Of the 12 churches in the circuit (counting the two St Andrew's congregations as one), the six with the smallest memberships — Burnham, Colnbrook & Poyle, Cookham Rise, Eton Wick, Old Windsor and Woodlands Park — together make up the Smaller Churches Group. At the time the group was created, they had a total membership of around 100, whereas that for the six "larger" churches was around 640.
Interestingly, at the time of writing this, five of the six churches in the circuit involved in the Open the Book project in primary schools are smaller churches! More details are given at various points elsewhere in this website, and several of the photo galleries reflect this method of outreach.
An Open the Book team presenting
"Peter and the great draught of fishes".
The Smaller Churches Group was set up to:
- Enable members to support and encourage each other.
- Enable members to be strengthened through working together.
- Emphasise that, though small in number, they are valued and the circuit staff consider them vital.
Smaller churches and their members play a major part in the life of any circuit. In our case, since the creation of the Thames Valley Circuit, these churches have always taken an active part in the circuit and its events. Perhaps members are more circuit-minded and appreciate joining in larger gatherings, resulting in the smaller churches being better represented proportionally at circuit events than the larger churches! It is interesting to note that, when the Smaller Churches were first allocated a page in their own right on this website, 5 of the 8 lay members who, together with the 5 ministers, form the Circuit Leadership Team, were from the Smaller Churches, including:
- Senior Circuit Steward
- Circuit Meeting Secretary
- Circuit Treasurer
- Local Preachers Secretary
- Circuit Property Steward.
Each church has its own special events, such as
- Old Windsor's Traveller's Tales series,
- Cookham Rise's Easter Prayer Stations
- Burnham's Hanging of the Greens.
Many of these events are well supported by members of other churches in the group.
The Group itself organises special events, such as:
- Healing services, held in different churches in different months
- Singing the Faith afternoons, when members gather for an afternoon of communal singing, including learning new hymns from the latest Methodist hymnbook. Interestingly, a by-product of this event was the formation of a choir for the entire circuit, Thames Valley Voices, which plays a major part in many of the circuit's services. A recording of Thames Valley Voices is included on the Worship page.
- Come and See. The first series was held at Eton Wick in 2014. It took its theme from the Gospel story when Philip met Nathanael and said "Come and see … ". Each session explored a different way of:
- Being "church"
- Meeting and sharing
- Reflecting on our Christian heritage and challenges.
Topics covered in the sessions included Godly Play, Praying through a Labyrinth, and Bread.
- Smaller Churches Away Days. An annual event with a guest speaker.
As examples of these events, in 2013 Rev Dr Malcolm White led a day exploring "Prayer" — the circuit's theme for that year.
In 2015 Rev Claire Potter, formerly a manager of Epworth Old Rectory, took the topic "The Wesleys — relevant today?"
- a brief introduction to the Old Rectory and how the museum has been revitalised for mission.
- an emphasis on aspects of John Wesley's theology which is now standard Methodism, such as inclusiveness, God's free grace and connectedness.
Those present were then invited to illustrate creatively some aspect that had really struck them earlier in the day.
More recent Away Days have included a visit to Guildford Cathedral (in 2017) and one to St Alban's Cathedral (in 2018).
In May 2019, members of several of the Smaller Churches in the Thames Valley Circuit met at Old Windsor Methodist Church to consider the theme "Small is Beautiful". We were a small (and beautiful) group, sharing the joys and challenges of rural ministry and of being a small church.
Small churches can sometimes look wistfully at those with many members. They can feel left behind and vulnerable. But small churches can make a great difference in their communities.
Worship, Learning and Caring, Service and Evangelism will have a particularly local flavour and although growth will seem small numerically, when seen in proportion to the local population it will be significant. In a small church, relationships are key and decisions can be taken together without long processes.
We found so much great work going on in this circuit and were able to celebrate it:
- A community allotment where great relationships with the local people are made and where a Harvest Festival service is held each year
- Open the Book in every primary school where there is a church in the community
- Fellowship groups and lunch clubs
- Bump Camp
- Mayday Mayhem
- Good ecumenical links
It was wonderful to hear of, and appreciate, all that is happening there and to be inspired by the faithfulness of the members.
The Thames Valley Circuit is really inspiring!
(Based on a report by Kathy O'Loughlin published in "The SIGN, Southern & Islands Good News".)
Between 2011 and May 2018 the Smaller Churches Group published regular informative and entertaining newsletters. They included reports from special occasions, such as the Ordination Service when Rev Margaret Dudley was received into Full Connexion.
Margaret with her stole — a gift from the circuit
The editor never quite knew what material would be coming, including tales of the unexpected such as:
- Santa being thrown down the chimney at an event!
- A minister's report of his visit to a brothel!
Each edition included:
- An editorial or a letter from a minister — always interesting.
- Several reports from the churches.
- Details of forthcoming events.
- Reports on events which have taken place, such as a visit by singer Franz Hepburn, shown here at Colnbrook & Poyle United Church.
- Pictures. Some events justify a special gallery each. In many cases, the pictures have only ever appeared in the newsletters, such as Margaret's ordination (see above) or Sonia's special mug.
- Some editions, particularly the more recent ones, also included book reviews and/or recipes.
The group was very active for a number of years, but due to factors such as reduced numbers, aging congregations, and key members moving away, the group per se ceased having activities together in the early 2020s. The circuit emphasis is now on three area sections – Maidenhead, Slough and Windsor – each catering for all the churches in its area, supporting each other and organising events.
However, many of the circuit activities and events initiated by the Smaller Churches Group have continued, such as the annual Singing the Faith event and circuit outings.