Tag Archives: Bishop of Oxford

Developing Your Prayer Life

Bishop John

Last night we had the second of our Lent Lectures, and the speaker who is probably the biggest ‘name’ amongst those in the series, Rt Rev John Pritchard, the new Bishop of Oxford.

Much as is to be expected in the role Bishop John has a pretty packed schedule, such that he pretty well went straight into doing the lecture from the car, having driven down from a meeting in Oxford. It is perhaps a measure of the kind of person you need to be to do the job that even with having to drive all the way back to Oxford, he still made the time to chat to various of the parishioners, and also to take a look at the Church building itself.

The topic chosen for the lecture was related to one of Bishop John’s many books, How to Pray. As he said, with the somewhat limited time available in a lecture format, he barely has time to scratch the surface of the subject, so he gave us an overview of what he believed prayer should be.

He started by talking about how many people actually pray. In many cases people who would generally say that they have little or no faith may at key times in their life pray. By way of an example he talked about journalist John Diamond husband of celebrity cook Nigella Lawson who documented his battle with throat cancer through his newspaper column and book, and who at points talked about prayer.

From there, Bishop John talked about how we move into a deeper prayer life by looking at what prayer should be. His example was that it should be like a relationship – the example he gave being a marriage relationship or close friendship.

During any such relationship, there are various ways in which people communicate. Firstly there is just the sort of ‘getting on with it’ communication, basic stuff relating to any sort of relationship. Along with that, the other common level of communication is just chatting, the kind of ‘how was your day?’ type talking – nothing particularly deep.

The third way in which people communicate in a relationship is more deep talking – the serious conversations that any two people will have from time to time. At this point Bishop John quoted a statistic that the average couple only actually did this for the equivalent of two minutes a day.

The final form of communication Bishop John highlighted was non-verbal communication, whether that be kissing or hugging, or other ways that people communicate non-verbally. As he highlighted, the non-verbal is generally the most trusting and intimate level of communication between two people in a relationship.

Winter Sunset

The reason for looking at a human relationship, is by way of a model against which our prayer relationship with God should be – there will be ‘getting on with it’ type prayers, chatting, and then deep talks – but equally there will be non-verbal moments – you can see the influence of Taizé on Bishop John here as he particularly values the power of silence.

From there Bishop John talked about different ways people pray. Whilst some people value silence, and quiet prayer, for others it is difficult to handle – so others can pray through art, or through music. Some find they only truly experience God when walking through amazing scenery, or through sights such as the spectacular sunset that many around the area saw a couple of days ago – there are many different ways to pray, and no wrong way.

Presentation of the Thankyou Gift

All in all it was great evening, and seemed to be well enjoyed and appreciated by everyone who attended. Bishop John has a very personable presentation style – certainly it doesn’t feel like you are being preached ‘at’. He is pretty relaxed – note he quickly took off his jacket whilst speaking to us – and punctuates his presentation with numerous examples drawn from a good mix of sources. As a parting gift to Bishop John the parish presented him with a number of bottles of wine. Apparently he can blame his secretary for the number, when Rev Richard phoned up to ask what wine Bishop John preferred, her answer was “Lotsâ€?!

Amusingly, when presented with the bottles, Bishop John said that he’d happily come back any time!

A Day in Oxford

Under the Tower

This morning we were up rather early for a Saturday in order to catch a train at Wokingham station, heading off to Oxford for the inaugural Affirming Liberalism conference. Even taking into account the annoying sitting around on Reading station that any trip to Oxford involves, thanks to the chaotic situation traffic wise in the city, much as with London, it is still much easier and quicker to go by train.

The conference was being held in Trinity College, which is one of the smaller of the colleges and sits between the much more popular Balliol College on one side, and “Mr Blackwell’s shopâ€? – part of which is beneath one of the Trinity College quadrangles. The reason for the selection was that it had a nice little lecture theatre suitable for the expected sixty or so people. However since one hundred and forty people had booked, and we even had some people waiting outside to see if there were any people that didn’t turn up so they could get in, it proved to be a little small!

The initial idea, since there were now too many people for the lecture theatre was to have a video link-up between two adjacent lecture theatres. Unfortunately the technology failed on the day, so what happened in the end was that each speaker did their session twice, swapping between lecture theatres for the afternoon session.

We were in the main lecture theatre, so had Revd Dr Mark Chapman speaking about “Reclaiming Liberal Christianity� in the morning, and Revd Canon Professor Keith Ward speaking about “Why the Future Belongs to Liberal Religion� in the afternoon.

I have to say, that from my point of view, and especially on a Saturday morning, Mark Chapman’s session was pretty hard going. A lot of his session was talking about some of the history, in particular a lot of Victorian Church history, leading towards a look at where we are now. Thankfully he has written out his lecture, so it will be possible to work through what he has said in some detail once that has been published to the Affirming Liberalism site.

The afternoon session with Keith Ward was certainly more accessible from my point of view. Keith focused on seven points in his lecture – his proposition being that every single Christian should agree with some, or indeed all of them. Again, the content of the lecture will be published to the Affirming Liberalism site, so I won’t try and recap it all here.

In between the two sessions we had a service in the College Chapel, and a fantastic lunch – which served venison alongside a chicken and a fish dish. Interestingly, most people seemed to be going for the venison – I assume for a similar reason to me in that you don’t often see it on a menu!

Beth Finds the Shakespeare Department

We also took a walk next door during the lunch break, taking in “Mr Blackwell’s shopâ€?, where we took a look at the three miles of books downstairs, and also Beth had a real English Teacher moment when she discovered that the shop actually has a Shakespeare department!

The day seemed to be very well received amongst the attendees, with many looking forward to the next meeting. We had good support from across the Diocese and beyond (attendees from as far afield as Wales and Essex), and with the Bishop of Oxford himself putting in an appearance, and asking Professor Ward a difficult question or two. I’ve uploaded pictures taken during the day to Flickr, and will link to the transcripts of the sessions once these have been posted.

Lent Lectures

Once again this year St James is running a series of open lectures during Lent. As before the evenings are free, and open to anybody who wants to attend, and will take place on Wednesday evenings in the Parish Centre starting at 8pm, with coffee served from 7:45pm.

The selection of speakers and topics is as varied as ever.

First up on 13th February is Berdine van den Toren who works for the Church Mission Society, who along with her family spent over eight years living in the Central African Republic as an educationalist helping the church to cope with the AIDS pandemic.

She is followed on 20th February by the new Bishop of Oxford, Rt Rev John Pritchard, who is speaking on the subject of developing your prayer life.

On 27th February we hear from Dr Lawrence Turner, a lecturer in the Old Testament at Newbold College in Binfield. He has written a book called Back to the Present: Encountering Genesis in the 21st Century, and will base his lecture around the topics in the book.

The lecture on 5th March is entitled “Underneath the Skin of South Africaâ€?, and will be given by Brynn Bayman, a member of our congregation, and a South African himself, who is currently teaching at Wellington College. Through the lecture he is hoping to give us a better understanding of life, and the problems of his native country, to help us better understand life for the members of our twin Church, St Matthew’s in Kimberley.

The final lecture on 12th March is again being given by a member of our congregation. Captain Abi Brown is an officer in the British Army who was married in St James a couple of years ago, and has recently returned from a six-month tour of duty in Iraq. In her lecture she is going to talk about what life was like for her and her colleagues, and also how she as a Christian deals with what she saw out there.

As you can see, a pretty varied selection of topics and speakers. As before I’m aiming to attend all the lectures, so hopefully I’ll post reports and pictures as the weeks go by.

Oxford Diocese Young People – Meet the Bishop Afternoon

Ian Explaining Things

Almost eighteen months ago, when we were still helping with the running of the Youth Group, Beth and myself took three of our young people up to Church House in Oxford to participate in the consultation process to choose the new Bishop of Oxford. Although it was never a guarantee, Ian MacDonald the Diocesan Youth Officer, who arranged the original gathering had always been keen to get the young people together again to meet whoever was appointed.

John Pritchard was announced as the new Bishop somewhat later than expected in early December 2006, and eventually was inaugurated in early June. Despite a packed schedule he managed to free up an entire Sunday afternoon, between an engagement this morning, and another engagement this evening to come along and spend time talking to and listening to the young people of the Diocese. As a former Youth Chaplain in the Diocese of Bath and Wells, maybe it’s too be expected that he would have time for young people, but it’s still really great that he made the time to come and spend time with them, and certainly the two young people from St James we took along really enjoyed their afternoon.

The afternoon kicked off with a game of Call My Bluff as an ice breaker – the young people versus the Bishop and one of the leaders. The words alternated between theological words and youth words – although interestingly the Bishop got a goodly number of the youth words, and the young people got most of the theological words too.

After that we got onto the questions. The young people split into two groups and using a copy of the points that had been raised in the original consultation they asked the Bishop about a number of the points that they had been concerned about eighteen months ago. Ian was on hand to keep things on track, and to ensure that the Bishop didn’t fudge any of the answers – however he didn’t have very much to do. Bishop John gave really good answers to all the questions – and some of them were pretty deep and searching. Important things that came out were that the Bishop, much like anybody else struggles with his faith at times, and also his clear focus on servant leadership.

Having answered the questions from the young people, the Bishop then asked four questions of his own. Firstly he asked how they keep their faith focused, then about what it was like being a Christian at school, thirdly a question about what they felt about the Church and finally what they saw as the big issues facing the world in the next century. As before, the youth leaders were there as enablers, and not to express their own views, and again with a broad bunch, the ‘not a Liberal’ point came up again – not surprisingly from the same young person who brought it up last year. This time it had evolved somewhat into a comment about the ‘liberal-minded secularism’ in the Church of England.

I think the reason why, from my standpoint towards the liberal end of the Church, it is frustrating is that the way it has come across both times, whether intentional or not is that essentially that ‘liberal’ is somehow a dirty word – and you really want to say, not least to defend our young people in the room, “Hey, some of us are Liberal!”. First time around the underlying point this young person was talking about was press coverage, and I disagree pretty strongly with the idea that it is liberal Christians that get all the press coverage – it doesn’t take long to turn up a gem like this article from the Telegraph in July with several Bishops describing the recent floods as God’s judgement on society.

However, I think it struck a chord somewhat more this time as only yesterday I’d had a discussion with someone else about how they wanted to reclaim the word ‘liberal’ in the Church – Brian Mountford says much the same in the first line of his book Perfect Freedom (which is a good and easily readable introduction to liberal Christianity if you want one). It is also worth having a read of the official history of the Church on the Church of England website when considering this as it clearly highlights the strong liberal tradition in the Church alongside the Catholic and Evangelical traditions – certainly in the Church as a whole you are going to meet liberals, anglo-Catholics and evangelicals, and to my mind that is one of the defining characteristics of the Church, that we have such a breadth! Bishop John highlighted this at several points during the afternoon, talking about how one week he’d be at a service where he could barely see the congregation through the incense, then the next week he is in a cafe Church environment, and the next it is totally different again. The key thing being that all share a common core of belief even if we disagree on other aspects. As I said, this wasn’t a situation where I could get into a big debate, but certainly I do think that we need to make our young people aware that there is a breadth of traditions within the Church, and that as they move on, and get involved with things at a Diocesan level they are almost certainly going to encounter other Christians, even other Anglicans who do quite legitimately believe different things to them. As such it is important to respect the position the other holds, even if it differs from our own.

Certainly what is interesting though, is that when Bishop John questioned the point further, it wasn’t press coverage that was mentioned this time. It seems that the frustration with the ‘liberals’ from the young person is much the same with the frustration that many in the liberal Episcopal Church have with the conservatives, that all of the current political arguing is distracting from the major issues – ironically something in common!

Just to underline the point, in answer to the fourth question the young people listed the major issues as poverty, war and Global Warming – all external world issues. As Bishop John said in response, when you consider that tens of thousands of people are dying daily due to poverty, it does put things into perspective. Unfortunately it’s not going to stop the Lambeth Conference spending an interminable amount of time and resources discussing something else…

Anyway, I’ve diverged from the topic somewhat… All in all it was a great afternoon, and a fantastic opportunity for both young people, and new Churchwarden’s like me alike to get to know our new Bishop a lot better. We really felt that Bishop John had been both open about himself, and also open to listen to the concerns of the young people. Ian is going to write up notes from the afternoon, which are going to go to the Bishop, and hopefully will be discussed further. Having said that, it does seem that his next meeting with Ian is going to be devoted to an introduction to the Veggietales as Bishop John hadn’t come across them…

I took a load of pictures, although since the majority of them include young people, you’ll find that the public gallery is a little slim! The full set of twenty-five is as usual available through Flickr to those with the relevant access, and pictures may appear in Diocesan publications online and offline over the next few weeks.


So I’m now officially the Churchwarden for St James Finchampstead, and all the associated responsibilities that entails.

I was sworn in, along with my fellow Churchwarden at a service in St Mary Minster in Reading. Officially this wasn’t supposed to be our service, this was the service for Churchwardens in Bradfield, Newbury and Reading Deaneries – Sonning Deanery was allocated the Windsor service on Thursday, however quite apart from clashing with choir practice, Reading is a lot easier to get to after work than Windsor! We needn’t have worried though, as when they asked the Sonning Churchwardens to stand it seemed like a large number of other people had had the same idea. We spotted the wardens and clergy from California and Crowthorne, and were sat next to the group from Wargrave. Indeed we weren’t the only additions, there were wardens from Maidenhead, and we even had a lone representative from Witney Parish in the Oxford area. Interestingly the warden from Witney was Douglas Hurd – well Baron Hurd of Westwell now. He was MP for Witney until 1997 – a seat now held by David Cameron.

Anyway, the service itself was fairly straightforward consisting of two hymns, Taizé style prayers accompanied by the choir of St Mary’s Thatcham, and of course the admission of Churchwardens. The formal part of the admission consists of repeating an oath read out by the Diocesan Registrar, and then is followed by the Bishop of Oxford’s Charge, which is effectively the sermon. In this Bishop John spoke about his hopes for the Diocese, using Philippians 1, 3-11 as his text. Oh and despite having a broad range of churches represented we used the modern Lord’s Prayer (as was used at the inauguration service) rather than the old cop-out of defaulting to the modified-traditional version. After the service was a chance for everybody to meet Bishop John and our fellow Churchwardens.

Bishop John’s sermon was a good one, and he had a nice mix of serious points and laughs to get his ideas over. He challenged us to make our churches welcoming and open to all which pleased me. We got a chance to chat with him after the service too, as Rev Richard has actually managed to book him twice to come to St James already, and he’s only been in the post for a matter of weeks! Having said that we’ve had Bishop Stephen along twice in the past year, so it will be nice to welcome Bishop John along too. Bishop John certainly seemed to be making a conscious effort to try and talk to as many people as possible, and when I mentioned that we would be in Taizé at the same time as he and the Oxford Pilgrimage is there he said it would be good to see us at the service on the Sunday morning before they leave. All in all it was a great evening, now the hard work of being Churchwarden begins!