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.



Gareth and Bishop

Kirtlington Harvester