Church and Community projects across the Thames Valley awarded over £45,000

Nine churches and parishes in the Thames Valley region have received a share of £45,550 from the Diocese of Oxford Development Fund to support a range of social action, new congregations, youth, and building projects.

The seventh round of the Development Fund grants will see the formation of new congregations in Sibford, Caversham and Chenies, a new Families worker employed in Cholsey, online church in Cookham, a new church building in Akeley, a feasibility study for new toilets and kitchen in Shellingford, an Easter Play performance in Oxford, and community Easter scenes displayed in Charlton-on-Otmoor and the surrounding villages.

This Development Fund enables churches across the Diocese of Oxford to provide vital support for their communities and meet the needs of the growing population in the Thames Valley. Churches are encouraged to explore and engage with their local contexts in five key areas: to be a more Christ-like Church for the sake of God’s world, to discern where God is at work in their communities, to be missionally creative in response to local challenges, to learn together and from one another, and to be sustainable in their approach to mission initiatives.

At Holy Trinity, Sibford in the Deddington Deanery, a grant will support a new monthly fresh expression of church in the Village Hall, beginning after Easter, to respond to the spiritual wellbeing and needs of the growing number of children and families in the local community and surrounding villages.

The Revd Neil Bowler, Rector of the Wykeham Benefice, explains the inspiration for the project:

“In the Wykeham Benefice, we are really keen to engage positively with all people in our local community and the surrounding rural villages. We experienced a rise in the number of families in our villages in the benefice as they moved out of larger cities and towns into the country during the pandemic and recognised that there was a space for us to reach out to these new people. In response to this, we decided to form a new monthly group outside of the church building open to everyone and especially those people who may not have engaged with church before. It’s not about replacing church, but more expanding what we do well and providing a space for people to discover what church and Christianity are all about.”

As a result of the pandemic many people have stayed at home isolating and church services have sometimes been limited to small numbers in person. Churches across the diocese have been exploring alternative ways of reaching their communities and many started sharing their services online. One of these is Holy Trinity, Cookham, Berkshire, where a new grant will enable the church to purchase recording equipment and offer access to online worship to more people.

Mark Stockdale, Churchwarden, reflects on the difference the grant will make:

“During the pandemic, when people were unable to join services in person, one of our clergy kindly used his own equipment to record some of our services and we found that we had new people, who were not churchgoers, tuning in to watch online. For those who are not familiar with church, and are interested in exploring faith and Christianity, it can be quite daunting to walk into a church service. The Development Fund grant will enable us to continue offering our services online regularly and in the long term, sharing the good news of the gospel, and providing that toe-in-the-water opportunity to more people in the local community.”

In Charlton-on-Otmoor, Oxfordshire, St Mary the Virgin Church received a grant to create a number of community artwork scenes telling the Easter story stationed around the local four villages during the Easter period. The project aims involve the whole community in the creation of the stations and a pilgrimage walk through the villages from Palm Sunday to Easter Day.

The Revd Lisa Holmes, Priest in the Ray Valley Benefice, shares her inspiration for the project:

“Following the success of our community Nativity scenes last year, I recognised we had an opportunity to share the Easter story in an engaging way with people who don’t usually come to church and the many walkers and cyclists we have visiting the area. By involving different groups from the community in the design and creation of the outdoor scenes across the local villages, I hope that we can encourage people to explore the Easter story, particularly those parts that may be unfamiliar to non-churchgoers and help them find hope and new life in Jesus.”

The Development Fund is open to all parishes and benefices in the Diocese of Oxford and especially those with limited financial resources to invest in missional activity. Applications are now open for the next round of funding and close on 31 January 2022, find out more and apply on the Development Fund page of our website.