Annual Report 2023-24

“Stand at the crossroads and look;

    ask for the ancient paths,

ask where the good way is, and walk in it,

    and you will find rest for your souls."  

(Jeremiah 6: 16) 

Rector's Report

Reflection: Stand at the crossroads and look

There has been much about 2023 that has led to it feeling like a 'crossroads year'.  As congregations we have walked and wept together through the bereavements of many of our beloved ones, with some dear losses coming very suddenly:  it has taken time to trace out the good ways again.  

This year, we have held funeral, thanksgiving services and interments in love and honour of: 

Beryl Ashcroft, Marion Balfour, Charles Bane, David Blanchflower, Marie Cardon, Victor Emery,  Andrew Fogg, Joyce Hearl,  Valerie Mann, Barbara Meredith, Derrick Merrill, Tom Merry, Pat Mines, Helen Palin, Michael Sylvester, Michael Wilkinson and Barbara Ward. 

We do not grieve as those without hope, but we do miss them very much and are grateful for all they continue to mean.

2023 has also felt like the first year since March 2020 that the pandemic has not got its alcohol-gelled fingers into quite so many of our parish pies, and it has been possible to reorientate ourselves and regain a sense of longer-term direction and rhythms in our governance, liturgies and communal life together.   Some of our 'ancient paths', our pre-Covid prayers and hopes, seem to be being answered with new forms and energy: we are working and worshipping together in new ways, with a shared and more regular 'core' congregation, and an expanded Ministry Team.  During the past 12 months, we have rejoiced to: welcome new villagers into our communities and church congregations (both on Sundays and midweek); begin a new contemporary worship service; expand our new Children's Church team and work;  trial a new shape of shared Benefice PCC meetings,  refresh a new partnership with Hope into Action, and begin a new discipleship and fellowship group.

We have also rejoiced this year with those who were married here: 

Steve & Steph (Little Gransden);  Tim & Phoebe (Great Gransden); Martin & Maggie (Great Gransden);  Haakon and Alice (Abbotsley)

 - and with those who were baptised: 

Peter, Mabel, Finley, Charlie, Alice, Freddie, Hannah, Aston, Amelia & Sienna.

The great journey of Christian faith always takes us to the crossroads of sorrow and joy,  for it is here that we meet with our crucified, risen Lord and learn how to trust that His Way, His Truth, His Life will uphold and guide us through both the worst and best times in our lives - and everything in between.

We pray we will keep looking for and walking this ever-new and mercy-full Way with wisdom, love and faithfulness.  And as we look back on the road already journeyed, we do so with gratitude and wonder for 'Grace that hath brought us safe thus far' and for the Grace that will lead us safely home.

Ruth writes:

Recently Rachel was sharing a verse that meant much to her as she thought and prayed about coming to the Bluebell Benefice and it resonated for me with some of the stories people have been sharing about how their story and God’s story are meeting in our community.   They are some words from Jeremiah: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6.16.    I am not sure about ancient, but we definitely have some old paths and old ways in the villages – to worship in the churches week by week is to notice, value and absorb the worship of previous generations.  I love how God is weaving our prayers with those prayers of the past and continuing to create a beautiful story.

Some Bluebell Benefice working principles:

Ask for the ancient paths...

This year we have continued to focus on four main Kingdom threads in our Benefice's ministry and mission:


1.  Deepening our Contemplation  

'The Kingdom of Heaven is like TREASURE buried in a field' 

Growing thoughtful, prayerful discipleship through our services, wider groups & 1:1s

Deepening our worship and contemplation of God begins in prayer and prayerfulness, by turning our hearts and attention to listening for the presence of the living God in our midst.  

Midweek Prayer

The Ministry Team meets online weekly to pray for the parishes, and the midweek communion in Little Gransden on Wednesdays is offered weekly for the life and witness of the Benefice, all those in need who have sought prayer and intercession, and in memory of those who have recently died.   Both these quiet services are regular heartbeats of prayer in the backbone of busy weeks.

Coffee Chat & Compline

On a Sunday afternoon, the Coffee, Chat & Compline fellowship group 'completes' the pattern of weekly prayer in the gentle Celtic liturgy of the Northumbrian Community's service of Compline.  

Jane writes: 

This year our topics have included exploring God’s peace in our fractured world, ways in which we can identify and use the gifts that God has given to us and how we share our faith journeys. During Lent we read and discussed the Church of England’s Lent Course, Watch and Pray, based on the book “Tarry Awhile, Wisdom from Black Spirituality for People of Faith” by Selina Stone.  We watched videos in which the author of the book explains her personal thoughts and insights and these were very helpful starters for our discussions.  We have just started a new series in which we are exploring the person and work of the Holy Spirit. 

Anne writes:

Our conversations are gentle, unhurried and inclusive. Everyone contributes but only as they want to.   We spend the time listening to others to see where it takes us and this usually sparks other thoughts, but we also have moments of quiet.   We are all feeling our way as the session progresses, exploring personally, spiritually and humanly in the peace and warmth of our sharing and togetherness.


This year, preaching themes have focused on what it means to live in daily friendship with Christ, how we discern the story of our lives intersecting with the story of God's life and the life of His Church, what Love might look like and mean.  Through October, our Harvest theme focused on 'Gifts' – those we are, receive, share, and offer, and we looked together as a Benefice at our finances, and our stewardship going forwards.  


If prayer is the heartbeat of our worship, music is part of its breathing - part of how we tune into, and draw in what is beyond ourselves, and how we echo and respond to the voice of God.  

We are so grateful to the Church Choir, under Sheila George's faithful care & leadership, for the extra breath they bring to our worship, in leading us through the rhythms and music of the liturgical year; in encouraging us by singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to one another, singing and making melody to the Lord in (our) hearts,  giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5: 19-20). 

We are deeply grateful too to David John, for all that he has given as our Benefice Organist over the years:  for all his time, talent and friendship.  We are deeply saddened by his illness, coming just as he was planning to move back to Wales, and we continue to hold him and his partner in our prayers and love.   We hope for the chance to say a proper thank you when his convalescence allows.  

In the meantime,  we are very thankful for a trusty team of local organists who have stepped into the rota as we continue our search for a new Benefice Organist.

It has been a very sad year for the Choir with the profound loss of Andrew Fogg.  As Sheila writes - 

...the sudden death of our beloved Andrew in July which has impacted greatly on us.  The loss of his support has changed our structure, not only in what we can sing well and where, but his regular support in all that we did.  Other members have had serious health problems and have spent time in hospital... Our annual Ringers & Singers Safari Supper was due to be on the day Andrew died.  Those who wished met up at Nutbells with their suppers to spend time together to remember Andrew.

The Choir has shown extraordinary courage, strength and love during this time, and even with reduced numbers this year  -  We have lost 6 singers during the year.  Numbers now stand at 10 being – 2 men, 4 altos, 4 sops, plus 1 Director of Music - have provided a strong lead to our Sunday singing, and sung some beautiful anthems.  Particular highlights have been the 'Way of the Cross' Choral Passion service on Good Friday and the extremely successful 'Come & Sing' events – drawing in around 25 local singers, and joyous congregations.   The next will be in June.

Reflective Services

During the year Jane Connell and Anne Constantine led some gentle Reflective Services on Sunday evenings, using poetry, music, prayer and Bible reading.   In October 2023 we reflected on “Forgiveness” and in March 2024 “Renewal”. In Advent 2023 and May 2024 at services of rest and healing Revd Rachel offered the opportunity for prayer for healing for ourselves and those on our hearts, as well as anointing with oil.

Reflection and space was likewise kept within our Christmas programme of carol services to recognise and remember the many conflicts in our world, and to pray for peace.

Home communions and 1:1s

It is right and important to recognise and give thanks for all the prayers of those who are part of our worshipping congregation outside of our church walls, often during seasons of ill health, anxiety or the final chapters of life.  Through this year, many communions have been shared quietly at home and hospital bedsides, and in one to one conversations of faith and exploration.

Discipleship Group

It is still early on in the adventure, but this year Ruth began leading a small group of busy adults in exploring Christian faith and spirituality more deeply,  protecting time and a safe and social space in which to be able to share questions and meaning together.  We look forward to more sessions this coming year.

F4 Service (friendship, fellowship, faith and food!)

Epiphany saw the 'new beginnings' of a new informal, contemporary worship service, with Julian Badcock and his team working creatively to invite people of all faith and church backgrounds, and none, into exploring church and faith through a fresh and different worship lens.  Dry ice, glitter ball lighting, drums, guitar, pizza van, games, discussions in the pews, and a thought from Revd Chris Duffett, launched smiles, excitement and plenty of momentum on which to build.   We welcome James Brown as one of the worship leads.  Learning from this service, developments are under way for a regular bimonthly programme going forwards, as we continue to grow the team, pray and discern and ensure all the right foundations are in place, and explore starting a small youth group to meet immediately before this service.  Watch this space!

As well as the usual full programme of patronal festivals, Holy Week and Christmas services, other worship highlights this year have included:  Come & Sing Harvest Evensong & New Year Carols (see more below); Benefice trip to Clare College Evensong at Pentecost;  Children's Harvest Picnic;  two Barnabas Oley-led Mothering Sunday services;  Back to School Blessing service; Advent Light Festival carols;  Coronation services;  All Souls' service; outdoor Ascension services and a scout-led St George's Day Parade service.

Ask where the good way is...

2.  Learning from and with our Children  

'The Kingdom of Heaven is like MUSTARD SEED' 

Seeing the Kingdom through their eyes and ideas, passing on the legacy of faith to those following us, nurturing their growth and being inspired by their understanding and faith.

There has been so much growth and life amongst our children's ministry this year, and it has filled us with joy and gratitude!  A particular highlight was the Children's Harvest Picnic outdoors in the Little Gransden Village Hall paddock in October -which was very well attended across the parishes, and across ages and groups of people (ie. Schools, baptism families, Lego Church/Sun School, preschool, farming families etc).  A lovely atmosphere on a beautiful evening!

We were very pleased to welcome around 90 children from the Gamlingay and Gransden Scout Group to lead a special St George's Day Parade Service on 21st April 2024, having also welcomed them at the Remembrance Sunday service in November.  At the St George's Day service, scouting vows were renewed, prayers were said for a frightened word, and the dragon outfits were out!

Sunday School

This year has been an immense encouragement, as the Children's Church Team has now boomed to 8 people!  We are immensely grateful to Elaine Arthur for all her leadership and inspiration for Sunday School, and children's ministry in general.  

Elaine writes:

We've now run Sunday School since October 2022, generally monthly. We've mainly been based in GG for to logistics of toilet facilities.  Recent SS at Waresley village hall have been positive and helpful to have the space for more engaging games.  A core group of regular families keeps the numbers to around 8 - 12 children each time. 

As of 2024 we're trialling splitting into two groups based on age, to give the older ones (8y and above) more space for age appropriate discussion/ questions.  This is done in faith of growing numbers as it leaves us with two potentially very small groups at present. Vivien Corrie Wing is DBS checked and leading the older group. 

We spent a year doing an overview of the Bible and are looking to present this back to Barnabas Oley in an assembly when diaries allow.  Our current series is on Jesus' teaching through the parables.

Next steps:  Ongoing need to build a bank of supporting adult helpers. Creating a church families WhatsApp group and Rachel's children's church meeting in January has been helpful so far in progressing this.

LEGO Church just fantastic!   Revds Ruth, Chris and Rachel have continued to have a ball  telling stories,  setting Lego build challenges and being inspired by everyone's Lego & Duplo mastery!

This year has continued to see new families coming along, with about 20 children and as many adults at the most recent session. - almost at capacity in the Lighthouse Cafe!  We are very grateful to be partnering with the Lighthouse Team, for their generous hospitality and refreshments.   Special thanks to Sheila Thompson and Teresa Miller for all the hot chocolate they have made – and to Celia Chignell for faithfully making us so many delicious cakes each month!  

Since the start of 2024, we have begun holding a separate space for older children in the main part of the chapel for some more 'grown up' discussion over refreshments before they join everyone again for the main story and Lego build.

This year, some the stories we have built include:  Jonah & the whale; Jacob's Ladder; Jesus' presentation in the Temple (Candlemas); the anointing at Bethany; resurrection breakfast on the beach; the road to Emmaus; 

Partnering with Barnabas Oley Primary School

This has been an important year of partnership, in which we have:

3.  Being alongside our Community  

'The Kingdom of Heaven is like YEAST' 

Serving our parishes, accompanying, joining in and leavening with light, welcome and generosity all that is already good and life-giving within them, so that all can flourish.

As a Benefice, it is our privilege to be part of such vibrant, caring communities and we seek to serve their common good with both our prayer and participation, supporting and encouraging as best we can.  

This year, we again hosted and worked alongside the cross-parish Coronation planning team, building on our Jubilee work, and helping support the many events and activities, street parties and volunteering initiatives.   It was a joy to hold an all age  'civic' celebration in St Bartholomew's in celebration of the crowning of King Charles.

It was also a privilege to share in the Gransdens'  Village 'light festival', led by the Reading Room, at the start of Advent, when we once again filled the church with hundreds of candles, switched on the tree lights, and held a short service of Advent Carols.   (We were taken aback by the wonderful attendance, over 70 adults and 30 children – next time we will be more prepared!)

Meanwhile, the annual flow of church/community events has been vibrant as ever.  Waresley enjoying a Steel Band Concert in St James in the autumn (thank you, Colin and Ruby!), and hosting a Winter Fayre in the Village Hall in December (thank you, Chrissie, Louise and all  the Friends of St James!).  Meanwhile, Abbotsley hosted a delicious harvest soup lunch (thank you, Sue and Jo!) and feasted for its patronal Feast week (thank you, Lynn!) , whilst the Gransdens put on a May fete (thank you, Iain!) , as well as the Christmas Bazaar in Little Gransden Village Hall in December (thank you, Betty!) and so, so much more...

A special highlight for me each year is leading the Act of Remembrance at the Little Gransden Airshow, a poignant and living link to those we honour in the 405 Pathfinder Squadron remembered in our St Bartholomew's window.  As we gaze into the skies, so we give thanks for the bravery of those who gave their lives in the service of our peace and freedom.

A project that has begun quietly this year and is in the very, very early stages of information-gathering, reflecting, discerning and consulting, is the possibility of whether we might be able to express something of the shared service and special spirit of our communities in a new stained glass window in St Bartholomew's, inspired by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's servant-heartedness.  And yet, how a project like this might hold the potential to serve our church and communities in a very concrete way too – perhaps through actively raising funds for shared community projects, church reordering and investing in the next generation...but do watch this space as we continue the thinking and conversations this year...  


This Benefice would not be this Benefice without its bells, keeping and sounding out the pulse of its community's joys, sorrows, waiting, remembrances and occasions... 

David Prest, Deputy Tower Captain, writes:

2023 was, as usual, a very busy and varied year for the ringers, with the team ringing at St Bartholomew’s on 91 occasions including practices, tied bell sessions and service ringing.  For the service of Remembrance Sunday the bells were half muffled, providing a poignant background to this moving occasion.

We were delighted to help celebrate two weddings, with Sheila calling the customary “60 on thirds” - starting at the moment the couple leaves the church - followed by firing the bells. 

...There was extensive ringing over three days to celebrate the coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla.  The tower participated in “Ring for the King”, an opportunity to train new ringers to join the celebration.  

...Six quarter peals were rung.   (Full report available here)

A profound thank you to all the ringers for the myriad ways in which they bless us all, and connect us to those 'ancient paths' in a unique and special way. 

Deanery Synod 

Our community extends beyond our own parish boundaries, to those of our local Deanery.  

Rachel Fogg, one of our two Deanery representatives, writes: 

The 4 parishes of the Bluebell benefice are members of St Neots Deanery, made up of 16 rural parishes grouped into 5 benefices (population c. 20,000) and the urban parish of St Neots with Eynesbury (Population c. 26,000 and growing fast).  The Deanery Synod is made up of the clergy and representatives from all parishes.  Our representatives are Anne Constantine and Rachel Fogg.  

In 2023 the Synod met 3 times, in March, June and October. At the March meeting we had a presentation from the new Archdeacon of Huntingdon and Wisbech, Richard Harlow.  The June meeting was mainly given over to Finance and the October meeting was mainly to approve the Deanery Development Plan which had been in preparation all year.  The 4 areas for action in 2024 are: 

Ministry Share (what the parishes pay to the Diocese to cover the costs of Ministry) is allocated at the Deanery level.  Parishes are requested to pay their Share directly to the Diocese, but the Deanery maintains a hardship fund to support any parish that is unable to pay in full.  This means that the St Neots Deanery has paid its Ministry Share in full for a number of years.

Our grateful thanks to Rachel and Anne for representing the Benefice to the Deanery, and the Deanery to the Benefice, so faithfully over the year.

And walk in it...

4.  Being generous in our Care  

'The Kingdom of Heaven is like being entrusted with the Master's own property/TALENTS'.

Using all that we have (time, resources, buildings, safeguarding, gifts and skills) with wisdom, creativity and compassion to look after one another & our neighbours, in sickness and health, and proactively engage with wider needs brought to our particular attention


Safeguarding is a critical part of how we must be generous in our care towards one another: taking the time to grow in our training and understanding of what hurts and harms others; understanding what makes us all vulnerable; learning how we can do our best to reduce the risks of abuse taking place; being clear about what we do if we become aware of something being wrong; being dedicated to growing honest and open cultures of sensitivity & inclusion, in which the wellbeing, flourishing and protection of all matters.

We are extremely grateful to Phillip George, our Benefice Safeguarding Officer, for his ongoing care, dedication, eye for detail, and clear leadership in this whole complex area.

Acknowledging safeguarding to also be a primary spiritual commitment within our discipleship, we used special commissioning and intercessory prayers on Safeguarding Sunday in November, and will mark this Sunday annually going forwards.

Phillip and Revd Rachel have met regularly throughout the year to review safeguarding policies, practices and developments in national and local training requirements.  Safeguarding has been a regular item on all Benefice meeting agendas, including within service planning meetings, and all current policies and procedures have been reviewed and approved by the PCCs. Phillip has attended regular Diocesan Safeguarding team briefings and training.

This year, there have been no known incidents of a safeguarding nature, but we continue to work on ensuring the best possible support and processes are in place for when there is.

Phillip has worked hard at supporting all PCC members, worship leaders and Children Team helpers to ensure their DBS and training requirements are up-to-date and completed.  There are some volunteers still in the process of joining the Children's Helpers Team, who are still to complete some modules before being able to supervise in Sunday School.

Revd Rachel and Phillip attended a recent online session on the new National Safeguarding Standards and have since met to carry out a self-audit against the main standard headings. Phillip is now working on supporting evidence for the different criteria, and we are refreshing our Benefice Safeguarding Action Plan to include a focus on particular areas in which we feel we can further improve.

Our partnership with Hope into Action has clear safeguarding lines of reporting and referral, which we will also be reviewing annually. 


Following on from our sermon series on 'gifts and giving' through October's Harvest festivals, over coffee we put on a series of presentations and discussions about our Benefice finances.   It was very encouraging to have so many within our congregations stay on for these, so that together we could share some of the urgent challenges we face.  

Following consultation, the decision was made for all four parishes to register for the Parish Giving Scheme, to help simplify, broaden and communicate giving mechanisms, both online and through QR codes, and to encourage regular giving through Standing Orders.  As soon as all the registrations are finalised, we will make live a dedicated 'giving' page on the website, and include QR codes in service sheets etc.  

In addition, a Benefice Stewardship Team will help launch a new giving campaign within the parishes, using some key, simple messages to help our communities better understand what support is needed by our churches and why, in order to sustain them into the future.

Charitable Giving

This year, we have continued to support charities whose work is particularly on the minds and hearts of those within our parishes:  The Need Project in Gamlingay (ongoing through the year, with special collections through October, Lent, Advent/Christmas and January);  Hope into Action (ongoing, with special Sunday collection, and surplus donated from Roundabout); MIND (yearly contribution and special Christmas service collection); EACH (Waresley's carol service); RBL Poppy Appeal (Remembrance Sunday collection and wreaths); The Children's Society (Christingle Services, Scout service and Abbotsley Carol Service) and DEC/Christian Aid appeals for both Ukraine and Gaza (ongoing and special collections).


Another important development this year has been to begin a new shape and pattern of our meetings and committees, to better streamline our shared governance tasks, structures, paperwork and communication.

The four PCCs are now trialling meeting on the same night, quarterly, with the first half of the meeting dedicated to Benefice-wide matters (safeguarding, worship schedules, Rector's Report, Diocesan/deanery matters etc) and the second part in local PCC breakout sessions (finance, fabric, churchyard, village events/fundraisers, AOB).

Hope into Action

Through this year, the Bluebell Community Support Group have provided wonderful support to the family housed in partnership with Hope into Action.  This family has now moved into independent housing and the Benefice is now working directly with Hope into Action to re-equip the house and make it ready for another family who are in urgent need of a home.  A couple of the congregation are training to become Support Befrienders, though we would still like to find a Coordinating Befriender and add some more volunteers to the team.

And you will find rest for your souls...

Some priorities in the year to come

It has been an immensely full and rich year, with much new growth shooting up all over the place!   We give thanks to God for His faithfulness and all this fruitfulness and ask for His Spirit to help us to keep pace with that of His Kingdom.  For with this privilege of new life, come challenges.  Some of the key ones in the year ahead are:

May we go on standing, looking, asking, walking and resting with Christ, and may His Kingdom come indeed in the Bluebell Benefice.  Amen.

O Lord our God, 

all things come from you, and of your own do we give you.