New Bishop of Oxford wants to encourage Fresh Expressions

The new Bishop of Oxford is looking forward to getting to know the people of Berkshire.

Earlier today, the Rt Revd Steven Croft was announced as the new incumbent for the post, which covers Anglican churches in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. He is currently the Bishop of Sheffield, but is no stranger to the region having studied at Oxford.

To mark the start of his new ministry, which will formally commence with an installation service at Christ Church Oxford in October, he took part in a whistlestop tour of the diocese on Tuesday.

Venues that he visited included meeting members of the farming community at Dorchester Abbey and serving lunch to homeless people who attend CIRDIC – the Churches In Reading Drop-In Centre. He was joined for the lunch by the Rt Revd Andrew Proud, the Bishop of Reading.

In one of his first interviews since his appointment was made public, Bishop Steven said he wanted to ensure the region’s churches worked more closely together. He also wants to the Church to play a part in address poverty in the region and is also looking forward to getting to meet everyone, regardless of their view of Christianity.

“We are looking forward so much to moving to the Diocese of Oxford, to serving the people of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire and engage with the life of churches and the other faith communities and the wider communities,” he said.

Part of this engagement, he feels, comes from the way in which the church reaches out to people and he felt that Reading’s CIRDIC centre was a great example. The centre, which is open during the day throughout the week offers food, shelter and support for people who are homeless or on the fringes of society. It is a pan-denominational project and has been operating for many years.

Bishop Steven said: “This homeless drop-in centre is a magnificent way for churches to respond, offering not just food and physical nourishment but fellowship, hospitality, treating people with dignity, a safe space for people where they can come.

“One of the priorities I have throughout my time as Bishop of Oxford is engaging with the poorest people in the community and with areas of deprivation so that the prosperity of this region is shared and enjoyed by everyone who lives and works here.”

Churches in Wokingham have been ‘cakebombing’ new residents moving into new houses being built as part of the borough’s regeneration project. They visit, offering a gift of cake and a warm welcome. This is something that Bishop Steven very much wants to encourage.

“Immediately before I became Bishop of Sheffield I worked for five years encouraging Fresh Expressions of Church across the whole of the Church of England and Methodist Church and other churches,” he explained.

“The Fresh Expressions movement is all about the Church going outside, to places where people are, serving people, loving and caring for them, and by those means, where they can, introducing them to Jesus Christ, so I absolutely want to encourage all the churches of this region to be creative, entrepreneurial, to be missional and to grow together.”

When asked where he saw the Diocese of Oxford in five years’ time, Bishop Steven gave a note of caution.

He said: “First of all I need to see where the church is here and now and I’ve only just begun to do that.”

However, he hopes that in fives years, the Church would be “Even more united, even more focused on mission and serving our wider society, growing and making disciples, adults, children and young people, and rejoicing in the wonderful gift we have of faith in Jesus Christ.”

Moving to the Diocese of Oxford, and being based in the city, means that there is a chance he could meet one of its most famous professors, Richard Dawkins. Is this something that he relishes?

“Yeah, I’m looking forward to meeting everyone actually, from all kinds of social backgrounds, from all kinds of academic to intellectual backgrounds,  from the youngest child to the oldest,” he said.

“I really enjoy people and I enjoy engaging with people. And of course,  there are people with many different views on the Christian faith I hope to have conversations with them all, learn something from them all and also share something of my own faith and story.”

N The Diocese of Oxford has a population of 2.3 million people, more than 800 churches and almost 600 parochial clergy. It also includes 12 secondary and 270 primary church schools.  Bishop Steven will be the Anglican church’s senior bishop for the Thames Valley..

The Oxford graduate met and married his wife Ann in the city and the family lived in Oxford from 2004 until 2009 when Bishop Steven was leading Fresh Expressions, an initiative aimed at encouraging new forms of church for the 21st century.

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