The Revd Sarah Bourne, Chaplain for the Arts, reflects on the art and creative events of the past six months of the St Mary's Banbury Festival 200.
This remarkable Festival has celebrated 200 years since the Grade I listed St Mary’s Church was completed on 25th October 1822. The iconic building has hosted over 50 events of artistic and creative expression since April 2022, with an emphasis on well being and building up our community. There have been evenings of exquisite music, ranging from large-scale local choral societies to acapella choirs, folk groups, and ceilidh bands with four or five performers.
We have been treated to an extraordinarily high standard of piano, organ, and instrumental recitals by individual soloists, and enjoyed the large scale sounds of symphony orchestra and big band. We hosted a Festival of Primary School Voices, we worshipped God in uplifting services sung by the Festival Singers and reflected prayerfully during traditional Choral Evensong. There was further opportunity to engage with our spiritual side during the icons weekend, when we welcomed an Orthodox Church choir from North Oxford, created icons of our own, and attended a quiet day with time for reflection and personal prayer.
We celebrated the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee weekend with a bell ringing, a ceilidh, and a joyful civic service for the town to come together as a community. We were sad to postpone ‘Murder in the Cathedral' as a mark of respect for the death of HM The Queen, but we hope to offer a performance with the same cast in Spring 2023.
There have been art workshops, pottery decorating, and calligraphy for people to explore their creativity, as well as Wellbeing Wednesdays, incorporating drop-in Creating Space hobby sessions in the morning followed by singing for well-being or relaxation and mindfulness sessions on Wednesday afternoons. We have met several local authors, enjoyed an art history lecture, and been entertained to fascinating talks about climbing mountains and travelling through the Norwegian fjords.
There have been beautiful paintings, photographs, and textile work on display. We learned about well-being in agriculture and held a poetry workshop to engage with inclusion and emancipation. The origami cranes art installation involved local communities producing nearly 3000 colorful cranes and highlighted our commitment to peace, flourishing, and well-being. We visited local churches and Hailes Abbey as mindful acts of pilgrimage, sharing conversations and concerns with others as we walked. And we devised a prayer walk around St Mary’s Churchyard which focused on Psalm 23.
The final week passed all too quickly as we prepared for the closing Gala Concert which was a joint venture with the staff and children of our church primary school, St Mary’s Primary School, St Mary’s Festival Singers, and local Gospel singers on Friday 21 October under the enthusiastic musical directorship of Joe Cummings. This was a real visual and musical extravaganza! The first half of the concert was a choral feast with Parry’s ‘Hear My Words, Ye People’ which lifted the roof off St Mary’s Church, followed by stunning Gospel songs with soloists leading the upbeat Gospel choir. After the interval, there was a Noah theme to the concert: the children had made masks and t-shirts, and performed interpretative dances of the Noah story, before singing with the adults a staged version of ‘Captain Noah and his Floating Zoo’ in front of an imaginatively painted ark and finally a brightly coloured rainbow.
On the last Sunday of Festival 200, we welcomed Bishop Steven, the Bishop of Oxford, to round off the arts Festival with a service of thanksgiving, with music led by the outstanding local folk Gospel group, Gospel Bell, who played songs of praise with their customary lively energy. The Bishop preached on God’s gift of creativity which is given to each one of us, and he reminded us that the Holy Spirit inspires us to use our gifts and talents for the glory of God and to work in community with others. Read Bishop Steven's sermon. We finished our seven months of Festival on a high point, and we look forward to further opportunities for creativity in the future to bring our community closer together.