Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Cycling vicar who cried in class for believing in God

Cycling vicar who cried in class for believing in God

THE new vicar for the benefice of Goring and Streatley with South Stoke says he has been warmly welcomed into the community.

Rev Ben Phillips was formally installed at a ceremony at St Thomas’s Church in Goring on Monday last week.

The service was conducted by the Rt Rev Colin Fletcher, the Bishop of Dorchester, who gave an address.

It included an anthem composed for the occasion by the church’s musical director Michael Howell. This was set to a passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, one of the vicar’s favourite prayers.

Rev Phillips, 54, will be responsible for St Thomas’s as well as St Andrew’s Church in South Stoke and St Mary’s in Streatley.

He was previously in charge of a parish with five churches in Towcester, near Peterborough, for more than six years and before that as the vicar at St John’s Church in Bodicote, near Banbury, for 16 years.

He moved to Goring with his wife Sarah Meyrick in early January following his appointment. She is a communications officer with the University of Oxford.

He had applied for the role after meeting St Thomas’s curate Wendy Middleton and churchwarden Brenda Kerr-Muir while leading a retreat in the Holy Land.

The post had become available following the death of Rev Paul Boughton after a period of illness in January last year.

Rev Phillips, who had previously visited Goring  and the church while taking part in a cycle ride with parishioners from Bodicote about 10 years ago, was keen to move so his wife could be nearer her job.

He said: “It was a foul and wet day the first time I visited Goring but I got to know it anyway and liked the idea of moving here.

“There’s lots of cycle access and a really close community.

“We’ve had a really warm welcome and I was delighted that my installation ceremony was well attended despite taking place on a grim, foggy evening. Various people from Bodicote and Towcester made their way down, which was wonderful, and I’m pleased to say the children stayed awake through all the slightly odd ceremonial stuff.

“Daily life in the village is marvellous as we have some wonderful businesses and the walking around here is absolutely beautiful.

“It’s sufficiently far away from bigger places like Reading or Oxford that it has developed its own events like the regatta and the Gap Festival, which I’m looking forward to attending.

“I’ve already given two assemblies at the primary school and agreed to lead a school trip and we’ve both got to know a lot of people so we’re very happy here.”

Rev Phillips spent his childhood in Warwick and Dorset.

He sang in his church choir as a youngster and committed to the Christian faith as a teenager.

He studied physical anthropology at King’s College, Cambridge, during which time he met his wife, who was a student at Fitzwilliam College.

The couple married at Mrs Meyrick’s parish church in her native Gloucestershire soon after he graduated in 1986. They npw have two grown-up children.

He returned to Cambridge and sat a three-year course at Ridley Hall, the university’s theological training college, then served as a curate in Wareham, Dorset, for four years and for another two at a church in Barnet before moving to Towcester.

Rev Phillips had been torn between pursuing a management career in the manufacturing industry or joining the clergy but opted for the latter in 1987 after a period of working for a charity for homeless people in East London.

He had also been offered a role in the pet supplies division of sweet manufacturer Mars Incorporated but turned it down.

He recalled: “Part of me fancied the car and the nice house but it wasn’t to be as the church gave me an offer and I said ‘yes’.

“After a period of working with the homeless, away from the ivory towers of Cambridge, I couldn’t face making mirrors for budgerigars.

“I didn’t reach a personal understanding of the Christian faith until I was a teenager but I remember having an argument with a teacher when I was in year 6.

“He asked ‘who on earth believes in all this God business?’ and I said, ‘I do’, for which he reduced me to tears in front of the whole class.

“Someone suggested I could become a vicar when I was about 15 and at that time I didn’t like that because our local vicar had sacked a choirmaster whom I liked and I had his picture on my dartboard!

“It must have sowed the seed for me to pick up the idea later, though.”

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