Over 140 parishes across Hampshire and East Dorset have committed to take part in the Diocese of Winchester’s Lent Course, which launches on Wednesday 10 February.
The course, titled ‘i-Witness’, follows five themes, each of which helps Christians to ‘live the mission of Jesus’ in practical ways in their local communities. It was created by a team based in the Diocese of Winchester, the School of Mission, which focuses on encouraging people across the Diocese to live in ways that bear witness to their Christian faith.
Launching the course, the Rev Canon Mark Collinson, Canon Principal of the Diocese’s School of Mission, said:
“I strongly encourage people across the Diocese to take part in this year’s Lent Course and am delighted that so many of our parishes are already involved. It’s easy to talk the talk but we need to walk the talk, and put into practice the good news of Jesus in ways that contribute to society. Here in the Diocese of Winchester, we’re fortunate to have a number of parishes, community groups and individuals who are spearheading projects that make an impact in their local communities. My hope is that, by taking part in this year’s Lent Course, many more people and parishes will be inspired to explore new ways in which they can live out the mission of Jesus in their daily lives.”
The first week of the course invites Christians to steward faithfully. It aims to encourage them to think about their role as ‘global citizens’, with a particular focus on caring for the environment. In this way Christians take seriously the responsibility we all have before God to be faithful stewards of creation.
Stewarding faithfully: Vicarages across the Diocese are doing their bit for the environment by going green
In 2013 Anthony Smith, Head of Resource Development at the Diocese of Winchester, put forward an ambitious plan: to enable vicarages across the Diocese to begin generating their own renewable electricity.
Motivated by a desire to take care of, and be a good steward of the environment, the task seemed daunting at first. However, the Government’s Feed in Tariff scheme, which subsidises domestic renewable generation, made the process relatively simple. The purchase and installation of solar panels required modest up-front costs, but this would prove to be a worthwhile investment in the long-run because of the positive impact on the environment.
Work began in earnest in 2013 with the launch of a pilot scheme that saw thirteen vicarages, in towns and villages across the Diocese, having solar panels installed. After this trial proved successful, things moved at a rapid pace – with 28 vicarages having solar panels installed in 2014, and a further 26 in 2015.
In all, 67 vicarages across the Diocese have had solar panels installed – allowing them to protect the environment through eliminating use of polluting fossil fuels.
Anthony Smith, Head of Resource Development at the Diocese of Winchester said: “Jesus calls on us all to be good servants of what we have and I believe that is especially true of the environment. The realities of climate change mean that we must all do our bit, and the installation of solar panels at almost 70 of the vicarages across the Diocese of Winchester has allowed us to make a real and meaningful contribution to protecting our environment. By taking a lead in this way we hope that Christians in parishes around the diocese will be catalysts in their communities inspiring everyone to reduce their carbon emissions.
The second week of the course encourages participants to act justly. It is intended to support them to take positive action to improve social justice.
Acting justly: Footprints Project works with Church communities in Hampshire to help ex-offenders start new lives
The Footprints Project is a charity which works with former offenders to help them reintegrate into society having served their prison sentences. The charity has grown considerably since its establishment ten years ago as a community chaplaincy in Dorset, and it recently extended its work into the Diocese of Winchester. Volunteers offer ex-offenders the tools they need to turn their lives around and resettle in neighbourhoods as contributing members of the community.
Many ex-offenders leave prison with nowhere to go. They will most likely have suffered abuse, both mental and physical, while a large proportion have substance misuse issues and mental health needs. More often than not, ex-offenders come from chaotic backgrounds and have a history of regular periods spent in prison, but, with the right support, they can break this cycle.
Volunteers from parishes in the Diocese of Winchester help ex-offenders create new lives for themselves in Hampshire. While they must have the will to reform, ex-offenders can be supported through this process by the Footprints Project as they set out in their new lives. Volunteers help with every aspect of starting again. This often includes practical things such as finding accommodation, setting up bank accounts and registering with the GP. But Footprints Project volunteers also assist and encourage ex-offenders in less tangible ways, such as restoring often damaged family relationships and building an ex-offender’s self-esteem so that they have the confidence to stand on their own feet once again.
Chief Executive of the Footprints Project, Jane Barkes said: “A key aspect of restoring an ex-offender’s independence is the need to give them purpose and get them work-ready again. We help by finding them volunteering and training opportunities, so that they can make valuable contributions to their communities.”
“We’re really grateful for the support we receive from parishes across Winchester Diocese. The government provides some funding but the vast majority comes from charitable donations. Without the support from parishes, organisations and individuals throughout Hampshire we wouldn’t be able to continue this vital work.”
In Hampshire, the Footprints Project is currently working with fifty ex-offenders who have committed to not reoffending as they begin to restart their lives. Unfortunately, the charity must turn down more ex-offenders than it can accept onto the scheme as they don’t have enough volunteers. Church congregations are being asked to volunteer collectively to provide more ex-offenders with a support network to assist them as they leave prison.
Jane added: “We currently have 20 volunteers in Hampshire, but we need many more. I know the prospect of volunteering can be daunting, and I’m hoping that members of parishes will choose to volunteer together so that they don’t feel isolated. We welcome volunteers to every aspect of our work including fundraising, events organising, office administration and driving, as well as training to be mentors. Our volunteers recognise that true justice is served not just by an offender serving their prison term, but also by society helping them reintegrate so they lead fruitful lives in their communities after they come out of prison. ”
The Diocese of Winchester’s Lent Course runs for five weeks from Wednesday 10 February until Palm Sunday, Sunday 20 March 2016. Find out more here.