Archives for 2020

From The Rev’d Gareth Miller – August 2020

Brian Wood

The Rev’d Gareth Miller

Dear friends

I have recently been greatly captivated by Roy Jenkins’s superb biography of Gladstone. I was most amused by his wife, Catherine’s, remark, “Oh William, dear, if you weren’t such a great man, you’d be the most terrible bore.”  He was, of course, renowned for prolixity – several of his Commons speeches going on for three or even four hours. But he was also a man of enormous erudition, wide sympathies, and prodigious energy and industry.

Jenkins writes of Gladstone, after the latter’s peregrination around the industrial north in 1862:

“There was some feeling that he was on their side, not in the sense of an economic class struggle….but in the sense that he was for seriousness against cynicism, for moral purpose against frivolity…and also in some sense for the solid striving of the northern provincial centres as against the glitter of London and the soft landscape and more traditional society of the south.” (p 240)

Of whom could that be said today?  Not that I am against all frivolity!  But there is a lack of real seriousness and moral purpose among many of our politicians. Would that they spent more time, like Gladstone, devouring the classics, engaging in strenuous physical exercise, or writing personal letters to their families, constituents and peers, instead of spending their time indulging in rather pointless excursions on Twitter and Facebook and relying too little on their native judgment and too much on the opinions of special advisers.

Many a commentator has suggested that the coronavirus pandemic should give us pause – a chance to take stock and recalibrate our political system and our common life. The BBC has offered a rich array of reflective programmes, including an excellent series of radio discussions called Rethink, and there have been similar offerings in the national press.

I very much hope that, however long the current crisis lasts, and whatever its long-term effects, we will all find the opportunity to ask what really matters.  What really matters in our society, in our families, in our own individual lives?  Life is short, and we can easily fritter it away in trivial pursuits!

In our churches too there are questions to ask.  How do we best use our resources? How do we look outwards towards the community? How do we engage with difficult questions?  How do we listen carefully to those with whom we differ?  How do we support the young in this constantly changing world?

The pandemic is stretching us in all kinds of ways, perhaps especially the frail and elderly and those who have had young children at home rather than school.  As we move into an unpredictable future, I pray that we might be stretched in positive and wholesome ways, but also that we might help each other to find some relief from the strain.


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From The Rev’d Gareth Miller – May 2020

Brian Wood

The Rev’d Gareth Miller

Dear parishioners;

Church buildings are special to many of us, though we’re having to make do without them for the time being. That’s sad, but we’re also learning new ways of being together and worshipping together. Of course, trying to worship God while looking at a screen is not ideal, but thank God that we can enjoy a different kind of fellowship that in some ways feels quite intimate.

The Bible reminds us that God does not live in human temples. But being human we need visual aids, places that give us a glimpse of heaven. That’s why we make the liturgy different from ordinary life. It’s why we have robes, and music and processions, and in some places smells and bells. It’s not supposed to be like other times and other places. Here we encounter the divine in all his mystery and majesty, as well as all his intimacy.

When Prince Vladimir of Kiev visited Constantinople in 988 he attended mass in Hagia Sophia. “We did not know whether we were on earth or in heaven,” he said. “Never have we seen such beauty. Here we can truly say that God dwells among men.”

When we are touched by the infinite our instinct is to kneel or to bow down. Have you ever had that experience of going into an empty church and the only appropriate thing to do is to kneel? We are bodily creatures, and just as people who live entirely in their heads often find it difficult to contact their emotions, so if we do not use our bodies in church it’s perhaps more difficult to connect with God.

It has become rarer to see people kneel in church. Some of us of course might find it difficult to get up! But we can bow towards the altar, or make the sign of the cross, or raise our hands in praise, or dance, or reverence the blessed sacrament. When the priest bows or genuflects at the consecration it is a reminder that God comes down to us in order to bring us up to him. That’s what worship reminds us of.

We can just see the obvious, the literal, what stares us in the face, or we can move through and see beyond: “A man that looks on glass on it may stay his eye, or, if he pleaseth through it pass, and then the heav’n espy.” (George Herbert).

I hope it won’t be long before we can gather again for corporate worship. Worship draws us out of the suffocating bubble of our own ego. Richard Rohr, the American Franciscan, says “Your life is not about you.” St Paul put it even better: “It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

Your sincere friend and Rector,

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To All Church of England Clergy

Letter to parishioners

17 March 2020

My dear friends

You will no doubt be aware that, because of the grave circumstances in which we find ourselves, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have issued a pastoral letter, appended to this email, giving effect to their decision to suspend all church services and meetings.

This leaves us in unprecedented territory, and my hope and prayer is that we will discover ways of being the church together without meeting in our normal gatherings.   I believe that it will bring out the best in our communities, which have already shown remarkable examples of generosity and service, but it will doubtless also impose strains, and none of us is exempt from that.

I do think that we should all do our best to observe the restrictions being asked of us by the government, for the sake of our own health and well-being and for the common good.    

Please note that the archbishops are calling us all to observe this Sunday, 22 March (Mothering Sunday), as a Day of Prayer and Action.   We are all invited to put a lighted candle in our front windows at 7pm as a sign of solidarity and hope.

On Thursday of this week I will be visiting each of our churches and praying in it.  I will also be putting a notice up on the door inviting people to use the church and I will be leaving prayers for people to use.  I will also be arranging for prayers to be said in each church on Sunday and will arrange, if possible, for a bell to be rung. This will not be a public service.  I am asking the wardens to ensure that, as far as is practicable, churches remain open as usual.

As yet, I have no further information on funerals, weddings and banns of marriage. I imagine that we may be permitted to do burials and cremations and to hold memorial services at a later time, but this is pure speculation.    We have a number of weddings booked, including a few in the fairly near future.

Other matters:

In recent weeks some of you have been meeting in homes as part of the Travelling Together course, which has been part of our Lenten observance.   I know that some of these groups have discovered a real sense of fellowship and mutual support.   I hope that you will continue to connect by email, phone and text, and that the groups will resume when things are better. My thanks to the leaders and hosts.

It is fortunate that we were able to hold four of our Annual Parochial Church Meetings before the present arrangements were imposed.  However, those at Wendlebury, Weston and Hampton Gay have not yet taken place.  Under the current rules they should take place by 31 May, but I suspect these rules will be suspended, and I await guidance.

Many of you will be aware that Nick Ktorides, our new House for Duty priest, will be moving to Chesterton with his wife Shuba on 25 March.  Clearly it will be in very unusual circumstances and it may be some time before you get to meet them.  I can only assume that the service of licensing planned for 2 April is cancelled.   I am sure that Bishop Colin can license Nick privately, and we can have a service of welcome in due course.  We are arranging a welcome pack of groceries to be delivered to the house.   If any of you feel inclined to welcome them with a cake, bottle, or box of chocs I am sure that would be very much appreciated.  Please be aware that Shuba is currently unwell and is unlikely to be making a public appearance for the time being.

Warmest good wishes and prayers at this difficult time,


PRAYERS and SUPPORT during the coronavirus crisis

Please click on this link to find a message from The Archbishop of Canterbury:

Please click on this link to find prayers for use during the current crisis:

If you have access to the internet you can find Daily Prayer here:

This is updated daily. Neighbours and family may care to print these off for those who do not have internet access. It is also available as an app.

Every day on Radio 4 Long Wave the BBC broadcasts the Daily Service at 9.45 am.
Also available on DAB:

Every Wednesday on Radio 3 the BBC broadcasts Choral Evensong at 3.30 pm
(repeated on Sundays at 3.00 pm).  Also available on DAB:

The Scripture Union and Bible Reading Fellowship provide helpful booklets with daily readings. These can be bought online.

The Church of England


The Diocese of Oxford

publish regular updates on the coronavirus situation.



Please find overleaf a few prayers which may be of help to those spending time at home….


Prayers in time of need


A prayer for help

O Lord my God, you are my refuge and my strength. You are my ever-present help in times of trouble. When it seems like the world is crumbling around me and I am thrown around by the storms of life, take away my fear. When I am weak, you are my strength. When I am vulnerable, you are my refuge. When I cry for help, you will answer. Remind me, Lord, that you are always with me and will never leave or forsake me. I ask this through Christ my Lord. Amen.

A prayer for calm

Eternal Father, you know my past, present and future; nothing is unknown to you. When I worry about what is ahead of me, please calm my fears with the knowledge that you go before me. I will never be alone because you will always be with me. You have promised that you will not fail me or forsake me and you are faithful to keep all your promises. Take away my fear and replace it with faith in your unending love, shown to me in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A prayer for those who are ill

Lord God, whose Son, Jesus Christ, understood people’s fear and pain before they spoke of them; we pray for those who are unwell at home or in hospital; surround the frightened with your tenderness; give strength to those in pain; hold the weak in your arms of love, and give hope and patience to those who are recovering; we ask this through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

A morning prayer

Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you that you have brought us safely to the beginning of this day; keep us from falling into sin or running into danger, and guide us to do always what is right in your eyes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

An evening prayer

Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the silent hours of this night, that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world may repose upon your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Prayer of St Patrick

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

From The Rev’d Gareth Miller – April 2020

Brian Wood

The Rev’d Gareth Miller

Dear parishioners;

I vividly recall studying at primary school the story of the village of Eyam in Derbyshire during the plague year of 1665.   If I were to go up in the loft I could probably find the exercise book with my drawings and written account of it.

As the disease spread, the villagers turned for leadership to their rector, The Reverend William Mompesson. He, together with the Puritan minister, Thomas Stanley, introduced a number of precautions to slow the spread of the illness, the best-known of which was to quarantine the entire village.

Later, when I was studying French for A level, one of our set texts was La Peste by Albert Camus. It’s set in 194., in the town of Oran, in French Algeria, and catalogues in poignant and dramatic detail the agonies of the townsfolk and the moral dilemmas facing the principal protagonists as they cope with a 20th century plague.

As I write, in mid-March, it is not clear how the coronavirus will develop, but it seems inevitable that it will become widespread over the coming weeks and months. I guess I will not have to make the kind of choices faced by Mompesson, not least because decisions to regulate our behaviour will be taken by the government. Nor will I be tempted to behave like Père Paneloux in La Peste, who suggested to his congregation that the plague was a divine visitation, a punishment for their sins (though he later shifted his position when confronted with the death of a child). There will, however, be hard decisions facing us all.

We live in a universe of opposing forces. Nature, as Darwin discovered, has a way of ensuring the survival of the fittest.  Sentient humans, on the other hand, have the capacity for moral choice, which is often complex and confusing, and is a faculty we must exercise with thoughtfulness and care. Sometimes, sadly, we make selfish choices, and we have already witnessed disturbing behaviour on the part of some. The instinct that urges us to work for the common good rather than our individual interests is, I hope, stronger.   Rabbi Lord Sacks, in a powerful contribution to Radio 4’s Start the Week (11 March) highlighted moral character as an attribute we have rather lost sight of, but perhaps we will find the grace to rediscover it in the days to come.

However things develop in the weeks and months ahead, I pray that all of us in these villages will exemplify the best and noblest aspects of our character – respect, tolerance, generosity and mutual care.

Your sincere friend and Rector,

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We are delighted to announce the appointment of The Reverend Nick Ktorides as Assistant Priest (House for Duty) in the Akeman Benefice. Nick, together with his wife Shuba, comes to us from the Diocese of Norwich. (Ktorides is pronounced TerEEdez  – ie silent K and stress on second syllable).

The House for Duty post means that he is unpaid, but receives accommodation in lieu of a salary.
He will work two days per week in addition to Sunday duty.

We look forward to getting to know Nick in the months to come.

The Service of Licensing will be conducted by The Bishop and The Archdeacon of Dorchester on Thursday 2 April at 7.30pm at St Mary’s Church, Weston on the Green.  Please do come along and give Nick a warm welcome.


Gareth Miller

Rector of The Akeman Benefice

From The Rev’d Gareth Miller – March 2020

Brian Wood

The Rev’d Gareth Miller

Dear friends;

I was pleased to learn that the South Korean film, ‘Parasite’, had won the best picture award at the Oscars. I haven’t seen it yet, but was pleased because it’s the first foreign language film to win such an accolade.

The British (perhaps especially the English) are notoriously bad at other languages. We expect everyone to speak our own – a problem that is not helped by the fact that many of them do, in a lot of cases better than native speakers. My father-in-law believed that the best way to make a foreigner understand him was to repeat his English sentence over and over again but louder each time!

Whenever I go abroad I make a point to watching the TV news in the local language, whether I know it or not. I find it gives me a feel for the people, and a sense of how the language works and sounds. After a while, even if it’s a completely unfamiliar language, you begin to pick up clues and perhaps even understand a little. With films, of course, it’s easier, as there are usually subtitles.

Reading subtitles when they’re on the screen is pretty easy. But how good are we at reading each other’s subtitles? After all, we are all foreigners to one another. What’s my friend, neighbour, partner, child, parent really saying to me? Am I reading the signals well? Tone, body language, nuance? To do this requires practice, just as learning a foreign language does. It means listening carefully, asking for clarification, making sure I haven’t misunderstood or misinterpreted, not jumping to conclusions, putting two and two together and making five… It means responding rather than reacting – and there’s an important difference. As someone once said, it’s not a mistake that we’re born with one mouth but two ears!


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From The Rev’d Gareth Miller – February 2020

Brian Wood

The Rev’d Gareth Miller

Dear friends;

We have just heard the sad news of the death of The Reverend Mike Stokes, who was Vicar of Chesterton with Middleton Stoney and Wendlebury from 1989-95, and also a predecessor of mine as Rural Dean of Bicester and Islip. Mike was widely held in high regard, as was his wife Pat, and we send our condolences to his sons Andrew and Jonathan. The funeral will be in St Mary’s, Chesterton, on Monday 9 March at 12 noon.

Thinking about Mike has made me wonder what makes a good vicar. We have recently been advertising for a House for Duty priest, and it was an interesting challenge to be involved in framing the advert. Of course, we all tend to want a saint – good with the elderly, good with the young, a good preacher, a good visitor, a good listener, dynamic, a nice manner, etc etc! It’s quite a tall order for those of us called to this ministry. Surprisingly enough we, like you, have our individual faults and idiosyncrasies!

The Church of England has been criticised in some quarters, with some justification in my view, for being too managerial and too much focussed on outcomes and results. What, after all, is the measure of a ‘successful’ church? Most of our village churches are supported by a relatively small group of faithful Christians, who do their very best to live out the life that God calls us to. Having said that, it is important that clergy are accountable, and they should make to time to think about the way they spend their time, where they put their energy and focus, and what their priorities are. To this end I found it helpful yesterday to have my Ministry Development Review.

Here are some words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer which I have found helpful: ‘No one builds the church but Christ alone. Whoever is minded to build the church is surely well on his way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess – he builds. We must proclaim – he builds. We must pray to him – he builds. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great times of building. It may be that the times which from a human point of view are great times for the church are when it is pulled down. It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his Church: you confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is my province. Church, do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough.’


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