Team Rector’s Review - Woodstock and Bladon 2016/17

Team Rector’s Review

for the Annual Parochial Church Meetings
of
Bladon and Woodstock 2016/17

Seven whole days, not one in seven
I will praise thee

Words from a famous poem of George Herbert called Praise (II), better known to many of us as the hymn ‘King of glory, King of peace’.

Writing this review on George Herbert’s feast day, I am conscious of how much those words apply to the life of our churches, more and more. In terms of our worship we have moved, most weeks at least to ‘six whole days’; and in terms of our mission, witness, and prayer, ‘seven whole days’ is, as it should be, the norm. 

Looking back over the last 12 months is in many ways rather surprising – how did we manage to do all of that? By the grace of God is the answer. Here’s the story.

Lent was early last year (Ash Wednesday was February 10th), and the solemnity of its beginning was reflected in the pastoral life of the parish, with a number of funerals, few of which were at all straightforward. It is a privilege to minister to individuals and families in times of great grief, and the clergy regard it as a solemn duty as well as a key pastoral task. Lent continued to be observed prayerfully and well; and one superb innovation was moving to having the Daily Office (Morning and Evening Prayer) celebrated in St Mary Magdalene’s every weekday, led (largely) by a dedicated group of lay people. It is good that our parishes are held before God in prayer every day, with our schools and communities remembered by name, as well as our political leaders, and our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Diocese and around the world. 

Simon Berry from Wycliffe Hall was on placement with us, and his sermons were greatly enjoyed. Alice led us in Holy Week with Compline addresses; I had the privilege of attending the Maundy ceremony at Windsor Castle, and our friend James Potts was kind enough to bring his Maundy money to show to people at the liturgy in Woodstock that evening. 

On Easter Day the churches were full, with Woodstock overflowing, as we dedicated our beautiful new Nave altar, the gift of Chris Baylis. Until the altar was delivered on Holy Saturday, none of us had seen it. 

Chris was worried as he heard me exclaim ‘it’s scarred!’, until we explained how much the natural scars in the burr-oak moved us, speaking of Christ’s sacrifice. It has transformed our celebrations of Holy Communion, and we are so grateful to Chris for his gift. Another lovely feature of Easter last year was giving a Fairtrade Easter egg to every child at our primary schools in Bladon and Woodstock - thank you so much for the generosity which enabled that to happen. Each egg contained a beautiful Easter story cartoon, and we had scores of thank you letters. The following weekend was back to normal (as much as anything ever is in these parishes) with renewals of marriage vows and baptisms. In fact, there were renewals of vows, weddings, and baptisms, almost every weekend last summer, and the clergy were kept very busy indeed. A sad piece of busyness for me was taking Don Osborne’s funeral: Don had been a lovely friend in all my time, working hard with Gordon Hollis to lead the local Royal British Legion. We gave him a good send-off. A very different kind of send-off was given to Jonathan Todd, our Methodist minister. After ten years here, Jonathan left us to become chaplain of a school in Kent. It was a privilege to represent us at his Woodstock farewell, and give him a special map of Woodstock on our behalf. We also said goodbye to Emyr and Hannah, marrying them before they emigrated to Vancouver – we miss Hannah’s singing in our choir at Woodstock.

In May we marked Godparents’ Sunday for the first time. We wrote to all the parents from our recent baptisms inviting them to ask their godparents to join them in church to renew their promises. Lots did, and we’re going to repeat the whole thing again this year. There was sadness mixed with thanksgiving too, as we packed into St Mary Magdalene’s to remember Annie Hawes, a brave and lovely lady. We miss her. Bishop Anthony Poggo from Kajo-Keji was our preacher at Pentecost, and we were glad to be able to support his hospital project back in South Sudan. Bishop Anthony is now working at Lambeth Palace, and I get to see him from time to time, which is a great pleasure for me – he remembers Bladon and Woodstock with great affection. The 6th Form from The Marlborough School came for a farewell service before their exams, and we are proud of their achievements. 

June began with two funerals of beloved Woodstock people, Margaret Wylie, and Matthew Treadgold. Then came the celebrations of HM The Queen’s 90th birthday. A splendid civic service at Woodstock was followed by an equally splendid afternoon-long party at Bladon, with what seemed like the whole village gathered in the church, church rooms and churchyard. All great fun. 

More weddings, more baptisms – and then an ordination, Alice’s ordination as priest at Dorchester Abbey. Loads of us piled in to the Abbey for the service, and then Alice presided (as though she’d been doing it all her life) at the Eucharist that evening. Her friend Carrie preached, and her father (who I have known since I was 18!) played the organ – it was such a happy occasion. Alice is an extraordinarily gifted priest, and brings so much to our ministry and witness together in these churches. I know from the comments you make to me that you agree, as do the many families who have the benefit of her pastoral care at significant times in their lives. 

July began with, guess what, weddings and baptisms. The Woodstock Music Society gave great concerts. And then another sad funeral (there really were too many of these last year), Bobbie Condon’s. Bobbie was confirmed in 2015, and was full of faith. She died far too young, but her legacy lives on, not least in The Kyffin Gallery. 

We baptized Bobbie’s grandchildren the following Sunday, as well as celebrating our Patronal Festival, and giving thanks for the Friends of Woodstock Parish Church. The Friends have decided to bring their work to a halt until the big work of fund-raising for the re-ordering of St Mary Magdalene’s is completed. I want to pay tribute to every Friend, and to all committee Chairs and members, past and present. David Shepherd has been a superlative leader of the Friends, and to him, and to all, I say a heartfelt thank you.

August provided some much needed catch-up time for me, and we were also able (when the weather was decent, which was not that often) to do some substantial amounts of entertaining in the garden. One such evening was when we gathered lots of local friends to tell them about our plans for re-ordering the church in Woodstock, and many people have been very generous as a result. More on all of that later on. Speaking of entertaining, the Social Club had a beer festival, and, sensibly, asked me to go and bless it all. The Anglican theology of blessing involves dedication through use, and I did my best not to let them down.

In September and October, I seemed to be continually speaking (I sense jokes from my wife, colleagues, and the churchwardens being formed already): I spoke at the National Church Buildings Conference in Leicester, preached for the Diocesan Festival of the Royal School of Church music, and was especially honoured to speak at the special dinner held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Woodstock Society at Mansfield College. I preached in Oxford, London and Montreal, so the suffering is being widely spread. I was able to shut up and listen when the delightful Oxford author Francesca Kay came to preach at our Literary Festival Service: and we were able to welcome Lord Carey and our local Roman Catholic Bishop (and Woodstock resident) William Kenny to speak too. 

It was in September that the Woodstock Youthwork Trust was formally constituted. We are delighted to be supporting the ministry of Matt Bodinham as Christian Youth Minister, working for all the churches in Woodstock. Matt is doing many things; one of them is beginning a new ‘para-church’ for young people, which meets at The Buttery on alternate Sunday mornings – I’ll be glad to tell you more, but if you are trying to work out how to communicate the Christian message to your teenaged children, this is the answer to your prayers! Thanks to Chris Wallworth who is the St Mary Magdalene’s trustee. 

Tracey Fletcher began her new ministry as Headteacher of Bladon Church of England Primary School, and she has got off to a wonderful start. I’m so thankful for all that Simon Isherwood did to forge such strong links between church and school; Tracey has built wonderfully on that work. Alice and I lead worship in our primary schools every week – and I use the word worship advisedly. We don’t take assemblies – these are proper acts of worship, with responses, prayers, Bible readings, music, the real deal. The children love them, and are being formed and shaped in the Christian story. Please pray for both our marvellous primary schools, and remember that there are 300 children worshipping in them every week. Not to mention the Marlborough School. 

I lead worship for the whole school around once a month, and the school has recently received the judgement of ‘good with outstanding features’ in a report concentrating on the spiritual, moral, cultural and social aspects of its life. Pray for all students, parents, staff and governors (our foundation governors, representing the churches, deserve particular thanks).  

Other news: Ben Richardson undertook his splendid sponsored walk from Oxford to Coventry to raise money for St Mary Magdalene’s and the Woodstock Youth Club: an outstanding achievement. Thanks Ben, and thanks if you sponsored him. I got back from Ben’s reception in Coventry just in time to attend the welcome service for our new Methodist Minister, Alison Mares, at Kidlington Methodist Church. Alison is great, and we’ve been able to do quite a lot together, renewing our friendships with our Methodist brothers and sisters in formal and informal ways. One lovely development has been extending a very practical hand of help to our friends at Bladon Methodist Church, enabling them to use St Martin’s for their regular worship and concerts. 

Meetings and visits galore fill the diary as I read through my calendar and journal for these days. We had great Harvest Thanksgiving services, with wonderful decorations and gifts, and lots of involvement with our schools. I had the joy of marrying the postmistress (as I like to put it), and Linda and Dave (and most of you) know what a special day that was. Not long after, I got to marry the Steward and Stewardess too (Greg and Sam, you know who you are). For every wedding there were at least three funerals at this time though, and though all of them are hard, one in particular was heart-breaking, that of Auriel Drobeck-Condon. Over these last few years, Auriel has been a very special part of St Mary Magdalene’s and her courage and kindness were well known to many in our community. I have never taken a funeral in English and German before, and it was an honour to welcome so many who travelled such distances to pay tribute to her. 

Then I was quizmaster for the Marlborough School Association (we often have quizzes, you should come), and then I was very chuffed to be made an honorary member of Woodstock Rotary – to them much thanks, not only for that singular kindness, but for all that they do in the community and surrounding district. Our new churches website was launched in November, and Alice (and Matt) deserve enormous thanks for the work. The Facebook pages get increased traffic, and sometimes posts are viewed by over a thousand people. There is no doubt whatsoever that social media will play a big part in our future ministry, even though that may feel uncomfortable for some of us.

A beautiful evening service at Bladon began the busiest Advent of my seven here: so many services and events – all super, and all important. At Woodstock the new doors were installed in time for Christmas, and what an impact they have had – juts a small indicator of the great improvements still to come. The Woodstock Christmas Market was, once again, an amazing occasion, and one we’re glad to host. The Music Society’s performance of Handel’s Messiah was outstanding. Our Christmas Eve Family Services have become enormous; indeed, all our overall attendances have increased (and that goes for the rest of the year too, so don’t believe everything you read in the papers about the Church of England being ‘plunged into crisis’). 

One Christmas ‘present’ which took me by surprise was being asked to serve as Assistant Archdeacon. I’ve written elsewhere about what that means, and I’m learning a great deal, and hope to be useful. For her part, Archdeacon Judy is very grateful to all of you for giving me the space to do the work, and for making her so welcome in the congregation at Woodstock.

The beginning of this year has been dominated by buildings – and that’s always a tension for Christians, who, St Paul reminds us ‘are God’s building’. There are spiritual dangers afoot when buildings become the ‘be-all and end-all’. So we make sure that they are not by lives of prayer, and worship, and witness, and love. But they matter - our churches are beautiful, and they need to be places that work for us in the reality of our present context, as well as telling the story of where we’ve been. 

So it is that Bladon have (with some fantastic efforts by many, and not least the indefatigable Mollie Hance) been able to do some very successful work at the Church Room, putting in a new entrance with disabled access, and a new loo. It’s all up and running, though the official opening will take place in the late spring with the Bishop and our MP on hand to do the honours. At Woodstock, our plans are coming to fruition. We are getting in the last of the money, and we are not there yet – but we have faith, and we are committed. At the time of writing we have gone out to tender, and work is due to begin on our major re-ordering in May, and returning to the building in the late autumn. This is a bold decision for any church, and I am made to feel both proud and humble by the commitment and courage of the whole church family at Woodstock in pursuing this vision. The churchwardens have been working all hours on this, and Mike Holmes has driven the project with energy and determination. The time we spend outside our building will be a time of pilgrimage, and learning. We shall discover many new things about who we are as the Body of Christ, and I hope and pray that it will be a time of growth, in numbers, and in depth of faith. Someone asked me if I thought numbers would go down while we were away from the building. NO is my answer to that – our ministry will go on, a ministry of witness and worship that is not dependent on bricks and mortar, but on heart and soul, totally dependent on the grace of God.  It excites me – and, if I’m honest, gives me a few sleepless nights too. Keep on praying, and then, pray some more. We believe that God has extraordinary plans for us in the months and years to come.

Talking of which, we have Lent, Holy Week and Easter ahead. And to look a little further beyond that, we have ‘Thy Kingdom Come’, ten days of prayers for growth that all the churches of Woodstock and Bladon are sharing in. You’ll be hearing much more about it, and you can already discover more at http://www.oxford.anglican.org/mission-ministry/projects/thy-kingdom-come/ 

It is time for gratitude – gratitude for all those make our churches a ‘seven whole days’ ministry. And I want to begin with John Cullen, who has retired this year as Director of Music at St Martin’s Bladon. To have benefited from the gifts of so talented a musician has been a blessing, and we will all miss his enormous contribution to our life and worship. St Mary Magdalene’s in Woodstock is to enjoy John and Mary being part of the worshipping family in the months and years to come; so they will not be too far away. We give thanks to God for them both, and pray that the coming years will be full of joy. 

I want to thank Terry Summers, who has retired from being a wonderfully devoted and diligent Gift Aid officer for St Mary Magdalene’s. Thanks too to Peter Clarke, Woodstock PCC’s new treasurer, who has come on board at a difficult time and has smoothly and ably assumed his role. My thanks go to my amazing secretary Marion, my ordained colleagues, stipended, honorary, and retired, our amazing churchwardens, all who hold office, all who maintain the mission and ministry of our churches (and churchyards) – indeed, all of you reading this report. Your contribution to our life and witness is vital – and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Seven whole days, not one in seven
I will praise thee

Let it be our prayer, our aim, our calling, in all that lies ahead – the praise of the Lord our God, in the name of Jesus Christ, and in the power of his life-giving Spirit.

The Reverend Canon Adrian Daffern
The Feast of George Herbert
February 27th 2017