Reproduced here by kind permission of the Maidenhead Advertiser, this report appeared in the week ending July19, 2018 edition of the paper. Words by Georgina Bishop, photo by Nick Parford.

Bray welcomes its new vicar at service
Bray: ‘it was wonderful so many people came, I felt very supported’


The Vicar of Bray with Braywood, Rev'd Ainsley Swift, outside St Michael's Church.

There was a celebratory atmosphere in the village on Thursday evening as the new Vicar of Bray with Braywood was formally inducted. The village green was full of cars as crowds of about 200 people made their way to St Michael’s Church for a service of collation and the induction and installation of Reverend Ainsley Swift. Since the Rev Richard Cowles retired in September the parish have been without a permanent vicar.

The service of collation was carried out by the Rt Rev Andrew Proud, Bishop of Reading, while the Venerable Olivia Graham, Archdeacon of Berkshire, led the induction and installation. It officially marked Rev Swift’s commiment to the congregation who came in their droves to see the service.

Speaking this week, the Reverend said “It’s really exciting to start afresh. The Collation service is legal and spiritual, so it’s all about new beginnings and building on the work of the previous vicar.”
Speaking to the crowd Rev Swift said “People were coming to see what they were in for and there was a large number of people from Windsor. “It was wonderful that so many people came, I felt very surprised.”

Since leaving his role as rector at four churches in three parishes in the Wndsor area, Rev Swift has enjoyed a holiday in Italy and a settling in period at the vicarage. “Towards the the end I was quite keen to get going on the job,” he said. Rev Swift’s first job in his new role was *Sunday worship, which he said drew a big congregation.

An automatic responsibility inherited with the role of the Vicar of Bray is that of school governor
at Braywood CofE First School in Oakley Green Road and Holyport CofE Primary School,
Stroud Farm Road.

*Sunday 15 July 2018

Meet the Reverend Ainsley Swift, our new Vicar

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places

The interregnum is over! A new Vicar has arrived and been Collated and Inducted and Installed!

So, what’s this new Vicar like and, perhaps more importantly, what are his plans for the church?!?

If you’ll indulge me, I will give you a bit of information about myself…

I was born in Penny Lane in Liverpool. I came from a Christian family, they belonged to a denomination known as Plymouth Brethren or just Brethren. The Christian faith became my own when I was about 16 or 17 as I attended a Brethren Communion Service. As bread and wine was blessed and broken, the penny dropped for me, this Christian life, which I thought was about trying to be really good (and usually failing) was actually about the unconditional love of God for everyone, even me! It was a gift to be received, as was this bread and wine, Christ himself present to be received freely.
became an Anglican while at Teacher Training College and after college worked in community development (more about that another day) including a number of years with The Children’s Society.

The sense of calling to ordained ministry recurred from time to time and eventually I went to train for the Anglican Priesthood at theological college at Cuddesdon (where I met Richard and Maureen Cowles in the year above me). After college:

  • Curacy in Liverpool
  • Team Vicar in Windsor
  • Then eventually Rector of Windsor
  • 20 years in Windsor

My call to Bray began when I encouraged clergy friends to apply for this post. I was telling them what a wonderful opportunity it would be; large parish, one church (the Holy Grail of Anglican ministry!)… then I wondered: “if I am telling everyone else how wonderful Bray is perhaps I should have a go!” Bishop Andrew had asked to see me and I had thought “This must be about Bray” in fact Andrew asked if I would be Area Dean, I must have looked a little nonplussed “Bishop, I had imagined you wanted to talk to me about Bray!” After the confusion settled I was left with the question “If it’s not the Bishop prompting me about Bray, perhaps it’s Somebody else!”

For the interview here candidates were asked to make a presentation on: “Strategies for bringing those attending St Michael’s for School Services and Music events into the regular worshipping community.”

My answer in summary (you can see the full presentation elsewhere) was

Build!

Build expectation…

Build on our spiritual journey, everyone has one…

Build our relationships… in church AND wider community,

Build on what we are good at…

He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

Collation & induction of Ainsley Swift in Bray
Thursday 12th July 2018

The service was carried out by Rt Revd Andrew Proud, Bishop of Reading and the Ven. Olivia Graham, Archdeacon of Berkshire.

Hosea 11: 1,3-4, 8-9
Matt 10: 7-15

It is a wonderful to be here this evening, with Bishop Andrew, to collate and induct Ainsley to the ministry he will share with you, and to be with you at the beginning of a new and exciting chapter in the life of this parish.  Since Richard left, you have managed the period of vacancy magnificently, and I want to thank, hugely, all those who have been keeping the life of the church going during this period. It has been a team effort and it’s rather invidious to single anyone out, but you know who you are, and what you’ve done. I also want thank the clergy who have helped out and supported you in the vacancy.

So the vacancy is over, Ainsley and Jane have arrived and great is the rejoicing.  Tonight kicks off Ainsley’s formal ministry among you… what happens next?

In your parish profile, you have spoken about your mission action plan, and your God-filled desire to reach out, especially to the younger people in your community.  To use the giftedness among you.  To build and establish lay involvement in all aspects of the church’s ministry and life.  To put in place good and sustainable infrastructure to enable the administration of the parish to happen smoothly.

These are holy and good desires, and why would God not bless them?

Of course it won’t all happen at once.  You will take a bit of time to get used to each other;  Ainsley to work out the way you do things around here (that’s called culture), and you to work out that he’s not Richard!  You will come to know who he is and what he brings which can helpfully and positively challenge your culture in such a way that you are able to move towards the things which you have longed for, prayed about and written about.

I’ve chosen two readings for tonight which I think might be helpful.

The first is from the book of the prophet Hosea.  Hosea lived in the 8th century BC, and married a woman who was unfaithful to him, perhaps a prostitute.  The sad story of Hosea’s marriage is in microcosm the story of God’s relationship with the people he loves, the people of Israel.  They are unfaithful, inconsistent, turn their backs on their true God and chase after idols.  The wealthier and more prosperous they get, the more they forget the source of their wellbeing, and worship other gods. 

God is angry, and threatens them with terrible destruction.  But the heart of OT theology is revealed in chapter 11 of this wonderful book.  Here God relents, remembering with huge and tender love the great and unchanging relationship God has for God’s people, remembering them as a parent does a beautiful and cherished child.  God realises that God can never give them up to destruction:  the bond of love is too strong to be broken by any rebellion or blasphemy. 

Now I’m not suggesting in any way that you are rebellious or blasphemous.  No, the message is this:  God loves us all with an incredible and beautiful tenderness, knowing us as we are, and accepting us as we are, while longing for us to be all that we can be.  And it’s not just the people sitting in this church tonight; not just the faithful congregations which gather on Sundays; not just those who come to us, occasionally, for weddings, baptisms, funerals, who are loved in this way by our God.  It is the whole of humanity.  It is those who walk down the street outside, and go to the shops, and teach and learn in the school, and live in these houses and flats and mansions – all, all are loved by God with an incredible and beautiful tenderness.  And out of the knowledge that you are loved in this way, you long to reach out and share this knowledge and this deep affection with all those others who may not even realise what a gift they have been given.

So my first prayer for you is that your understanding of God’s tender love for you will deepen and increase and set your hearts on fire. 

The second reading for this evening is the story of the mission which Jesus gives to his followers.  Jesus knows them by name, gives them authority and sends them out on a journey.  He sends them to what he calls the ‘lost sheep’ – those who no longer recognise the voice of their shepherd.  And he gives them some specific instructions.

He tells them not to worry about resources;  not to worry about provisions;  not to wait until they have saved up enough money; and he tells them to travel light.  They are enough.  He tells them not to think about what they will get out of it:  they have received God’s gifts completely free of charge, and out of gratitude they share these gifts. 

And crucially, he tells them to focus.  To focus on where the ground is already soft.  To find the places and the people where there is interest and hospitality and to base themselves there.  And if they go to places where there is little interest or receptiveness, simply to move on and not to waste their breath. 

So some key messages for you in this phase of your ministry and common life, as you seek to reach out into the community around: Know that you are deeply loved;  go out;  don’t worry;  focus

I want to say something else about focus.  Deciding where to focus your energy and attention in mission is a matter for discernment, and then for trial and error.  Something which may seem to be a great idea may not bear fruit.  Don’t be afraid to experiment and to stop doing things which aren’t fruitful.  And don’t be afraid to try things which seem a little unusual. 

I know that Ainsley will be leading you in much discernment in these next few years.  A good starting place is to spend time dwelling in the Scriptures;  maybe in a single passage of Scripture for a while.  Tell each other what you think God is saying to you as a church or as individuals through it.  Churches which do this together and do it regularly find that they become tuned into God in a powerful way.

Then make sure that you find out what the community knows about this church, and what they think about it.  People will know that the building is here.  But what do they know about the Christian witness which is here?  What assumptions do they make?  Listen to them.  Notice what is going on already in the community, in the schools and places where people meet, and see where God is already at work.  Seek out those you can work with, partner with.  They may not be churchgoers;  they may not be Christians;  but they will be people of peace and goodwill.  And they are all around you. 

Focus is going to be very important for you, I think.  There are two water images of church which spring to my mind.  The first is of a fountain,  a beautiful construction through which water rushes upwards and then falls gently, wetting slightly an area around it.  The second is of an irrigation system, water flowing in well defined channels to specific places to reach those places which have been pre-decided and make something happen there.

When I think of Bray church, I think of the fountain.  It is lovely, and is a place where God is worshipped through word and music in the beauty of holiness.  By bringing people into its purview, they may well receive a wetting of God’s blessing.  And that is good, but maybe sometimes doesn’t quite wet those who need it.

There are churches not far away which operate far more in irrigation mode.  They are very clear and intentional about what they are doing and how they are doing it.  That has good aspects too, but maybe doesn’t always allow for the the sometimes wild and opportunistic wind of the Spirit to blow.

Is there another image which would somehow combine the best aspects of both?  I think of the picture in Ezekiel 47 of the water flowing from the Temple and broadening and deepening from a trickle to a stream and then to mighty river.  Bishop Steven talked about this at the recent clergy conference. A small trickle of living water flows from the place of prayer and worship, and it holds the power of life.  The water grows and deepens as it flows, until finally it is so deep that we cannot stand in it, only swim.

The water brings life to the desert around it where nothing grows.  All kinds of new things grow on its banks;  trees for food and for healing.  The water brings life. Everything which is touched by it lives.  It is a river of God’s renewing grace and power.  I wonder if that is an image which might resonate for you as you think about the ministry and mission of this church over the next few years. If it is, then I would encourage you all, every one, to jump in and go with the mighty flow, gradually broadening your reach and deepening your relationships, but not trying to do everything at once, and NOT expecting the vicar and a small number of committed people to do it all.  God’s renewing grace and power flows through everyone and is for everyone.

So as you look afresh at your mission action plan, it will be important that you think about these things.  And that you ask yourselves penetrating questions about focus as you seek together to go deeper in Christ and to find the new springs of life of yourselves and your community in the immeasurable waters of grace.

Let us pray:

God of gentleness and love
Draw near to us as we draw near to you
Dwell in every heart and conversation
Fashion in us the likeness of your Son, Jesus Christ.
Help us to discern together all that you are calling us to be
And all that you are calling us to do.
Help us, by your Spirit, to become a more contemplative,
more compassionate and more courageous Church
for the building of your kingdom and the glory of your Son
Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.



31 October 2018

Dear Ainsley

“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3.14)

As a Bishop’s staff we spent some time recently reflecting on the Letter to the Colossians and our call to be a more Christ-like Church: contemplative, compassionate and courageous for the sake of God’s world.

In the light of our time together, we want to offer some reflections on current debates and developments in the Church of England in the area of human sexuality. We do so with humility and some hesitation. It is not easy to make a meaningful contribution to the present debate for a number of reasons. But we have received many requests for guidance and we are convinced that remaining silent on these issues is not serving the Church well.

What is the national process? 

You will remember that the Pilling Report in 2013 was followed by a listening process with a series of regional conversations. The House of Bishops then brought to the General Synod in February 2017, a report with proposals on how to move forward from the Shared Conversations. Very unusually, the General Synod voted not to take note of the document.

In a pastoral letter issued after this debate, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York announced the formation of a Pastoral Advisory Group chaired by the Bishop of Newcastle and the development of a comprehensive document on human sexuality to be led by the Bishop of Coventry.

The Archbishops also called in their letter for “a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church founded in scripture, in reason, in tradition, in theology and the Christian faith as the Church of England has received it.” They emphasise the love of God for all people:

“We want to make clear some underlying principles. In these discussions, no person is a problem or an issue. People are made in the image of God. All of us, without exception, are loved and called in Christ. There are no ‘problems’. There are simply people called to redeemed humanity in Christ.”

The College of Bishops met in early September this year and engaged with the work of the Pastoral Advisory Group and the emerging project to develop learning and teaching resources, now called Living in Love and Faith.

The Pastoral Advisory Group is seeking to issue new pastoral guidance within the Church of England’s current legal, doctrinal and liturgical frameworks accompanied by some new resources. The groups working on Living in Love and Faith are hoping to publish their work in a variety of resources in early 2020.

The wider debate 

Whilst this work is going on, attitudes to LGBTI+ people in Church and society continue to change and evolve and other churches in the United Kingdom and the Anglican Communion engage in similar conversations.

LGBTI+ Christians have always been, and remain, actively involved as clergy and laity in all areas of church life, and at all levels. How open and authentically themselves they may be in this is the issue at stake. We are conscious as bishops of the pain felt by many LGBTI+ people and their families in the midst of these continuing debates. As a Church we have continually failed our sisters and brothers in Christ.

We are also aware of the strongly held views of many in these debates, grounded in deep convictions. We are aware that the exchanges themselves can be hurtful and damaging especially when conducted through social media or rapid email exchanges, and particularly for those whose very identity is problematised. Bullying and harassment are damaging and not acceptable as part of the reasoned and loving debate the Church needs to have.

We are mindful of the fact that a number of individuals within this Diocese holding different views are currently playing a role in national and international debates. We hope that each will be supported and respected by their home diocese in the ministry to which they have been called.

Inclusion and respect 

It is clear that it will be some time before the process of discernment in the Church of England reaches a conclusion. During that period we want to encourage, above all, an attitude of inclusion and respect for LGBTI+ people across the Diocese of Oxford.

Talking about sexuality and gender identity in the Church may be, and often is, difficult. It involves our deeply personal loves and the attachments that shape them; our understanding of ourselves and our relationship with God and others, and our approach to Scripture and the core convictions of our faith. To talk about these things is to make ourselves vulnerable. Moreover, in the Church of England conversations about these matters often bear a weight of pain and distrust caused by the past and present experiences of hurt, exclusion and misunderstanding. However, many speak of such conversations as being ultimately liberating and positive.

Debates about human sexuality and gender identity in the Church seem likely to continue, and perhaps to grow in intensity, over the coming years. It is important that these debates should be grounded in Scripture, reason and tradition as well as in deep prayer and our common life of worship. They must also be conducted with attention to people’s experiences and in a spirit of love, mutual care and respect.

We want to commend to the Diocese of Oxford the five principles recently commended to the Diocese of Lichfield by Bishop Michael Ipgrave and his colleagues. These are founded on the basic principle that all people are welcomed in God’s Church: everyone has a place at the table. Such radical Christian inclusion brings practical consequences for our local churches and for our Diocese as a whole:

  1. It is the responsibility of all Christians, but especially those who hold the Bishop’s Licence as clergy or lay ministers, to ensure that all people know that there is a place at the table for them. Preaching, teaching and pastoral responsibilities need to be exercised sensitively, and with this core principle in mind.
     
  2. Intrusive questioning about someone’s sexual practices or desires, or their experience of gender, is inappropriate. It is also unacceptable to tell or insinuate to people that sexual orientation or gender identity will be changed by faith, or that homosexuality or gender difference is a sign of immaturity or a lack of faith.
     
  3. We want to make clear that nobody should be excluded or discouraged from receiving the Sacraments of Baptism or the Lord’s Supper on the grounds of their sexual orientatceiving the Sacraments of Baptism or the Lord’s Supper on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
     
  4. We wish to affirm that LGBTI+ people are called to roles of leadership and service in the local church. Nobody should be told that their sexual orientation or gender identity in itself makes them an unsuitable candidate for leadership in the Church.
     
  5. Finally, we wish both to acknowledge the great contribution that LGBTI+ Christians are making, and have made, to the Church in this diocese, and to highlight the need for mission within the LGBTI+ community more broadly.

Liturgy and prayers 

The House of Bishops Guidelines on Same Sex Marriage acknowledge that “same sex couples will continue to seek some recognition of their new situation in the context of an act of worship” (19).

As Bishops we are receiving an increasing number of enquiries seeking guidance in this area. There is no authorised public liturgy for such prayers. The Guidelines are clear that “Services of blessing should not be provided” (21). However, there is positive encouragement for clergy to respond pastorally and sensitively.

We warmly welcome dialogue and conversation with clergy across the Diocese who are looking for further guidance. This is, of course, one of the key areas under review in the Pastoral Advisory Group. Depending on the timetable of the national group’s work, we may look to draw the fruits of our own conversations and reflections together in the short term for the benefit of this Diocese.

A new chaplaincy team for the LGBTI+ people and their families 

We are also actively exploring the setting up a new chaplaincy team for the LGBTI+ people and their families and loved ones, across the Diocese. Over the summer we have been seeking to learn from other dioceses in this area, including in the Church in Wales. The team will probably take the form of a volunteer chaplain or chaplains in each episcopal area giving time to this ministry alongside their other work. The role of the chaplains will be to listen, to offer support and to advise local clergy and congregations and ourselves in our welcome and support of LGBTI+ people and their families, and to learn from the insights of LGTBI+ people about being church together.

In all of this we ourselves and the chaplaincy team will continue to work within existing Bishop’s Guidelines on human sexuality in this next stage of the national process.

Continued listening 

As bishops we will continue to listen to different streams in the debate. We will seek to be honest about our own views and also listen with respect to the views of others.

We will be setting aside additional time in the coming year to listen in particular to the experiences of LGBTI+ people. Bishop Steven has drawn together a small informal group of LGBTI+ people as advisors in this process. If anyone would like to contribute to this group or feed in reflections we have created an email account for this purpose: inclusion@oxford.anglican.org

We are concerned to listen well to LGBTI+ people from a variety of perspectives including both those seeking change in the Church of England’s polity and those seeking to to live faithfully within it.

Compassion, gentleness and respect 

Finally we return to our beginning. All things and all people hold together in Christ. The way we engage in debate in areas of difference is part of our witness to the world. We are to clothe ourselves in this as in everything else with love.

Therefore “as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.” These are the qualities we need as the church as we continue to build a common life together.

We commend these qualities and our ongoing process to the prayers of the Diocese.