On a sultry (but dry!) Monday evening on Monday 19th July 2010, a large group of almost 80 people gathered for drinks on the lawn outside the Abbey. Principle guests were the Mayors and Chairs of the County, district and town councils from across Oxfordshire together with their partners.
The hosts were the Bishop of Dorchester, Colin Fletcher (photo right), and Oxfordshire’s Lieutenancy. Some 20 of the County’s 35 Deputy Lieutenants and their partners were there to welcome the guests. The Bishop of Oxford, John Pritchard (photo left), and his wife were also present. The Rev Canon Sue Booys, generously lending the gloriously spacious Abbey for the evening, enabled it all to happen.
The main purpose of the evening was to wish the Mayors and Chairs well at the start of their Civic year; to give them an opportunity to meet and mingle with each other, and for the group of Deputy Lieutenants, increasingly engaged in activity across the County, to get to know their opposite numbers in the Civic Community.
Being a Mayor or Chair is an onerous task: the list of events which they are asked to attend and be involved with is very substantial, and continues unabated through the whole of the Civic year. The impact that they can have, particularly in encouraging volunteering activity and thanking people all over the county for the tireless contribution that so many make to the well being of their local communities, is of great importance. This is true especially at a time of real economic austerity in public services, when the demands on our Civic authorities and the volunteering sector is greater than it has been for many years. So the evening was a big opportunity to thank and support and encourage our Mayors and Chairs, and to forge links with the Lieutenancy which should help both sides to do their jobs more effectively than would otherwise be the case. But if this makes it all sound too serious, it wasn’t. Drinks were followed by dinner in the Abbey – delicious food prepared and served by Sean and his team from the White Hart. A seating plan for the first course was matched by a free for all seating for the pudding giving maximum opportunity for guests to mingle and talk and gossip and moan and discuss current issues and problems. Some (short!) speeches were part of the mix.
At the end of dinner, all guests were invited to move down into the Chancel where Bishop Colin said Compline, a service which has been used in the Abbey, at the end of the day, for hundreds of years stretching right back to the Abbey’s 12th C monastic traditions. It is a service which encourages quiet contemplation and thought at the close of what had no doubt for all been a busy Monday, but more importantly an opportunity to think quietly about the challenges ahead. An appropriate end to a very special evening.
(Blogged by the Lord-Lieutenant of Oxford, Tim Steventon)