Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Carol-Vanning all the way…


This year, St Mary’s Church, Cogges in Witney is taking a novel approach to celebrating Advent and Christmas to ensure that everyone can experience the comfort and joy that Christmas brings. They will be rolling out a veritable festive feast of events from online Christingle making to Advent window trails and perhaps most exciting of all, Carol-Vanning.

Local vicar, Revd. Simon Kirby explains,

“You’ve heard of carolling and caravanning, but I bet you’ve never heard of Carol-Vanning!

“This year, we’ll be travelling around the neighbourhoods of Witney, spreading a little mobile festive cheer. From the 14-17 December, we’ll be out and about in our festive camper van, stopping off to perform for local families and groups, who have booked a slot. Obviously, we will be making sure that we adhere to COVID-19 guidelines and we have asked that people stay in their front gardens or doorways whilst we sing.

“Whilst this is a fun way for us to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we can’t forget that for many, this has been one of the toughest years they’ve ever experienced. What has shone bright though, is the way our local community has rallied to support each other. St Mary’s has been at the heart of this community for over 900 years and seen it survive through wars, plagues and other catastrophes. Our town will get through this time and our hope and prayer is that in the face of all of the current challenges, people will know peace, joy, love and hope this Christmas.”

To ensure adherence to Government guidelines, the team behind carol- vanning offered 28 slots for local families and groups to book, which were snapped up within 48 hours! Revd. Simon confirmed that although the slots have now been booked, you won’t be able to miss the camper van as it makes its way through Witney, decked out with tinsel, lights and other festive touches.

He also reminded people to visit St Mary’s website to keep up to date with all the other Advent and Christmas activities that are taking place throughout December, culminating in an online family celebration on Christmas day at 10.30am.

For more information, please contact Revd. Simon Kirby 

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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.

Around the Deaneries – Witney


WITH growing ministries to schools and to men, as well as a diverse range of churches and a host of church refurbishment projects, the Witney Deanery is an exciting place to be.

Toby Wright

Witney map

The Revd Toby Wright became Area Dean two years ago, taking over from the Vicar of Carterton, the Revd Bill Blakey. I met Toby in his rectory, near to the idyllic St Mary’s Church in Witney, where he is the Team Rector. He lives there with his wife Sally, who is also ordained and licensed to the Witney team and their two children Caspar, seven, and Felicity, four.

“I came in as the Area Dean at a fun time,” says Toby, who is proud of the work done by clergy and congregations in the 38 churches. They range from urban settings like Witney and Carterton through to tiny villages in remote edges of West Oxfordshire, bordering the Gloucester Diocese.

“We are quite close to Oxford but there is a distinctive West Oxfordshire feel about this deanery,” he says. “I have been fortunate that during my time as Area Dean we have had almost a full allocation of clergy. We have got some really good and committed people who are excited about seeing the deanery flourish.”

Having been a recovering deanery for many years, Toby was delighted to announce that for the last two years, it has paid its parish share in full. “That has been down to people working together very closely. We have an excellent assistant area dean, an excellent administrator and a great treasurer so it’s a brilliant team with a standing committee.” Relationships between clergy were solidified when around 20 of them went on a three-day residential at the former Bishop’s Palace in Lincoln last year.

“That was important for building up fellowship and trust and one of the great things within this deanery is that while there are different theological views and spectrum of the Church of England, there is a growing willingness to encourage one another.”

The Deanery Synod meetings begin with wine and refreshments for half an hour, before a Bible Study and an inspirational talk involving a positive story to encourage the members. That is all before they get down to business. Recently that has involved setting three strategic objectives:
1. Schools ministry
2. Men’s ministry
3. Vision and Mission Action Planning, including communication and gratitude.

“We want part of our mission action planning to include being better with communication with each other and the gratitude is about celebrating what God is doing amongst us. Without communicating what we are doing it is difficult to show gratitude for it,” says Toby.
The schools ministry involves working with ecumenical partners and currently there isn’t a primary school in the deanery that is not regularly visited by a church representative. “There is also some excellent work going on in our secondary schools,” says Toby.

The men’s ministry involves prayer breakfasts and curry nights and Toby says the deanery is looking at ways of moving this into the more rural areas.  Another way that Toby has been encouraged has been church renovations and looking at how the churches can be used for mission. “One of those has been through Street Pastors in Witney and Carterton,” says Toby.
Back in 2011, Princess Anne visited St Mary’s, Witney, where she launched a £1.7m re-ordering. The 800-year-old church has now had almost every roof repaired, and once the Chancel roof is completed, it will move into the next phase. Wood Green has also just been re-ordered and a project at Hailey is about to start.

“This is a tremendous deanery,” says Toby. “I was Area Dean in my last post in Peckham, and what has struck me has been the sense of good will and support from the people around me. I was struck by that at my commissioning service.”

Vital Statistics:

Area Dean: Toby Wright
Lay Chair: Vacancy
Clergy: 18
Churches: 38
Benefices: 10

Bringing different traditions together

MEMBERS of St Kenelm’s CofE Church have joined forces with Minster Lovell Methodist Church for joint services and prayer meetings.

The Revd Paula Clifford, the Vicar of St Kenelm’s, worked with the Revd Melanie Reed, of the Methodist Church, to set up a joint service every two months and a fortnightly prayer meeting. “It’s a relatively small place, so it made sense for the two congregations to work together,” says Paula. “We’ve had a one-off Taizé service as well.”

The Revd Melanie Reed, the Methodist minister, says: “From our perspective it’s a wonderful time of shared fellowship and shared faith. We bring our different traditions together and learn from each other and also spend time after the service in fellowship. It is hugely beneficial for the local community.”

A bit of everything in Standlake

A PRAYER tree, dialogue and lively music are all part of the new all age service at St Giles Church, Standlake on the first Sunday of every month. Standlakeforweb

“We are trying to do something different to attract more young families,” says the Revd Drew Tweedy, the Rector. “On the second Sunday of the month we already have Messy Church and that’s really started to catch on. It has attracted families who don’t normally come to church and we’re hoping to build on that with the all age service.”

Drew was speaking as he was preparing for a Lent course using Hilary Brand’s book The Mystery of Everything based on the film about Stephen Hawking, The Theory of Everything. “We are doing it on Monday mornings in the pub and in the Rectory on Wednesday evenings for people who can’t make it during the day. It will include discussions around faith and science and about overcoming disability,” Drew added.

£3.7m refurbishment for the Warwick Hall

A £3.7m project to transform an outdated, Grade II listed church hall into a modern community building will come to fruition in Burford this summer.

The transformation project at Warwick Hall. Photo: Andrew Butcher

The transformation project at Warwick Hall. Photo: Andrew Butcher

Four years ago the Victorian Warwick Hall was not fit for purpose, either as a hall for St John the Baptist Church, or as a town hall. That was before work started on £3.7m of refurbishments. It is due to re-open with space for a growing children’s Sunday Club, confidential space for counselling and prayer and offices for staff. It will be suitable for a day centre for the elderly, for schools to use and for the town council and residents association.

The Vicar of St John the Baptist Church in Burford, the Revd Richard Coombs, said: “We are hoping it will take the ministry of the church into the heart of the community and provide a facility that the community will be proud of, as well as giving us much better facilities for our own groups.”

Stepping back in time at Leafield

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Leafield C.E Primary School near Witney, is 175 years old this year.  The original Trust Deed for the school was signed on the 20th April 1840.  To mark this occasion, the school held a week of special events and celebrations.  All the children visited the Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock to learn about life in Victorian times.  Children and staff switched off their computers and iPads and dressed in period costume to take part in a Victorian School experience.  The day began with drill in the playground and finished with a visit to assembly from The Bishop of Dorchester, dressed as a Victorian Bishop.

Bishop Colin with pupils at the 175th anniversary of Leafield School.

Bishop Colin with pupils at the 175th anniversary of Leafield School.

Leafield School's 175th anniversary cake.

Leafield School’s 175th anniversary cake.

Local residents and former pupils who are now members of the village Evergreens club also visited the school to share their experiences, memories and old photographs with the children.  The school archive was opened to explore the old copies of the Headteachers’ logs too.  Children were particularly interested to listen to extracts from the discipline book. The week ended with a special service at St Michael and All Angels Church with the children and their families, governors past and present and members of the local community.

Later in the year all the children will be contributing to a piece of commemorative art work as a lasting reminder of this special occasion.



Vicars go head to head in tug-of-war

Click here to read what happened with The Revd Toby Wright and the Revd Simon Kirby went head to head in the first tug of war in Witney for 50 years.

Cheers to the Witney Beer Fest

CONGRATULATIONS to the Revd Graham Sykes who won the home brewing contest at the third Witney Beer Festival last month.

Toby Wright raises a glass at the Witney Beer Festival.

Toby Wright raises a glass at the Witney Beer Festival.

St Mary the Virgin, Witney, hosted the contest which saw hundreds of people visit the church. The partnership working to enable this is headed by Witney Round Table, who have worked to develop it each year. More than 40 kegs of beer were served from a variety of breweries, including Witney’s own Wychwood; and the local White Horse and Compass breweries. The churchwarden of St Mary’s, Mr James Mills had the original idea with the Rector, the Revd Toby Wright. As part of St Mary’s commitment to outreach and mission this is a key part of the developing strategy, along with the Festival of Food and Drink which took place later in May.

The home brew contest is a new innovation and Graham, who is Chaplain to the Bishop of Oxford and Chair of the Door’s editorial support group deserved, to win with his delicious brew.

The Rector, Toby Wright (right) said: “We see this as an incredible opportunity to serve the local community. It allows all sorts of relations with local people to begin and to grow. It unites people together and has led to great outreach and pastoral encounters.’”

The next beer festival will be on Saturday 2 May 2015