Archives for 2019

Journey of the Magi

A Christmas entertainment based on the poem by T. S. Eliot, performed by the Springs Dance Company in St Mary’s Church, Kirtlington, on Friday 29th November 2019

Eliot’s ‘Journey of the Magi’ has always struck me as a somewhat sombre poem, with none of the expected rejoicing at finding the right place at the end of their journey and bearing witness to a miraculous birth, but the quiet conclusion that ‘it was (you may say) satisfactory’. And then the birth itself could not be simply celebrated, containing as it did knowledge of the cruel death to follow. How could such a work be transformed into an engaging, witty, hugely inventive, and energetic dance? The work was first devised in 1997 and has been through various adaptations since as it is performed in churches around the country in the run-up to Christmas. The primary leap of the creators’ imagination was to see it as possible to weave Eliot’s poem in and out of more familiar modern experiences of the festive season: starting with an evocation of the magic of snow, then shopping, partying, an interlude of pure pantomime at the beginning of the second half, decorations and present-giving on Christmas morning. Each small element of the whole was accompanied by appropriate and wonderfully varied music, from Chopin to Gershwin and Cole Porter, Saint-Saens, John Williams and the glorious twelfth-century Hildegard Von Bingen, interspersed with pure pop. It was all performed with gusto by the cast of four dancers, who changed outfits and character deftly through their facial expressions and body language. One of my own favourite moments was when the three women dancers appeared ‘riding’ hobby-horse camels, with their faces capturing the haughty expressions we associate with these creatures. It was all lively, infectiously entertaining, accessible to both children and those who knew nothing of Eliot, although the poem was helpfully printed in the programme. For me, the great achievement of the whole was that, for all its light-hearted fun, it never lost sight of the underlying mood of Eliot’s poem. There were two moments in particular that drew a gasp from the audience as they were so unexpected: the Christmas presents unwrapped and distributed looked both ordinary and not particularly welcome to their recipients: a doll for the central couple’s daughter, a hockey stick, a comic soft toy sheep. Then suddenly they appeared arranged as a tableau of the nativity scene, with the doll in a cradle, the stick now a shepherd’s crook and the sheep beside the manger. The other moment came at the end when a fine piece of dancing ended with the dancer emulating a figure on a cross, arms outstretched, head bowed. But, while this essential thread of the Christian story was woven through the whole piece, it was presented with the lightest touch. The essential message of the work seemed to me to be that life should be celebrated and enjoyed to the full, especially in the company of others, in multiple ways, including art, music and dance, but awareness of darker aspects of the human experience, deprivation, pain and suffering, should never be forgotten but serve to enhance all that is most valuable in human interaction. That said, what characterised the whole was its sense of fun and we all left with smiles on our faces and feet that twitched to join the dance.


Celia Hawkesworth


Bible Study and prayer with Creche

This bible study group is for people living in the benefice who are at home during the week (this is mainly mums but is not exclusive!).

My hope is that we can have some time once a week to read the bible, learn a bit from each other and pray together.

We meet in Kirtlington Church at 1330 on Thursdays for an hour with tea and snacks.

Please feel free to turn up or email in advance to confirm

Hope to see you soon!

Gareth Miller

From The Rev’d Gareth Miller – October 2019

Brian Wood

The Rev’d Gareth Miller

Dear friends


What do you think of John Bercow? He’s a bit of a Marmite character – you either love him or you loathe him! Well, by the time you read this he may well not be Speaker any more. (I could of course ask the same question about Johnson, or Corbyn, or any politician or celebrity.)

Robert Mugabe died recently. I found myself at a Middleton Stoney Cream Tea chatting to someone who had been in his cabinet for many years. As one might expect, I discovered that the real Mugabe was a more nuanced character than some have suggested. But mostly bad!

In the Gospel we hear Jesus saying, “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety and nine virtuous people who have no need of repentance.”

Of course, Mugabe did not repent (and that doubtless explains the poor turn-out at his funeral). Unlike David Cameron, who, from all accounts, has been very repentant in his autobiography about his mistakes and the division the referendum has caused.

Divisions, polarisation, oppositional attitudes – these seem to be the norm these days. But has it not always been thus?

Jesus himself was a sign of division. The infant Christ signifies to Simeon both salvation and schism. The Magnificat says the mighty will be brought down and the lowly lifted up. Jesus warns that his words will divide families. Those he encounters tend to fall into two camps: the religious people, the scribes and the Pharisees, who by and large oppose him; while those who respond to his message are the tax collectors and sinners.

So polarisation is not a new thing. But what’s the antidote? The answer is repentance. When we turn from self and turn to God change begins. (When we stop being directed by self-interest and self-absorption and put God and his kingdom at the heart of our lives we start seeing things differently). When we resist the temptation to trust our own ideas, our own theology, our own politics, and ask for the gifts of humility and discernment, then we come to experience truth in the realities of our world – in the poor, the dispossessed, the fragile and the doubting. Then and only then does the possibility of a new world emerge.


01869 350224

Cream Tea and Treasure Hunt – Middelton Stoney

A wonderful Cream Tea and Treasure Hunt was held at All Saints’, Middleton Stoney on 14 September.

Special thanks to Jane, Jennifer, Rhona, and all who helped.

We raised over £500 for the restoration fund.

DAFT! Akeman Families Together

Benefice Family Services

Families are most welcome at our services

From The Rev’d Gareth Miller – September 2019

Brian Wood

The Rev’d Gareth Miller

Dear friends


Helter skelters in cathedrals – golf courses too! What do you think? I’d be genuinely interested to know. I find myself deeply torn. My natural instinct is to say NO! Churches are sacred spaces and should be treated as such and resist the temptation to be gimmicky.

But it’s easy to rush to condemnation. The Luddite in me needs to be kept in check! The proponents say that it’s all intended to make the church more accessible. Apparently, people have been flocking to see these innovations.

The helter skelter may bring people nearer to the cathedral roof, but does it bring them any nearer to God? I have to say I remain skeptical.

I had a fascinating conversation with one of our teenagers not long ago. I asked if church was boring, whether we needed to jazz it up a bit. Her answer was an emphatic no. “It’s the one place that’s different, where I can get away from all the distractions of modern life,” (I paraphrase).

There was a fascinating programme on the radio the other day in the series Great Lives. Ed Balls (who went up very significantly in my estimation) was talking about his hero, the great English composer Herbert Howells. Matthew Parris, the programme’s presenter (whom I normally admire and agree with) was a little disparaging about people who go to cathedrals to hear this kind of music, and dismissed them as a dwindling minority. Of course, the truth is the opposite, and cathedrals are bucking the trend. And the reason, I suggest, is that people in our generation, young and old alike, just as in ages past, know deep down that there is something numinous that we long to get in touch with. As St Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”

So, inspiring music or helter skelters? I know which one I go for. But let’s be careful, because they may not be mutually exclusive, and God often speaks to his people in unexpected ways.


01869 350224

Farewell to Jo Cropp and Liz Wyatt

The benefice said a sad but fond farewell to Jo Cropp and Liz Wyatt at a farewell service at Middleton Sunday 28 July. They have both served our churches indefatigably over the past sixteen years. We wish them well in their new home in Barton on Sea.

The ministry team took Jo out for lunch at The Lion at Wendlebury. We will really miss her warm and gentle companionship.

From The Rev’d Gareth Miller – August 2019

Brian Wood

The Rev’d Gareth Miller

Dear friends

I have just been reading the report of the Independent Review into Foreign and Commonwealth Office Support for persecuted Christians worldwide, led by the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen.

In its overview the report says: “Despite the fact that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is foundational to the UN Charter, which is binding on member states, and that ‘the denial of religious liberty is almost everywhere viewed as morally and legally invalid’, in today’s world religious freedom is far from being an existential reality.”

Among the key research findings are:

  • The Pew Research Centre concluded that in 2016 Christians were targeted in 144 countries, a rise from 125 in 2015. The Centre concluded that “Christians have been harassed in more countries than any other religious group and have suffered harassment in many of the heavily Muslim countries of the Middle East and North Africa”.
  • NGO Open Doors revealed that “approximately 245 million Christians living in the top 50 countries suffer high levels of persecution or worse”, 30 million up on the previous year.
  • Open Doors stated that within five years the number of countries classified as having “extreme” persecution had risen from one (North Korea) to 11.
  • Both Open Doors and Aid to the Church in Need have highlighted the increasing threat from “aggressive nationalism” or “ultra-nationalism” in countries such as China and India – growing world powers – as well as from Islamist militia groups.
  • According to Persecution Relief, 736 attacks were recorded in India in 2017, up from 348 in 2016. With reports in China showing an upsurge of persecution against Christians between 2014 and 2016, government authorities in Zheijiang Province targeted up to 2,000 churches, which were either partially or completely destroyed or had their crosses removed.

Bishop Philip said: “In preparing this report I’ve been truly shocked by the severity, scale and scope of the problem. Why have we been so blind to this situation for so long”

“It is ironic that many western secularists, Islamic extremists and authoritarian regimes share a common assumption – that the Christian faith is primarily an expression of white western privilege. In fact, Christianity is primarily a phenomenon of the global south and the global poor.

 “It seems to me that there are two existential, global threats to human flourishing and harmonious communities: climate change and the systematic denial of freedom of religious belief. We are quite rightly becoming sensitised to the former. We must urgently attend to the latter.”

I hope that we will have an opportunity to discuss this in our churches, and I will be looking out for the FCO’s response.


Lamb Ale Service – 2019

Lamb Ale Service

Kirtlington Sunday 16 June service at 1045.