An Advent Eucharist
The day started with a Eucharist service at St Stephens Church in Upper Basildon. Bishop Steven preached in the service led by the Revd Grant Fensome, Vicar of the Benefice of Basildon, Aldworth and Ashampstead. The service was followed by lunch with deanery clergy at the church from a local Pangbourne bakery. Bishop Steven introduced the open discussion and thanked the clergy.
Clergy had the opportunity to share their experiences of the pandemic and their concerns and hopes for the future of the Church.
Many shared their concerns about young people relating to rising mental health problems and the role the local church can have in supporting young people. One clergy person shared an encouraging story about the increase in the number of young people they work with in their local secondary school who are becoming more open to Christianity, spirituality and the sense of the divine.
Bishop Steven ended the discussion with by sharing his thanks and hopes for the future of the Church:
“Thank you for all of your efforts throughout the pandemic, particularly in the transition to online church which has been one of the most remarkable changes we’ve seen… the Church is vital for the sake of the world and the communities we serve…
"I am hopeful for the future of the Church and for the world and it is a joy sharing this journey with each of you.”
Working together across the Thames Valley
The second part of the day saw Bishop Steven visit the Thames Valley Police Training College at Sulhampstead House with Police Chaplain, the Revd Anthony Peabody. Bishop Steven had a full tour of the college and met with policing staff in the different training departments, including the firearms training where he got the chance to see the armed response vehicles ready for deployment and learn about the skills required to be a firearms officer.
However, it wasn’t just the policing staff Bishop Steven met with, he also got the chance to meet some of the young police dogs in training and see them learning to locate crime scene evidence and trace criminals.
Amongst all of the training activities, there was time for reflection at the college memorial garden commemorating Thames Valley policing staff who have lost their lives in the line of duty, the most of these being the well-known PC Andrew Harper in 2019.
Evening discussions with clergy and lay leaders
Before heading off to an evening service, Bishop Steven joined Lay Leaders of the Bradfield Deanery for an evening meal and informal discussion hosted by Churchwarden, Chris Newman at St Aldermaston Parish Hall.
Lay Leaders shared their experiences of rural churches including many highlighting their desire to see more young people in the Church and to help build the next generation through good relations with the local schools in the Deanery.
In the evening service hosted by the Revd Glynn Lautenbach, Rector of St Mary’s Church in Burghfield, Bishop Steven reminded clergy and lay leaders of the words from Matthew 5:13, “You are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world”. He encouraged them to think of Jesus’ words as a recalling to their vocation, to love and to serve, and as a reminder of who they are in Christ.
There was the opportunity to ask Bishop Steven questions about a range of important issues in the local Bradfield Deanery context as well as the Church in the diocese and across the country. The questions covered the impact of immigration on the church in the future, engagement with Living in Love and Faith across the diocese, and diocesan finances.
Over the next six months, Bishop Steven is travelling to each deanery in the Diocese of Oxford to meet with and hear from local people and church leaders. Bishop Steven will be visiting a range of community projects, schools, charities and more to hear about their important work and the growing mission and ministries of parishes across the Thames Valley.
Bishop Steven will continue his deanery visits in the new year.