The United Parish of
Chinnor, Aston Rowant, Sydenham & Crowell

Pastoral Letters


Autumn Fires

In the other gardens

And all up the vale,

From the autumn bonfires

See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over

And all the summer flowers,

The red fire blazes,

The grey smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!

Something bright in all!

Flowers in the summer,

Fires in the fall!(by Robert Louis Stevenson)

Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem reminds us that we have bright fires (indoors and out) to cheer us as Autumn progresses, and in this beautiful part of the world, we also have the magnificent ever-changing riot of colour as we look upwards to the hills.

Autumn, and particularly November, can bring a sense of pausing. A necessary gap between the travelling and visiting of Summer and the coming expectations of Christmas.

Thinking further about the sense of pausing, I realise that there are two very significant dates in November when we have the opportunity, not only pause, but also to remember.

The first is All Souls Day, which is a day to remember our loved ones who have died, both in the recent and distant past.We are holding a special service (A Service for the Departed), on Sunday 5th November. If you are reading this in time and would like to take some time to remember your loved ones in a gentle service of candle light and prayer, then do join us at 4pm.

The second date for remembering is, of course, Remembrance Sunday which we will mark on Sunday 12th November. This is a more formal, ceremonial affair that continues to be an important commemoration of those who made the ultimate sacrifice and a reminder of the reality of war.

These two dates could make November seem like a gloomy month but it really needn’t be.Embracing the opportunity to be still and to remember can bring joy, laughter and healing.

And if you do take the time to pause for reflection, I hope that you will also connect to the many unique things of November that are to be thoroughly enjoyed!For me, its feeling fully justified to enjoy a hot chocolate; those bright crisp Autumnal mornings, which feel fresh and energising; bonfire night and the fireworks; being re-acquainted with a forgotten (but suddenly favourite) pair of gloves while diving into the pockets of a winter coat.

These are my favourite things, enjoy finding your November favourite things!

With Love and Light



Dear friends

Something that makes the churches in the United Parish so distinctive is their bells. Chinnor and Aston Rowant each have 6 tower bells; Sydenham has a carillion and Crowell has just the one, and all of them are used regularly prior to services and for special occasions such as weddings.

Over the centuries, our bells have spoken to the people of our villages with wordless voices.They have shouted in warning, wept in mourning and laughed in rejoicing; they have told the time and called the faithful to worship; they have brought their own special kind of music to the people of the villages. Although we can’t escape the constant noise of 21st century living buzzing around our ears, even here at the foot of the Chiltern hills, our bells cannot be entirely silenced.Because they have such power to stir the human soul, they still find a place in the modern world, bringing old traditions with them and making new ones. We have perhaps grown used to the sound of bells as part of the general sound of our villages, but we also need to remember that the bells don’t ring themselves.

Many years ago I responded to the cry of my then local parish for more bell ringers. Unfortunately my first attempt resulted in a broken finger, but I think such an accident is a rarity and bell ringing is something which brings people together rather than sends them to A and E! It clearly wasn’t my vocation, but maybe it’s yours? If you’re interested, then have an informal chat with Malcolm Barker (Tower Captain, St. Andrew’s) on 342917 or Robert Newton (Tower Captain, Sts. Peter and Paul, Aston Rowant) on 352926.

I’m tempted to quote Edgar Allan Poe’s wonderful poem, ‘The Bells’, in order to elicit your response, but because it’s rather long, I’ll leave you to look it up if you’re interested. Instead, here are a couple of short, anonymous ones. If you prefer the first, then bell ringing is NOT your vocation, but if you prefer the second, then perhaps the bells are calling you!

‘Old Church Bells’

Yank yank

clank clank

‘Short-cut to prayer’

Listen to church bells

while on your knees

Every blessing



Dear friends

Our new neighbours in the churchyard have literally been busy bees and have produced a much greater harvest than they did in their former home. Our bee keeper, Pete, has given me a jar of honey which I’ve shared with as many as possible, and those who have been able to taste it know that it tastes wonderful. This reminds me of a couple of things.

First, back in the 70s, or it may even have been the 60s, there was a slogan that appearedon Christian posters, bookmarks, and the like, which stated, ‘Bloom where you’re planted.’ It’s based on scripture (1 Corinthians 7.17-20) although it has taken on the meaning that we should always take advantage of the opportunties we have in our life and be grateful for where we are at the present moment. The bees seem to have done this, but I wonder why they didn’t thrive so well previously. I’m no expert, but if they’re anything like people, then they need the right conditions in which to thrive, no matter how hard they try to ‘bloom’. They clearly love the flowers that are available to them in our area, so thanks go to all our gardeners. Without bees, plants wouldn’t be fertilized, then crops would decline, the downward spiral would continue and…..well, the bottom line would be that humans wouldn’t have very much to eat. Bees are absolutely vital to our survival, so we need to encourage them as much as we can.

I’m also thinking about a verse from one of the Psalms, ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Ps. 34.8). If you’ve ever lovingly produced a bowl of something delicious for a bring and share supper and found that by the end of the meal your food hasn’t been touched, it’s a very hurtful experience. Quite often this happens because no one has provided a spoon. How can people taste the goodness of the food unless it’s accessible?

We might long to see our churches full of vibrant believers, but they’re not going to be able to taste unless we, as ‘the Church’ provide the means to do it. We can’t add anything to make the bowl of deliciousness even more so, but we can offer a little spoon, and we can do that because others have been ‘spoons’ for us.

So, after a dismal, wet summer, let’s rejoice that we have bees to feed us with food for our bodies, and that we have people in our lives who’ve led us to food for our souls.

Every blessing



Rev’d Dr Jacky Barr

Ordained Deacon 1st July 2017


An insight and some reflections on the process of being ordained.

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. (Isaiah 43:)

Before the day of ordination, myself and my fellow ordinands were secluded on a silent retreat.This is to encourage us to put down the busy-ness of daily life and focus on the coming ordination. The retreat was led by Bishop Steven, and it became an important time to remember that I had been called by God and that discernment had been undertaken, not just by me, but by many others who have supported me along the way. Like all major changes in life, it is easy to feel insecure about being ordained.“Really? Me?” I kept asking God.But “Yes, you!”is the answer that kept coming back.

I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’ (Psalm 122:1)

Well, actually, I was a little scared on the morning of ordination.What if I fell over my cassock?What if I stood up (or sat down) at the wrong time?What if my name wasn’t on the list?My brain was playing the ‘what if’ game which really wasn’t helping. To say there were some nerves is an understatement.The enormity of the occasion and the gravity of the promises to be made feel very heavy.

You cannot bear the weight of this calling in your own strength but only by the grace and power of God (The Ordinal)

These are words of great comfort and wisdom, said by the Bishop, as we stand before him, just before getting ordained.Thank goodness that the Church recognises and reminds us that we can’t do this alone.

Pray earnestly for the gift of the Holy Spirit (The Ordinal)

When the Bishop laid hands on my head, I can honestly say I’ve never felt more alive.It was an amazing moment of awesome power.I truly know that I have been ordained because of the power surge that went through me. Ontological change is the more technical term….

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all of the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. (Psalm 98: 4)

We processed out the Cathedral and I’m not even sure if the sun was actually shining, or not, but it was in my heart.I felt so happy.In my enthusiasm, I even hugged the Bishop – not sure if I was supposed to but I did it anyway!

Coming out of the Cathedral, the way the procession is ordered meant Maggie was one of the first out.This allowed Maggie and I to have a few quiet moments together, which felt very precious.And then:my friends and family exploded out of the Cathedral and I was engulfed in a tidal wave of love.Pure Love.And it was brilliant and overwhelming, joyous and overwhelming, glorious and overwhelming, wonderful and overwhelming!And I remain overwhelmed, in a good (though still sometimes tearful) way.

Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem (Psalm 122:2)

I have now arrived in the United Parish of Chinnor, Aston Rowant, Sydenham and Crowell.

Ordained and ready to serve, and I’m very happy to begin this next phase of my life’s journey with you and with Maggie, as my training incumbent.

At the time of writing, I’m not quite with you full time yet, as I’m still living in Newbury, while one of my daughters finishes the school term out, but by September I should be living in Chinnor.

Wishing you all a most splendid Summer!

With Love and Light



Dear friends,

July isn’t usually the time of new beginnings: it’s a time for getting out into the sunshine and fresh air and planning a holiday, or re-connecting with family and friends. This July is quite different for the United Parish.

Firstly, we welcome Jacky Barr, our new curate, who joins us officially on 2nd July. We’re delighted to have her and look forward to helping with her formation and also to enfolding her into the life and ministry of the whole community.

Whilst we welcome Jacky, we also say ‘Goodbye’ to old friends who’ve served the Parish for many years and who are now withdrawing from the Ministry Team.

Bob and Cindy Sluka and their family leave for the U.S.A. in August to begin a new chapter in their lives and continue their adventures within the body of Christ in Florida. Our thanks go to them for all their work with the young people of the Parish, the Chiltern Gateway Project (now Chinnor Churches Go Wild), Village Prayers, and leading and preaching at services. Their easy, outgoing manner and obvious effervesance of the Holy Spirit in all they do has been wonderful to work with and they will be missed. Our prayers for their onward journey go with them.

After decades of faithful devotion to God, to this Parish and especially to the children of the Parish, Dave Bartlett’s ministry has reached its fulfillment and he will be retiring to enjoy more time with Monica and his family. Of course, you can’t keep a good man down, and Dave will continue to be a Godly presence for us in a reduced way.

Brian Skinner has also decided that, due to his failing sight, he too will withdraw from the Ministry Team but will continue to support us, and the Parish, in prayer and in offering wise counsel.

Tess Wyatt withdrew from the Team a few months ago to re-assess her ministry and has decided that she can do what she does without being ‘official’. She is enjoying spending more time in the pews, worshipping with John rather than leading and preaching, and is continuing her ministry on an ad hoc basis.

Similarly, Mark Humphrey withdrew recently to spend more time with his family, but he is still very active with serving at the altar, reading, leading intercessions, and is a member of the Fabric and Buildings Committee.

Ministry and discipleship doesn’t cease - it evolves as we grow. My role is going to change very soon as I become not just Rector, but Training Incumbent, and already I’ve had to address some of my commitments, and withdraw from some of them, as I take on new responsibilites. It’s a time of letting go and stepping back in order to let the Holy Spirit move freely among us, but it’s potentially a hard time as everyone knows that change is difficult, as well as exciting. Please pray for the renewed Ministry Team as we get used to the changes and a new direction.

I’d like to thank those who are leaving for all they’ve done and to thank those who are continuing in their commitment to the Ministry Team.

The team is now as follows:

Rector to the United Parish - The Rev’d Maggie Thorne

Assistant Curate -The Rev’d Dr. Jacky Barr

with local groupings -

Chinnor: The Rev’d Maggie Thorne, The Rev’d Dr. Jacky Barr and Margaret Poole

Aston Rowant: The Rev’d Des Foote, The Rev’d Dr. Brian Griffiths and Jo Whitfield

Sydenhan: The Rev’d Joan DeVal

Crowell: The Rev’d Maggie Thorne, Jo Whitfield

As we seek to be united, you will see us all around the Parish in various ways, as usual, ministering in God’s name and for the sake of HIs Kingdom.

Every blessing



Dear friends

I’m delighted to say that the building of the new Rectory has begun. There was a long pause between the archeological dig last year when Saxon walls were discovered and various bits and pieces of artefacts had to be removed and the lines of walls documented, but the build itself is now well under way. Hopefully, it will all be complete by the autumn.

I’m reminded of several stories about building in the Bible: the building of the Temple in Jerusalem by King Solomon, the parable of the wise man who built his house upon a rock (and the foolish one who built his on sand) (Matthew 7. 24-27/Luke 6. 46-49) and the building of the tower of Babel (Genesis 10. 9-10). This was a massive, grandiose construction and its builders intended it to reach heaven. The story goes that the whole world had only one language at the time, so everyone could understand each other. God saw the tower that was being built and perceived what a powerful force the people’s unity of purpose created. In his wisdom, God saw that the people were building a monument to themselves to draw attention to their abilities and great achievement and that this could only lead them away from him. As a result, he confused their language and caused them to speak in many languages so that they couldn’t understand each other. The plans failed and the people scattered over the whole earth. The point of the story is that a unity of purpose which has its roots in human ambition and selfishness can be destructive.

June 4th this year is the day when the Church celebrates its birthday with Pentecost (Whitsun), the coming of the Holy Spirit. In the Pentecost account (Acts 2. 1-13), the Spirit descends as tongues of fire and everyone present starts to speak in diverse languages. Oddly, those who were present and who came from many other countries, heard and understood what was being said: everyone was speaking of the power of God. This seems to me like Babel in reverse. What happened there confused the world by dividing it into separate countries and languages, resulting in misunderstanding, rivalries and conflict. Pentecost is the beginning of the reunification of humanity, but its central meaning

concerns the descent of the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus enabling his presence and mission to continue in the world today.

Pentecost doesn’t feature much in the calendar, except for church attenders, but with the imminent General Election and the continuing negotiations towards leaving Europe, perhaps we can all learn a lesson from it: that we need to pull together for understanding and lasting peace and be unified by the love of God.

Below is one of the prayers that the Church of England has published in advance of the Election.

Every blessing


Heavenly Father

source of all truth and wisdom, who knows and loves the whole creation,

watch over our nation at election time:

that truth may prevail over distortion,

wisdom triumph over recklessness

and the concerns of every person be heard.

Lord Jesus,

who chose the way of the cross in the Garden of Gethsemane,

help us to turn our backs on self interest

and to support policies that sustain the poor, the vulnerable and the frightened people of this world.

Holy Spirit,

who brought understanding among myriad peoples and languages at Pentecost,

give to all your people a passion for peace

and inspire us to work for unity and co-operation throughout the world and in our political life together.



Dear friends

The chocolate may have been eaten and a time of rest taken, but we’re still in the Easter season. One of my favourite post-Easter Day readings is the account of the walk to Emmaus (Luke 24.13-35) which reminds us that the risen Christ accompanies us through the miserable times as well as the good.

There is much for us to relate to in this passage: the disciples are looking inwards, blind to anything but their own troubles. Jesus comes, not with ready-made solutions but with an invitation to meet a God greater than our own images, beyond the limits of our interpretations and understanding. It is in word and sacrament that this God is revealed, always stretching the boundaries we set, always calling us deeper and closer. How can we know if it is the God of Jesus that we have found? Not through glib religious clichés, but through a word alive and active that probes us to our depths. Even in dark times, faith can be strengthened, hope rekindled, and love for God made visible in service to others. We walk by faith without seeing and the response of heart guides our way. But what I love most about the reading is that Jesus comes to meet his friends in the most ordinary of ways. Yes, he is found in church, but he can be found in our homes, as we work and as we play too.

Every blessing



Dear friends

St. Andrew’s office is often a hive of activity with callers from all four corners of the parish dropping in for the magazine, for information, to practise the organ, to light a candle, to add a name to the prayer list, and of course, to attend services. Holy Week and Easter is an especially buzzy time doing our various parish tasks, not to mention our community, work and domestic activities. We are all busy little bees! Tell me to beehave if you like, but I can’t resist a few bee jokes this month because if you look very closely in the quietest corner of the St. Andrew’s churchyard, you’ll see that we have some new neighbours.

As part of our greening the parish through Eco Church and our A Rocha involvement and extending our sacred spaces into the outdoor places, a local beekeeper and friend of the parish has agreed to place some of his hives in the churchyard. The PCC is very excited about this and at our most recent meeting, all of the churchwardens were keen to know when further hives could be placed in all of our other churchyards too.

It is well-documented that sadly bees are in decline due to the loss of wild flowers in our countryside. Churchyards and burial sites are ideal places for bees to find a home and food and although we won’t see much of them, we can learn a lot from them.

Bees live within their means.

Bees achieve extraordinary things by working together. 10s of 1000s behave as a single organism.

Bees demonstrate that division of labour can be highly efficient. and everyone knowing how to do the full range of essential jobs makes for flexibility and adaptability.

Bees are opportunists, taking advantage of available food as soon as conditions are right.

A bee’s first duty is to the colony. They will sacrifice themselves without hesitation if they perceive a threat.

Bees are always well-prepared for shortages.

Bees share and do not compete with other species.

Bees adapt to their surroundings.

Bees understand that honest communication is at the heart of community. They are great communicators. They are incapable of telling anything but the truth as they understand it.

The survival of bees depends on selecting high quality pollen. Because humankind has assumed control of much of the available land for our own purposes, we are responsible for ensuring that they continue to have access to flowers uncontaminated by toxic chemicals to which they have no defence. This is something we can help with and something from which we can learn. Please keep our ‘outdoor church’ plans in your prayers and let’s look forward to some new life and energy in our sacred spaces.

May the celebration of resurrected life bring new hope to your being,
may the victory over earthly death turn your eyes to the promises of heaven,

may the empty tomb help you to leave your sorrows at the foot of the cross

so that God’s hope, promises and forgiveness reign in your life forever.

Every blessing this Easter and always,



Dear friends

Although Lent is liturgically the time the Church prepares for the great celebration of Christ’s triumph over death, traditionally it’s the time for giving something up. Even for those who don’t regularly attend church, we often hear, ‘I’ve given up this, that, or the other for Lent’ whether it be chocolate, crisps, cheese or wine. It’s intended to be a penance for our conscious or unconscious propensity to go our own way rather than God’s, but it can become a tag for just going on a diet, putting right all the wrong choices and late night snacks we vowed we wouldn’t fall prey to in our New Year’s resolutions.

Some people prefer to take something on instead of giving something up. That can mean anything from going to the gym or reading a good book every week. It might even mean reading a devotional book. You’ll have to make up your own mind what you want to give up or take on, but here are some suggestions for making a real difference, spiritually. Eating healthily, exercising moderately and reading instead of watching TV are only going to make a difference to your shape and concentration.

One year I took up reading a particularly challenging book. I remember little about it except for one thing: the suggestion to give up complaining. When we give up chocolate, what’s the first thing we crave? Yes, it’s chocolate, of course. The same applied to complaining, and I soon realised just how much I was doing it! How about forsaking gossiping or being dismissive?

If you’d rather take something on, then how about reading the Bible or attending our Lent course? Short on time? Well then, my latest discovery for busy people is the App, ‘Pray as you go’. It’s free and lasts for about 10 minutes. There’s no reading, just a few moments to reflect with some helpful pointers and beautifully chosen music. Or maybe you need some help with your spiritual journey? This is what I’m here for. How about taking an hour out of the 6 weeks of Lent and chatting about where you are, spiritually?

How about taking up the challenge and doing Lent a little differently for the sake of your soul?

Every blessing for a fruitful and fulfilling Lent.



Dear friends

After having a good break after Christmas and having my usual system thrown out of kilter, I’ve finally settled back down to my daily pattern of reading in the morning for 30 minutes. Several lines have leapt from the pages of the latest book I’m reading which I’d like to share with you.

The first quote comes from the comedian and committed Roman Catholic, Frank Skinner, who notes in his autobiography, that through his experience “only Christian belief can definitely guarantee you the label ‘weird’.” The second comes from the comedian and atheist, Stephen Fry, who, when asked what he would say to God at the pearly gates if it turned out it was all true, said, “Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain?’ I wonder whether these views reflect attendance in our churches? Unfortunately, both views are rather shallow. Is it really weird to stand up for the poor, the disadvantaged, the marginalised? Is it really weird to believe that the world is a beautiful place, but that it’s beautiful because things die and are reborn? Is it really weird to believe that there is purpose to life which transcends life? Is it really weird to believe that love is stronger than death? I’ve been a Christian for so long now that it would be weird for me not to believe, but I do find that my beliefs shift slightly as I get older, read more and listen more to the experiences of others.

The third quote comes from the comedian Russell Brand. I’m not certain what his religious beliefs are, but he clearly has deep convictions about God.He suggests that “All desires are the inappropriate substitute for the desire to be at one with God”. He speaks from extensive experience as someone who has used inappropriate subtitutes in the past, so for me, his is the quote that I’ll remember as being closest to the Truth.

I’m not bothered if people think me weird. Hopefully, no Christian will be. We follow in Christ’s steps because we have had a glimpse of heaven (maybe more than one) and experience of His presence in our lives. Let us hope and pray that shallow views may be gently challenged and that those of us who do believe will be able to somehow reveal the love and presence of God in this part of His wonderful world.

Every blessing



Dear friends

After such turbulent times and some major political shocks in 2016, many of us will be all too pleased to welcome the New Year, yet this is the season for rain, freezing temperatures, even snow, and those things sometimes bring with them worries of flooding, burst pipes and so on. With our Christmas celebrations already now a distant memory and with ‘the bleak midwinter’ staring at us, it might cause us to feel down in the dumps, so here’s a thought or two to lift our spirits.

Ice is one of God’s gifts that we can take for granted. To get a few cubes to cool our drinks, we only have to open the freezer door. Ice can be used to heal our wounds. If we apply it to bruises, aching muscles and burns, we can ease swelling and pain. In the far north, glaciers move down mountains, separating and forming icebergs in the ocean. On bright days, refracted sunlight makes the icebergs look blue. Winter often brings sleet, tiny frozen drops of rain. Sometimes rain freezes into ice as it falls, transforming the world into a cystal fairy land that makes us all, momentarily at least, stop, stare and wonder. We stand back and marvel at the beauty of the ice and the powerful presence of its Creator.

May our eyes be open to the beauty of the earth that surrounds us through every season.

Stay warm and have a very happy New Year!

Every blessing