Rev. Brian Wood Farewell

Last Sunday 27th January it was Brian’s last service at Chesterton. Church was full of people, and had the opportunity to say goodbye to him and Erica.

Thank you to you both and we wish you all the best for future.

From The Rev’d Gareth Miller – February 2019

Brian Wood

The Rev’d Gareth Miller

Dear friends

I write this on the eve of the ‘meaningful vote’ in the House of Commons, and as the deadline for this letter is today I am in the tantalising position of not being able to reflect on the outcome. I gather it is even possible that the vote on the Prime Minister’s ‘deal’ may not take place at all if one of the amendments is approved.

How we discuss thing together as families, communities and nations is important. I am not convinced that the debate over our relationship with continental Europe has been conducted in a thoughtful and civilised way.

When the then Archbishop of Canterbury called the bishops of the Anglican Communion together for the 2008 Lambeth Conference he asked them to meet for discussion in indabas. He said this:

“We have given these the name indaba groups, groups where in traditional African culture people get together to sort out the problems that affect them all, where everyone has a voice and where there is an attempt to find a common mind or a common story that everyone is able to tell when they go away from it: ‘This is how we approached it. This is what we heard. This is where we arrived as we prayed and thought and talked together.’ “

Good relationships are characterised by a deep process of mutual listening and learning, like a dance – a two-way partnership with neither side dominating. Likewise, conversations need time and room to grow. It’s helpful to see every conversation as a potential learning experience. Very often we react far too quickly to what we hear. You make a point and I react. Responding, rather than reacting, has a different quality to it. It may only take a nanosecond longer, but the person who is responding has taken a moment to process what is being said and can reply from a more considered place. What is going on beneath the surface? What else do I need to know that might help me to understand why this person is thinking or behaving in this way? Can I learn anything from their body language? Do I need to ask for some clarification? Do I need to think about timing? Is what I am about to say helpful/necessary? Am I owning my own feelings? Am I aware of my own biases? I suppose what I am saying is ‘Listen to the music as well as the words.’

In the conversations about our nation’s future, I hope that, whatever the outcome (and we might know it by the time you read this!), we will try to listen to one another more attentively. It’s easy for people to feel left out, or patronised, or misunderstood when others assume a monopoly of truth or insight. This applies not only to nations, but to families and village communities as well.

Several people commented to me how hard they had found being together in large family groupings over Christmas. That is sometimes not only the hardest, but also the best place to practise some of these skills.


01869 350224

Christingle Kirtlington

Kirtlington Church – Sunday 2nd December 2018




Remembrance Sunday Sermon

Brian Wood

The Rev’d Gareth Miller

Have you ever thought about the coincidences that make you you? All those random connections of people meeting across the centuries that have culminated in you being you and me me. For example, if my father had not been a prisoner of war for four years I would never have existed and you would have a different rector standing in this pulpit. Why? Because when he came back from the war he found his wife with another man, leading to their divorce and his eventually meeting and marrying my mother.

I was born nearly twelve years after the end of the Second World War, but it was still very much the backdrop to my childhood, and there was constant reference to the war and the disruption and dislocation it had brought to our family. Moreover, there were still many people alive who could well recall the First War, including my own grandfather, who served in Egypt and received the DCM. And my mother worked for a time at The Star and Garter Home for disabled ex-servicemen and I remember as a boy going up there with her and meeting many of the men with no arms or legs, or neither. It’s now being turned into luxury flats.

We live in a very different era. There are fewer and fewer people alive today who even remember the second war.

Yet still we come. And in recent years the power of the poppy has gained fresh potency. In this centenary year there has been a host of special books, radio and television programmes and films to commemorate the ending of WW1. And I’ve been very moved this week to go into our village schools and to witness not only the care and thought that has gone into the commemoration, but also the interest it has aroused in the children.

Two things were central to those involved in the First World War. The first was a bitter awareness of the gulf between what was said at home and what was experienced in the trenches. Those returning from the trenches found themselves almost incapable of talking about what they had witnessed, partly because the language used by politicians and the press, from the comparative comfort of London, the language of chivalry and knightly deeds, bore so little resemblance to what was actually happening. The language that was so often used presupposed that glory in war was a wonderful, straightforward, righteous affair. The reality was unspeakably grim. The glory, if indeed there was any, was a lot more prosaic.

The second thing was that the nature of war had changed. Not only was it the first war fought with modern technology. It was also a war whose effects reached into almost every household in the land. And it was these two realisations which perhaps led at least some leaders in the Second WW to speak more soberly. Archbishop William Temple, for example, said “We recognise that this is all to do with the sin in which we’re all implicated, so that the best thing we can do is still a bad thing.” “War itself,” he said, “never produces a positive good, though it can restrain worse evils.” 1

I suspect that if we were to take a poll in church today we would find, as in the population at large, divergent views, sincerely held, on matters of war and peace and defence. There is, for example, a very honourable tradition of Quakerism and pacifism within the Christian community. Equally there are very deeply committed Christians in the armed forces, like General, now Lord, Dannatt. The issues, like most issues that affect us as a society, are deeply complex.

The rise of fundamentalism and populism that we are witnessing should be a warning to us all. Throughout history wars have been caused very largely by the megalomaniac tendencies of demagogic rulers, from Nebuchadnezzar and Herod in the Bible through to the dictators of the twentieth century, Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and, although perhaps not in the same league, Kim Jung Un, Putin, (Trump?) – leaders with a nationalistic agenda, often with territorial ambitions, often scapegoating minorities; vain men with over-sized egos, inflicting their narcissistic personality disorders on an often supine populace.

In OT times the people of Israel were ruled over for a period by judges. It wasn’t exactly egalitarian or what we would call democratic, but it was closer to democracy than an absolutist monarchical regime. But the people became restless and cried out, as they so often do when times are tough, for a strong leader. They instituted the monarchy, with mixed results.

The world today is hugely more complex than it was then, but just as susceptible to the attractiveness of simplistic solutions. After both the world wars there was a longing for peace and a recognition that something needed to be done to try to prevent war on that scale from happening again. After the First War the League of Nations was set up. But its effectiveness was limited by the fact that the US never officially joined, the USSR only belatedly, and Spain, Italy, Germany all withdrew in the 1930s. Its successor, the UN, set up after the Second WW, is still with us, mercifully. It has its flaws, but like the EU and other similar organisations, the flaws are only partly institutional. They exist also because of the reluctance of member states thoroughly to commit philosophically, existentially and financially.

If this place is to have any real significance, if Christian faith (or indeed any faith) is in any sense real to us, we can never glibly endorse the status quo nor the maxims and values of contemporary society, nor the inevitability of conflict. People of faith are those who ask difficult questions, of themselves and others. They are those who seek to bring the gospel values of integrity, justice, peace-mongering, fair-dealing into all the corners of their lives. They are those who stand up against racism, sexism, and jingoism. They are those who challenge our institutions and our systems whenever they seem to collude with oppression and corruption.

Each year we come to a service like this and pray for and pledge ourselves to work for peace. But unless we act on those pledges they remain ineffectual platitudes. I find that I cannot be a Christian with any real integrity unless I do something, however small, to build a juster, fairer, more equal world. It might mean joining a political party, it might mean signing a petition, it might mean supporting a charity. But doing nothing in the face of the world’s pain cannot be an option.

To me the world feels as if it’s going the wrong way. The grossly indecent accumulation of wealth by the few has got to be ethically wrong and will lead inevitably to increasing tension in society and potentially to war. The proliferation of arms, the degradation of the environment, the displacement of peoples – none of these has any coherence with the gospel message. We need to invest far more fully, individually and collectively, in bodies that are dedicated to the reduction of tensions and the fostering of interdependence between nations and communities.

It is not the Church’s task to tell people how to vote, or even what to think or do. It is the Church’s task to provide a place, a context, in which we work out for ourselves our own response to the invitation of Jesus to be peacemakers in whatever situation we find ourselves.

I spoke at the beginning about the disparity between how the first war was marketed at home and how it was experienced in the trenches. The prophet Micah also noticed a disparity between what was proclaimed and what was practised and he challenged the people of Israel with these words:

All the peoples walk each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God.2

Throughout history the people have been tempted to follow false gods. Throughout history the prophets have sought to draw them back. God grant us the wisdom to listen to the prophets of our own day, the prophets of peace, the prophets of reconciliation, and lead us away from the prophets of narcissism, of hedonism and all the others isms that have wrought such havoc in our world.

In the second lesson, Paul wrote to the Colossians about the graces that are needed for right living. He finishes: And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.3

God grant us the grace to listen to that word, and, as we listen, to hear.


1  Letter to a friend, November 1939.
2  Micah 4.5
3  Colossians 3.14

Away Day

Nearly 30 members of our Parochial Church Councils attended an Away Day at Bruern Abbey School in October to think and pray about the future of the benefice.

We had a really good conversation, helped by excellent input by Bob Wilkes, cake by Jo Cropp and lunch by Peter Driver.

Thanks to all involved.

Café Church

The second Café Church took place in Chesterton Community Centre on 21 October.

There was a powerful and moving testimony by Hilary Walbank and we all enjoyed coffee and pastries, Sunday papers, a quiz and a film clip.

Next date: 20 Jan at 1100 am.

From The Rev’d Gareth Miller – November 2018

Brian Wood

The Rev’d Gareth Miller

Dear friends,

There has been a spate of TV dramas recently: Bodyguard, The Cry, Killing Eve, the new Doctor Who. I rarely have time to watch a series, but last night, feeling slightly whacked, I sat down with my supper and flicked channels until I came across something that grabbed my attention. It was called ‘Butterfly‘ and centred around the internal dynamics of a family system, and certainly made compelling viewing. I suspect I’ll be back next week. The young boy is struggling with his identity and sexuality. The dad can’t handle this and has withdrawn from the family home and initially embarks upon another relationship. The mum, played by Anna Friel, tries to hold it all together. The daughter/sister is caught between them all.

We tend to think of these issues as modern problems, but I suspect they’ve always been there. The good thing is that by and large we are more open and honest about the complexity of role and gender than we were in the past. What it means to be male and female, or transgender, are openly discussed, but can be unsettling for many. You, like me, probably know many boys who do not fit into the conventional frame of what it means to be masculine. And probably just as many girls who don’t conform to the feminine stereotype. The selection of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court in the USA, and the subsequent scrutiny, highlighted in a very graphic way issues of male power and entitlement as well as the very real concerns raised by the ‘Me Too’ movement.

My reading of the life of Jesus Christ is that he was quick to forgive and slow to condemn. He had a ministry of blessing. That doesn’t mean that we should bless everything, however wacky, in the name of the Church. There are sometimes real and very difficult ethical issues. But it does mean that we have a bias towards generosity and compassionate love. Jesus treated people as individuals and sought to listen and love before he rushed to judgment. We should do the same.


Harvest Sunday 2018

Harvest Sunday at St Mary’s Church, Kirtlington.
















Fellowship of St Birinus 2018

Several members of our villages churches were recently admitted into the Fellowship of St Birinus by The Bishop of Dorchester.

This is awarded for long and dedicated service. The new members are Bob Hessian, Pam Miller and Bill Tootell (Weston), Jenny Miller (Wendlebury), Hilary Wallbank (Chesterton), Brian Waterhouse and Ann Mowat (Kirtlington).

They are shown here with other members of the fellowship from our benefice.
The award is also given to Greta Bickley (Bletchingdon) who was unable to be present at the service, and post-humously to Tony Bagnall Smith.

The Rev’d Gareth Miller

From The Rev’d Brian Wood – Sept. 2018

Brian Wood

When does Autumn start- has it already? Has ‘summer’ ended?- at least this year we can feel we have had some summer. According to the Met Office the ‘meteorological autumn’ runs September  1st to the end of  November.  The equinox (equal day and night lengths- 12 hours each) occurs September 22nd/ 23rd– a date significant to astronomers, and astrologers too. What about ‘quarter days’?- Lady Day, Midsummer, Michaelmas (29 September), Christmas Day. What about Harvest?

According to that post-modern oracle Wikipedia: ‘Harvest festival is traditionally held on the Sunday near or of the Harvest Moon. This is the full Moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox (22 or 23 September). The celebrations on this day usually include singing hymns, praying, and decorating churches with baskets of fruit and food in the festival known as Harvest Festival, Harvest Home, Harvest Thanksgiving or Harvest Festival of Thanksgiving’. Look out for dates for harvest thanksgivings and suppers for our parishes in the ABC!

Time- where does it go? Where does it come from? Is there a start of time? … an end? I’m hoping that you have managed some time off/ out/ away over the summer. With seasons and calendars in mind, the church marked 6th August as ‘the Feast of the Transfiguration’ when some of Jesus’ disciples (Peter, James and John) went up a mountain and had a ‘mountaintop experience’- seeing Jesus as he is- the son of God. They descend to the plain transformed, refreshed. I hope you will have had some time of refreshment, recreation, re-minding, regaining perspective, seeing new horizons, maybe from as clifftop, or on the beach.

Apparently the autumn is a time people think about new jobs, or about giving up jobs, maybe to ‘find themselves’ or pursue new or long-held ambitions, aspirations, ideas, dreams, plans, freedom from plans. John Henry Newman, the priest, poet and hymn-writer (‘Praise to the holiest in the height’) was pilloried (and unforgiven) by some for leaving the Church of England for ‘Rome’, following his conscience. Whatever we may think about ‘church’ and our preferences for or against new hymns, old hymns, ‘traditional’ language, incense, vicars, vestments, investments, … we can easily be distracted from the important things- like loving our neighbour, doing the right thing.

A quote attributed to Newman (‘feast day’ 11th August):

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments.
Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about.”

Autumn: a time for starts and restarts at school, college, uni … let us think of and pray for our young people that they too may be encouraged in their dream and ambitions, not just grades.

Rev Brian Wood

Chesterton Rectory
01869 369815