A sense of belonging in the Benefice of Newnham, Awre and Blakeney

One of the words that kept coming up at the June deputation to the Benefice of Newnham, Awre and Blakeney was community. The sense of community and family was evident, especially when meeting the welcoming parishioners in Newnham and Awre.

Some have worshipped in their church over many decades and feel a deep sense of belonging and purpose within their church family. The priest-in-charge, the Revd Rachel Saum, has been ably leading the churches over the past three years.

The Benefice is one of eight church patronages that the Company has, the history of which can be dated back to the 17th Century. Awre became the first of the Company’s churches in Gloucestershire in 1638.

There is evidence of a deputation here as far back as 1834, when the Company was keen to promote good public relations and to ensure it was more knowledgeable about its wider affairs. That role of the deputation is valid today, and the Company continues to take its role as patron seriously.

The three churches are all involved in a wide variety of activities, including a very successful Saturday Café, a well-attended mid-week Communion service and monthly all age worship. The Easter morning riverside service on the banks of the River Severn in Awre, is a highlight of the church calendar and there is a comfy prayer area in one of the churches.  

"We were so grateful for the deputation; a clear sign of the support and genuine interest the Company takes in the life of its churches. It was a joy to be able to introduce such a diverse group of Haberdashers to the realities of the Benefice. We were able to speak honestly of the challenges as well as rejoicing in the ways that prayer and mission shape our life, including how the financial support we have received this year has enabled us to employ a Sports and Faith Coach working in our primary schools and the wider community. It was a day full of encouragement. Thank you!" – Revd Rachel Saum

The Revd Gilly Tarverse, the Curate licensed to the Benefice, has a ‘pioneer ministry’ brief. This involves exploring what potential there is to meet the spiritual needs of the local community through doing ‘church’ differently, such as through outdoor activities.

There is a significant concentration of people in this part of the Forest of Dean with physical disabilities and additional needs. At times they can form up to one quarter of the congregation in Newnham and Rachel views this as a significant part of the parishes’ ministry.

As with so many rural parishes, there are challenges. From limited bus services to the issue of affordable housing, ageing congregations and medieval church buildings, there is much to concern the parishioners.

But the churches, rooted in prayer and with that deep sense of community, are ready to face the challenges. The Company assures them of its continued support across the Benefice. Our thanks go to Rachel, Gilly and all those who came to welcome us to their churches in June.