Sarah and I had been co-leading a church in Chichester for ten years.
Together with the leaders of the church we caught a vision to re-open a decommissioned NHS Chapel on the Graylingwell Hospital site next to the University.
A developer bought the site with a view to building an estate of eco friendly homes with a combination of social housing starter homes to expensive private residencies. Their plan was to redevelop existing hospital buildings into luxury flats while retaining some for NHS use, the main part of the estate would be completely transformed by several hundred new homes. Right in the middle of this development was Graylingwell Chapel, once used by the hospital, now virtually derelict and boarded up. We managed to do a deal with the then Homes & Communities Agency to re-open the chapel as a centre for the community and a sacred space for our church.
We experienced something of a miracle.
At first the owners said we could use the building for an annual charge of £20,000. As a church we were sure that God was calling us to move into this building, so we continued to pursue our goal of moving in on Easter Sunday, 2010.
Shortly before we were due to move in, I had a call from the Home & Communities Agency saying they had changed their minds – they would be charging us a peppercorn rent of £2 per year! We continued to pay this for the whole time that we were there in the chapel. And it did become a hub for the community with all kinds of activities taking place, including a 200 strong Community Choir running every Tuesday night.
As a Bishop’s Mission in the Church of England, we had the flexibility to do church a little differently and drew people of all ages and backgrounds into a lively and growing church family.
But then it happened. It was bound to happen sooner or later.
After 10 years of ministry in this challenging but exciting situation, Sarah, who is also ordained as a priest in the Church of England, felt God calling her to further study in Oxford.
Her own journey following God’s call on her life would fill a book all on its own. The challenges she had to overcome and the battles she faced would have been insurmountable to many, but she kept pressing forward and she was accepted into Oxford University to study for a Masters in Theology based at Wycliffe Hall.
Now we needed somewhere to live.
At my age it is far more likely that a House for Duty post in the Church of England would be a possibility, so that’s what we were looking for within a 20 mile radius of Oxford. House for Duty is where you are able to live in a Vicarage or Rectory, in return for giving two days a week plus Sundays to church ministry. This would enable Sarah to have a home base and present a new ministry challenge for me. Is it possible to look after two parish churches in two days a week plus Sundays? No, of course not! But that’s another story.
Almost by chance we came across an advert for a House for Duty post in Quainton, just over 20 miles from Oxford. Even before I made a formal application, we drove into Buckinghamshire to visit the village.
We remember very well driving up Station Road into the Village, turning right then left by the Village Green as we searched for the church. At the top of the Green we turned right into Church Street and there it was!
As soon as we arrived, we knew this was to be our new home. Perhaps a little presumptuous, but there was something about this place that felt right to us. We walked into the church and felt the presence of God there – the building steeped in history, where tens of thousands of people have worshipped and prayed, finding God, finding peace, finding forgiveness and new life.
Someone once said that the way you can tell if God is speaking to you, is that your heart starts beating a little faster! Well, it was just like that.
“See, I am doing a new thing!”
However, the thing that really convinced us was a verse from the Bible which has followed me in every change in my life over the years. It’s Isaiah 43:19 and it popped up again as we were considering the next move for our lives: “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
Quainton and Oving, here we come!