioned us as stewards of his creation. But if we leave it there then it sounds like just a duty. Life is more than that. It is worship of the God who is creator and the ability to enjoy his beauteous creation. Time was much too short to do justice to this topic. Is there any chance of another opportunity??


Living The Difference Café

 Report by Phil Creighton

Ideas were brewed and percolated to perfection at the Living The Difference cafe.

Held at St Ebbe’s in Oxford’s city centre, speakers, musicians and comedians came together to create a perfect blend of thought-provoking entertainment for The Grand Day Out. Guest speakers included community activist Ruth Valerio, Olympic chaplain Janet Binns and Oxford MP Nicola Blackwood.

Christian Aid helped provide the entertainment – Jess Hall, regional coordinator for the development agency, performed songs from her debut album Bookshelves while Chris Mead swapped his education role for jokes as he shared an improvised comedy set.Sarah Tripp from Tearfund and Tomas Christmas from Just Love UK talked about how to encourage each other to act justly and a Fairtrade stall helped people to put their faith into action.

The Bishop of Reading, the Rt Revd Andrew Proud, was one of the interviewers, talking to people who have crossed cultures as they’ve lived out their faith, sometimes in most extraordinary circumstances.

Live music also came from The Vine from Eynsham. The group performed music from the new album Horizon and also gave some insights into how God has helped them create it.  Alongside the discussions, guests could get stuck into some simple campaigning such as joining Christian Aid to tackle climate change. Visitors were asked to think of things they’d miss if climate change hit, drawing them and sticking them to a magnetic board, before tweeting their support. A Fairtrade stall was also available.

If that wasn’t enough, there were home made cakes and plenty of Fairtrade coffee available. Phil Creighton is editor of Xn magazine.

Matt Bird/Tony Baldry

Report by Liz Roberts

“I engaged with my community to de-privatise my faith”.  Starting off as a political door-knocker, Matt Bird was surprised to be elected a local Councillor (having been promised by his party that it was just a matter of having a name on the ballot paper) – but it brought him face-to-face with need he scarcely knew how to address.

Four years after its founding, The Cinnamon Network is helping 3,500 local churches and other faith groups work together with one another and with their local authority, police and other agencies to transform their communities. Cinnamon helps churches understand and match priorities with their passions, skills and resources, encouraging networking across denominations to scale up the relief the projects provide.  The Network is funded by the Cabinet Office so it can offer micro-grants to get schemes off the ground.

National government may no longer use the election phrase ‘Big Society’ but, as public sector expenditure decreases, the model of voluntary and statutory partnerships which the strapline envisaged becomes ever more necessary. Meanwhile the current economic environment means that those who might previously have baulked at working with the Church are often now more receptive to doing so. Take all this together and local church activists, working in networks, have the perfect conditions to make a tangible difference as they demonstrate Christian love to their world.

“What if this vexatious person in my constituency surgery is an angel?  Or the lonely person who demands my company?  Or the beggar in the street?  What if these people are messengers from God, checking my response to their needs, and I disregard them?” asks Sir Tony Baldry, MP.

We avoid such uncomfortable encounters only by keeping ourselves to ourselves – but that is to ignore Jesus’ commission to love our neighbour. When we do get out and engage in practical action, we are likely to meet everyday angels to reassure and direct us.  Open our hearts to the possibilities of angels and – unlike the shepherds watching their flocks who were so dazzled that it took them a while to realise what was being said to them – we should, even, expect them.

Angels pull us back onto to the right path, encourage us when we are conscious of our limitations and give us direct instruction from God.  He might well have it in mind to appoint us angels to others at certain times and in various places.  I’ll never again tell a colleague “you’re an angel” just because she put the kettle on …

Discernment: A Talk by Fr James Hanvey

Report by Thelma Shacklady


St Mary Magdalen is a beautiful church, with lighted candles, soft music and the lingering scent of incense making an appropriate setting for the talk on Discernment by Fr James Hanvey, Jesuit priest and Master of Campion Hall.

He based his talk on the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola, written in the 1730s and still used today. He showed us how these exercises can enable us in our decision-making, whether about trivial matters or big life changes, working both methodically and rationally, and also intuitively and aesthetically. He then pointed out the difference between decision-making and discernment, the latter bringing God into the picture, considering our lives to be held in trust as a gift from God. I found this quite inspiring, particularly went he went on to say that discernment is an encounter with the living Christ, because we put ourselves under the movement of the Holy Spirit, allowing the Spirit to be active in our lives – though his amusing aside claimed that the Church expresses profound faith in the Holy Spirit and then proceeds to ignore him! There was a wealth of advice in what he said, comparing the standard of Satan, who ensnares us with the temptations of wealth, honour and power and the standard of Christ who offers nothing, only himself, and then saying,’On whose side do you stand?’

I was moved by his quiet confidence and the skill with which he presented a series of complex ideas in a comprehensible way. Finally I was challenged by his concluding remark:

‘What will what I do or not do look like when I stand before God?’ A thought to take away and ponder at leisure!

Andrew Briggs: How science can strengthen faith

Report by Christa Pumfrey

With so many excellent speakers and topics to choose from I found it very hard to select only two. Andrew Briggs title ‘How science can strengthen faith’ intrigued me as so many people in my parishes seem to think that science contradicts faith or disproves it, let alone could strengthen it. Andrew began his talk by telling us about a new book written by him and Rodger Wagner, which will be published next year. It will be entitled: The Penultimate Curiosity – How science swims in the slipstream of ultimate questions.

And that brought Andrew right to the main topic and which was woven throughout his talk. Andrew argued that we can get a glimpse of God in the world around us, in creation, but we can only fully encounter God through Jesus Christ. A relationship with God enriches our understanding of his creation and creation enriches our relationship with God in Jesus.

Andrew then took us on a journey through history starting with 30,000 year old cave drawings of horses Roger Wagner judges to be incredibly accurate and which recorded the intellectual curiosity of how the world is. Among many examples he told us about a discussion of scientists in the Oxford’s Natural History Museum, when many argued that there was no connection between science and faith.  Andrew then pointed them to the ceiling and the painting of an angel holding the book of nature in one hand and in the other the Bible. He brought many examples throughout history, old and more recent, where scientists were holding science and faith together.  It was very interesting to hear that at his suggestion verse 2 from Psalm 111 (The works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein) have been inscribed over the new Cavendish Science Laboratory in Cambridge.

There was time at the end for questions. In answer of one of the questions Andrew said that if one enjoys a piece of music one gets even more enjoyment when you know the person who plays it and creates that beautiful sound. He said that he would find science and especially experiments without faith very hard and frustrating. Yet with faith one cannot give up but has to keep on trying. Scientists have to live with uncertainty and will not give up even if they don’t understand it all. He finished by saying that when we read the bible and engage in bible study we should not separate scripture and science but use both science and faith to understand scripture better.

Alan Doig: Revealing ourselves

Report by La Stacey

Alan told us how, when he visits someone for the first time, he finds himself looking around their home, seeing which books they have on their shelves, or the way they arrange their pictures. It tells him something about the person.

In the same way our church buildings tell us something about the person at the heart of our religion and how we relate to him. Buildings contain stories of individuals – people’s stories are embedded here – their lives, and loves, brought together in the building which is the centre of the community. It is as we gather that we are most aware of the presence of Christ in the community.

The cathedral itself holds within its walls stories from the time of St Frideswide when a church was first founded on the site, through the history of the dissolution of the monasteries, through to modern times and the millennium altar. There is evidence in the stone itself of the continual reinvention of the place and its split identity as both cathedral and college chapel. We can use our own church buildings too to tell the story of the worship of God in our communities.

Krish Kandiah: Home for Good

Report by  Katy Thompson

Krish is founder of Home for Good – a newly launched charity – with a vision to mobilise a foster/adoptive family in each of the UK’s 15,000 churches. If this were to happen there would be more than enough families to cover the 9,000 shortfall in foster carers as well as homes for the 6,000 children in UK who are currently awaiting a forever family. I was therefore struck by the irony that the only babysitter willing and available to look after my 2 boys for a couple of hours so I could go to hear Krish was a foster carer from our church who came along with her foster baby! Krish is keen to rehabilitate the doctrine of adoption within the church as it gives us a perspective that justification, forgiveness, redemption don’t. It provides a metaphor of our relationship with God that goes beyond the individual to embrace the family, community and church. The metaphor of adoption speaks to us of security, ongoing support, an inheritance (we are co-heirs with Christ), we belong, we have a home, family, relationship, togetherness and above all, love. We were vulnerable children and God adopted us so let’s be soft-hearted towards vulnerable children who need a family. This is not to overlook the fact that adoption is hard (70 per cent of children needing adoption are in care because of long-term abuse and they carry long-term scars which won’t go away with a quick prayer) and we need a theology that’s robust enough to deal with the tough times. Part of the answer is for the local church to wrap around the foster/adoptive family and support them with practical help, respite care  and moral, spiritual support. This kind of support, together with the partnership of Home for Good, the local authority and other adoption agencies (e.g. PACT) would enable many, many more children to grow up in a loving, supportive environment. It takes a community to raise a child.

Photos: Jo Juckles, Ainsley Swift