In the spring of 2003, shortly after their arrival in the UK, Marty and Jenny Woods visited a home group in village of Wheatley, South Oxfordshire where they were staying. As they shared about why they had moved to the UK and what they may be able to offer in the local community particularly in relation to local youth work and mission, eyes widened and a sense of excitement built.
building community

One of the latest developments has been the establishment of a new community church which was welcomed  by the already established churches in the village. This has meant that many families who hadn’t yet found a ‘home’ within the community now can, and are able to continue their journey of faith together.

This particular home group was made up of Wheatley (and nearby) residents from a number of different churches. They had been meeting for a number of years at this stage and had been praying for ways to reach out to the village and in particular for some good youth workers who could reach the young people of the community. As Marty and Jenny gave a snap shot of their approach to local mission and their heart for youth work, there was a strong sense that in their midst was the beginning of the answer to their prayers!

That first year they ran the Foundations for Life and Mission course twice, gathering members of this home group and others with a heart to see God move in the village. At the end of each course a small community festival was run in the village, bringing residents together for fun and celebration. The local Christians were quickly feeling empowered to engage in meaningful ways with their community.

In the spring of 2004 Dan and Danni came from Australia to join Marty and Jenny and the band of local Christians in Wheatley. Dan and Danni brought extensive youth, children’s work and mission experience and began engaging with the youth of the community.

Within a few years an annual rhythm had emerged with a St Georges and Harvest Fun Days in April and October, a summer holiday kids club in August and Advent Pageant in the last week of term before Christmas. This was all on the backdrop of a research project done in the first couple of years, regular schools work in the local secondary school, regular youth day trips and a bible study group for teens. Soon there was a youth café running after school hours and for 9 months the local council contracted the team to run a youth ‘drop in’ each week.
Each year in the lead up to the Advent Pageant, the local team would work with the primary school preparing songs and costumes for the Pageant. The Pageant became a huge highlight for the village, with local publicans and residents taking the role of innkeepers, to whom the youngsters would appeal for a place for Mary and Joseph to stay, as they processed around the village. The Advent Pageant was the final piece in connecting the primary school with the local community; starting with the Summer Holiday Kids Club, a weekly after school kids club commenced, leading naturally into the Pageants.

 

 

 

Over the years there has been an ebb and flow of both team and programs but St Georges Fun Day and both the Holiday and Weekly Kids Clubs remain firm fixtures, another constant has been some form of youth program for local teenagers. The 15 years of mission in Wheatley are characterised by celebration, fun and a growing sense of community. The local Christians are loved by the community, with the Fun Day and Summer Kids Clubs constantly at full capacity. 15 years on and many of the youngsters who have been part of the Summer Club, now teenagers, are returning as peer leaders and continuing their journey exploring faith. Many parents and other adults in the community love to join the team as volunteers each year, strengthening friendships and contributing to that precious sense of community that has become a feature of village life.

One of the latest developments has been the establishment of a new community church which was welcomed  by the already established churches in the village. This has meant that many families who hadn’t yet found a ‘home’ within the community now can, and are able to continue their journey of faith together. The church has brought a new focus of energy for mission into the next season of the journey in Wheatley; Dan and Danni and most of the original home group are members there. And so, very thoroughly, the prayers of the Wheatley Home Group all those years ago have been answered and life in the village of Wheatley has been changed significantly.

A great opportunity

As they shared about why they had moved to the UK and what they may be able to offer in the local community particularly in relation to local youth work and mission, eyes widened and a sense of excitement built.

A bit about Wheatley (taken from the research report written in 2004 by the local team).

Wheatley has many claims to a colorful inheritance, the late Elizabethan manor at the west end of the high street; Wheatley Bridge, the front line outpost for Cromwell’s parliamentary forces and the Royalist forces winter capital of Charles 1 at Oxford. Holton park manor, originally the site of a moated Norman castle, then the headquarters for Cromwell’s forces, it is believed, in the last days of the siege of Oxford. The park was held in private ownership until requisitioned as an American military hospital in the 2nd world war; by the 1980s the site of the campus of Wheatley Park School. 

Wheatley has developed from an agricultural village on the London to Oxford Rd, and has served / depended on travelers, when routes and modes of transports changed, the village changed too. In the early 1960s the ‘Beeching Axe’ fell on many local train services including Wheatley closing nearly 100 years of passenger and train services providing transport to and fro from Oxford, London and beyond. The development and then extension of the M40 from London to Birmingham has put Wheatley adjacent to a major national thoroughfare and is often used as a shortcut to parts of Oxford avoiding the Heading roundabout.

Nowadays as compared to the rest of England, Wheatley has a much higher proportion of its population having achieved degree level or higher in their education. In terms of demographics, it has twice as many 53-57 year olds as 21-30 year olds and its population of children and teenagers is comparable to the rest of England.

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