The weather was kind when a small group came to visit us from our link parish of St James, Benwell so our guests were able to see the Itchen Valley at its best. The group of seven ladies included their curate, Allison and two volunteers (one from the USA and one from the Philippines) who are working on a community project St James is involved with on an estate in Newcastle.
After a good flight to Southampton, the guests arrived at their hosts in the Valley on Friday evening where they were able to have a quiet evening and begin to get to know each other. On Saturday morning they were taken around the Valley and given the opportunity to see all four of our beautiful churches (and the curate experienced coffee in The Cricketers too!) before we gathered for lunch at the Rectory.
We all then went into Winchester where there was a special welcome for our guests as representatives of Winchester’s twin diocese; after a tour of the Cathedral and much needed cup of tea in the Refectory, we were able to worship together at Evensong.
The vergers had reserved us seats in the Quire and the ladies were touched when they met a number of people from the Cathedral who had visited Benwell and when their community was prayed for. Spiritually refreshed, it was time for some physical refreshment as our guests returned to supper with their hosts who had kindly invited some others to join them.
On Sunday, the ladies joined us for our Parish Communion – the curate had been to 8am Communion too! – and we were able to celebrate St John’s patronal festival with them. Revd Allison Harding gave a powerful testimony explaining how she became a Christian and we were introduced to Sheila (the volunteer from the Philippines) and Terese (who is a Reader); Allison preached to us about Jesus calming the storm.
After church, there was the opportunity to meet our guests over coffee and the conversations continued as we moved to Itchen Abbas and Avington Village Hall where we introduced our visitors to the joys of boules in the sunshine. A well attended delicious lunch completed the visit and then it was time to return the ladies to the airport.
It was a joy to have the ladies with us, to develop some relationships and to learn about life and faith in Benwell. Although at a first glance our communities are very different, it quickly became clear that we face many of the same opportunities and challenges.
An enormous thank you to all who contributed to the success of the weekend; our guests were extremely appreciative of our efforts and enjoyed their visit south. Please remember to continue praying for St James, Benwell, particularly as they are in vacancy at the moment.
Revd Rebecca Fardell