Friday 29 November 2019


MARK VERNON, whose book A Secret History of Christianity came out earlier this year, has been touring the country with talks and discussions in recent months. His interest recently has evolved around Owen Barfield and the concept of 'participation' in the evolution of consciousness - as we heard last time he visited us.  Mark joins Wychwood Circle on December 8th to talk about 'Why is Christianity failing?' A clue to his answer may lie in the quotation which a longer title might have alluded to - namely Karl Rahner's words: 'The Christian of the future will be a mystic or he will not exist at all.' 

Join us at Milton Village Hall on Sunday, December 8th at 7pm - or earlier for refreshments.  Contributions (£3-5) towards the costs of speaker and hall will be invited. 

Sunday 27 October 2019



Anyone interested in mental health as well as spirituality may have spotted some interesting speakers at Wychwood Circle this autumn.  After mindfulness in September, this Sunday, November 3rd, we have author Guy Stagg who has suffered with serious mental illness and who, as a non-believer, decided to undertake the 5,500km ‘pilgrimage’ from Canterbury to Jerusalem:  he hiked on foot, alone, on ancient paths and busy routes, relying on the generosity of strangers all the way.  The result is ‘The Crossway’ (Picador 2018), which mixes travel and memoir and where Guy Stagg ( tells of his walk towards recovery and – a big question for us – ‘asks whether religion can still have meaning for those without faith’.

You can see Guy in interviews and conversations here and here
Join us at Wychwood Library at 7pm on November 3rd. 

After over 7 years of regular monthly meetings Wychwood Circle will take a break in 2020 but before that we have a third visit from Dr Mark Vernon, a
psychotherapist and the author of  ‘How to be an Agnostic’, ‘Wellbeing’, and, just published, ‘A Secret History of Christianity’.  His new book is largely about Owen Barfield – fellow Inkling and friend of JR Tolkien and C S Lewis – and focuses on the importance of imagination within the evolution of consciousness over the centuries, and thereby to the place of poetry as well as spirituality in a fully-rounded appreciation of the world.  His critique of contemporary Christianity is that it has lost touch with the mysticism which should be at its centre.  The new book has just been endorsed by WPF Therapy in London (where Mark trained as a psychotherapist) as their October 'book of the month' (click on the link from the book title above). 
Join us on December 8th, 7pm at the Village Hall.

Thursday 5 September 2019


Can Mindfulness be a form of spirituality for the non-religious?

Tim Stead has gone from engineering to being a vicar at what was once C S Lewis' church at Headington Quarry, Oxford, to being a mindfulness teacher on the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) course at the famous Oxford Mindfulness Centre.

One of the founders of that Centre and
the man who, some might say, 'wrote the book' on mindfulness (subtitled 'Finding Peace in a Frantic World') was a previous guest speaker of Wychwood Circle, in 2016 at Milton Village Hall: Mark Williams. Professor Williams wrote the Foreword to Tim Stead's book Mindfulness and Christian Spirituality (2016), with the recommendation:
'You can read this book in a day; but take it to heart, and it will last a lifetime.'
Since then Tim has left the employment of the Church of England and set up as a freelance teacher and spiritual guide. His more recent book is called See, Love, Be and has the subtitle quoted in the heading above. You can read all about it on Tim's website. As he says there, his main interest is:
'... what might be called Mindful Living, i.e. actually living it all out.  How do we live a life marked by awareness (SEE), compassion (LOVE) and ease of being (BE) in this modern (in my case urban) world? 
Practising some form of meditation will be part of it but we are not here to become good meditators but good humans.  And there are many facets to being a good human with all its shades of light and dark all of which are equally valued parts of the picture. 
Mindful Living will be about how we spend our time, what food we eat and how we travel as well as our engagement with the rest of humanity and the rest of nature.  I am interested in it all.'
We look forward to his exploration of the topic agreed for his visit to the Wychwoods, namely how mindfulness might fall into that gap between conventional religion and modern spirituality.  His talk will include some opportunities to practise and to discuss as well as an open forum for questions and answers.  

Join us on Sunday, September 8th, at the Village Hall (Shipton Road, Milton under Wychwood) for a 7pm start - refreshments served from 6.40pm.  Retiring collection. 

Tuesday 30 April 2019


The phrase 'Truth and Reconciliation' is associated most strongly with so-called Truth Commissions or Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (etc) which have been established historically in countries from Canada and Congo to Peru and Yugoslavia - and famously in South Africa post-apartheid.  Such commissions have often had the job of uncovering the truth about past wrongdoing in situations of serious conflict, in particular violations of human rights, violence, disappearances, and so on.  

So the phrase should perhaps not be used lightly.  Yet truth has been at a premium in both the USA and the UK in recent years, as we have previously debated at Wychwood Circle, and a potential UK prime minister is at this moment being taken to court for lying in the EU referendum - with some critics arguing that this is no place for the judiciary to get involved since 'politicians always lie' while continental diplomats cannot foresee doing any deals with a future prime minister who is known for his 'mendacity and duplicity'. 

When Peter Silva's talk was planned the expectation was that the Brexit debate would have led to some sort of constitutional conclusion, however messy, leaving the UK (in or out of the EU) riven and polarised. We still await an outcome - if indeed one is possible given the degree of polarisation - and there are suggestions that we may just have to stay in semi-permanent limbo. Meanwhile, there might or might not have been wrongdoing or violations of human rights - and only one public and political death - but a crucial task of any future government will be to try and effect a reconciliation in our divided society. It's hard to see how. 

So, with or without a commission, both truth and reconciliation must be high on the agenda in our political and moral climate for years to come. Peter Silva, who now lives in Chipping Norton, knows at first hand what life in South Africa was like before and since their TRC and he has also just visited the USA, where the political and social divisions are also great. He comes with both academic and life experiences to provoke our thoughts and many who have heard Peter before will know that his engaging style of public speaking will both inform and challenge us. 

Join us at the Village Hall on June 9th at 7pm, or earlier for refreshments.  Retiring collection (£3-5 suggested). 


Monday 8 April 2019


It hardly needs stating that we live in turbulent times.  As yet another deadline comes and goes and the UK increasingly becomes the focus of incredulity, hilarity or pity across the world, it is opportune that Wychwood Circle has two speakers in the next couple of months to help us think through a moral (and inevitably political) stance on the Brexit divisions.

The Times journalist Janice Turner wrote recently that
Brexit has flung 65 per cent of the population, according to research by BritainThinks, to two opposing poles. ... So the minority in the centre, what I call "Brexit non-binary", ... have endured three years of roiling, upset guts.
It has been hard hearing our communities caricatured as duped and bigoted. ("I'm glad my constituents aren't as stupid as yours," said a Remain area Labour MP to another with a Leave seat.) 
I don’t believe that non-binary minority are alone in having had their digestion or even their psychological stability upset by the madness of this recent period.  Commentators (including our next guest speaker) have written about underlying anxieties, families divided, mental health damaged (64% reported this in the same survey), vital decisions postponed, non-British EU nationals struggling to confirm their ‘settled status’, etc.  And all this on the basis that 37% of the electorate voted one way in a Yes/No referendum three years ago!


Broadcaster and columnist (and former Canon of Christ Church, Oxford) Angela Tilby was one of the first to speak out about the division of the country into ‘two tribes’ – and that was a year ago.  It seemed slightly exaggerated at that time to ask our second speaker, South African academic and priest Peter Silva, to speak under the title ‘Truth and Reconciliation’.  One year on, it seems anything but extreme to imagine we might have to hold some sort of similar process to try and bring the country together again.  The Archbishop of Canterbury has suggested that church people invite those of opposite views to tea on a Sunday afternoon;  it may take more than that.

Angela Tilby will join us on May 12th in Milton Village Hall to speak about ‘People like us’: are we now two tribes?

Peter Silva will speak at Wychwood Library on June 9th on the topic Truth and Reconciliation, including a survey of the South African experience and its relevance to the UK and US today.

Saturday 9 March 2019


Sue Leigh’s new collection of poems, Chosen Hill, is out now from Two Rivers Press. 
She has won the BBC Proms Poetry Competition and Carol Ann Duffy’s Shore to Shore competition and her work has been published widely in magazines and journals including the Areté, Oxford Magazine, The Spectator and the TLS. 
Living in rural Oxfordshire, she reviews regularly for PN Review and teaches at Rewley House, Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education.

Monday 21 January 2019


Wychwood Circle has always been about breaking down barriers and exploring reality.  From our earliest days we met monthly in Wychwood Library, sharing the space and talking openly about our differences.  Some of us were keen to resist the dualisms which suggest that you must be on one side of the debate or the other; we refused to accept what Nick Baines has called ‘the polarising premises that the ideologues represent as the only options’. 

In June in our remote Cotswold village, we will be discussing ‘Truth and Reconciliation’, a phrase associated with post-apartheid South Africa but not without its resonances in contemporary Britain (or the US or Hungary or the Philippines …).  To help us do so will be someone with personal experience of violence in South Africa, of the sort which some are threatening in our own divided country if they do not get their way.

The devil has the best tunes; do the populists have the best slogans?

One wonders what happened to civilised discourse and moderate opinions.  Is it all about resentment of inequality, distrust or even fear of big business and/or politicians, of national and international structures such as ‘the world order’ which originally grew out of half a century of global conflict? And is it partly a matter of language, the language of division and extremes, of soundbites and slogans? 

Referring to some well-known populists from Trump to Viktor Orban (and some much closer to home), Nick Baines, Anglican bishop of Leeds, suggests some answers when he says:
“Language is key, fear is fundamental, and hope is reduced to instant gratification of visceral demand.”
He quotes Rabbi Sacks who has written that, to gain traction, “populism has to identify an enemy” and then amplifies its claims of victimhood at the hands of that enemy, using language to dehumanise and disrupt. Nick Baines goes on:
 “Reality and rationality are dispensed with on the altar of visceral emotion, as the populists set themselves up against those they decry.  They are ‘the people’; their opponents are – what? Identity politics is not neutral here.”

Identity, economics and gender

As thinking, concerned individuals in our small community, some Christian, some of no particular faith or organised religion, some definitely atheistic, we cannot ignore politics, however uncomfortable it may seem. 

However, we try to go below the headlines and the slogans and in the next couple of months we will consider identity at a local level (including daily violence in Northern Ireland in the Troubles) through Anna Burns’ Milkman; an alternative to the established economic system which some would say has played a big part in the situation we are in (Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics); as well as the big issue of gender, relating it specifically to theology and the male-dominated version of religion which has dominated history to date (March 3rd, Daphne Hampson).

Join us at the February 10th discussion of three books (see below). 

Monday 14 January 2019


FEBRUARY 10th - Book Discussion

Next month we revert to our original practice of basing our discussion on some reading.  However, to save you having to read them, some kind volunteers have agreed to present three books which can then be discussed up to a point. Some do choose to read the books in order to be fully informed and this enlivens the discussion.  The books are as follows (with links to reviews):

MILKMAN, the Man Booker prize-winning novel by Anna Burns (2018)

DOUGHNUT ECONOMICS, a radical approach to economics by Kate Raworth (2017)

FULL CATASTROPHE LIVING, a book on Mindfulness Meditation by one of its original proponents, Jon Kabat-Zinn (1990)

Please do join us - and bring a friend - on February 10th at 7pm in Wychwood Library.