The a population of approximately 2,000 covers an area of about 7 square miles, extending from high ground near the Severn down into the Lower Wye Valley, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is situated on the South Western edge of the Forest of Dean.
Nearby transport links such as the M4, M5, Severn Bridge and Second Severn Crossing as well as improved railway services from nearby Chepstow and Lydney have enabled easier travel for those who need to commute. There are still many longer-term residents in the parishes but the number of traditional Foresters is diminishing.
The Brockweir Shop and Café, which has internet facilities, is a thriving, volunteer run
establishment, which has a good relationship with local churches. It was recently named the Best Local Food Retailer and has been praised for its eco-friendly design.
There is a pub in Brockweir as well as St Briavels which also has a health centre with dispensary, an art studio, art/craft gallery as well as the Church school, a YHA hostel located in the 12th century Castle, and Lindors Christian Guild Hotel.
There is a wide variety of clubs, societies and associations in
the area using the Mackenzie Hall at Brockweir and in St
Briavels the Assembly Rooms which also house the CAB and
Police Point as well as an internet café and produce market.
Other functions can be held in the Sports Pavilion. The
Village News is published monthly and covers the Benefice.
The vicarage is located in a cul de sac within the village of St Briavels and is just two minutes
walk from the church and School. The house consists of three bedrooms and a family bathroom upstairs, whilst downstairs there is a lounge, dining room, reception room/4th bedroom, study, kitchen/ breakfast room, utility and cloakroom. It has oil-fired central heating and double glazing.
There is a single garage and parking for two cars. The gardens to the rear command excellent views of the beautiful Lower Wye Valley.
St Briavels School, with which the church has close links, is a
thriving Voluntary Aided School which has an early Years Group
attached. It recently gained ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted and SIAS
reports. ‘Open the Book’ is used at Christmas. The Vicar and
Churchwardens are, according to the Trust Deeds, trustees of
the school. The school has recently federated with Redbrook
School (a Voluntary Controlled School). The Federation is
known as Wye Forest Federation and has a single Governing Body. The current Headteacher is retiring at the end of the Summer Term and the governors are currently in the process of
recruiting a successor.
Worship in the Benefice
The principal service for each parish is held at the same time each week with its own level of lay involvement. Refreshments are available after each service, which encourages both
congregations to relax and socialize.
Christmas carol services are shared and alternate between each church. Occasional services are shared with the wider Benefice including Tidenham.
Ecumenical services with St Briavels Non-Denominational Chapel and with the Moravian Church at Brockweir are always welcome events. Every Good Friday a joint service with St Briavels Chapel is held on the Village Tump with a local brass band accompanying hymns. We also have links with Lindors, a Christian Guild Hotel.
Our worship is enhanced by the music of an accomplished organist and hymns are taken from A&M New Standard and can be varied by using Mission Praise and Songs of Fellowship.
Although each parish has its own PCC, which meet for individual church meetings 4 times a year, they do come together for 2 joint meetings to discuss matters of common interest. Our Reader is always happy to chair meetings when required.
Our Reader was licensed in 1997. Having lived in the Benefice all her life she has a wealth of
knowledge of the locality, traditions, and churchmanship. Her ministry involves taking part in services, pastoral care, funerals and nurturing the spiritual life of those in the parish.
The Joint Benefice Local Ministry Team was re-mandated in March 2011 and is a supportive
group that provides a forum for discussing new ideas and different forms of service. It
encourages the ministry of the whole congregation and seeks to know the needs of the
community by liaising with the Village Agent.
Lenten Bible Studies take place and parishioners have expressed a desire for more scriptural
Lay visitors are trained for assisting with Baptism preparation. There is a married couple trained and available for Marriage preparation.
Child Protection and Vulnerable Adult Policies are in place in both churches.
The churches are still seen as having an important role within the villages with several baptisms, weddings and funerals taking place each year.
St Mary the Virgin, Briavels
This 11th century building, which is open daily, is located opposite St Briavels Castle. The Church holds 150-170 people and is of mixed architecture dating from Norman to Victorian times. The Norman font is of unique design. The organ was built to the design of that in Liverpool Cathedral, voiced by the leading ‘voicer’ of the time and installed by Ernest Bryson, a composer and organist who retired to St Briavels.
As a Millenium project the Lady Chapel was carpeted and enclosed to provide a Sunday School area and meeting room, the vestry was improved, the North door re-opened to allow disabled access and toilet facilities installed. Further projects being considered by the PCC for the future are, an improved heating system (ideally eco-friendly), repairs to the organ, the installation of a sound system and, possibly, chairs to replace pews.
Having good acoustic, the church is used as a concert venue by Wye Valley Music. The church is in a good state of repair and contracts are in place for regular maintenance of the organ, clock and bells. The churchyard is closed for burials. The Parish Council is now the Burial Authority for St Briavels and maintains an adjoining cemetery.
Sunday Holy Communion services are held at 9.30am using varying order of Common Worship and different versions of the Gloria are sung. A youth worker is available to take Sunday School when children attend.
At 8am on the 1st and 3rd Sundays each month a BCP Communion is celebrated.
Mid-week Communion is held every Wednesday alternating with Hewelsfield.
Throughout the year Taize services are held, usually in the afternoon or evening. These are led by our small choral group, which also sings at the festival and other special services.
St Briavels continues two traditions, both of which are celebrated at
Pentecost. Since 12th century, bread and cheese has been offered to the
poor of the parish. The bread and cheese is blessed at the Pentecost
evening service prior to being thrown at villagers! Also at this service a
visiting preacher gives the sermon for the Whittington purse of £1.6.8d
(still given in old money!). This latter event dates from 1625.
All the school children attend for Easter, Christingle and Harvest, which
makes for joyful and inclusive services.
The church holds an annual Craft Fair, and helps to organise an annual
Open Gardens day, both of which are successful.
St Briavels Parish Share was £8,000 in 2012 and the PCC has nominated increases for the next 4 years. The share has always been paid in full to date. 5% of income, after the Parish Share is paid, is allocated to outreach and charitable giving.
Good stewardship is encouraged and parishioners are urged to join the Parish Giving Scheme and to enable us to claim Gift Aid. Fundraising events are necessarily organised including those previously mentioned.
St Mary Magdalene, Hewelsfield
Located 5 minutes’ drive from St Briavels, the church is sited in an ancient circular churchyard, one of three in Gloucestershire. This is an attractive church with an unusual stone tiled roof that extends from the ridge of the Norman nave to within a few feet of the ground. The East window is almost a hundred years old and was designed by the highly respected George Daniels whose work can be located in many churches and cathedrals around the world. The squat tower has a peal of six bells, one, dated 1450, being the oldest ringable bell in the Forest of Dean.
Like St Briavels, the Church is open daily and often has visitors. There is a portable ramp
available for the disabled and a loop system for the hard of hearing. There should be toilet
facilities by the end of 2013. The church is well maintained by volunteers and is in a good state of repair. The churchyard, dominated by a 1,300- year -old yew tree, is well cared for by parishioners. Although the village of Hewelsfield is small, the welcoming atmosphere of the Church attracts worshippers from other villages.
The service is held at 11am every Sunday and attracts a congregation of about twenty people. A non-Communion service held on the first Sunday of the month is a service of reflection and self-commitment. Other Sundays have Holy Communion, Common Worship. Midweek Communion is held every Wednesday alternating between the two churches.
There is a strong team spirit and sense of fun within Hewelsfield’s congregation, which are crucial to the process of putting on three major events which each cover 3 days every year in order that the wider community can be reached. The May Craft Exhibition, the Nativity Exhibition around Advent Sunday and the Flower Festival around the Feast of St Mary Magdalene (this will be biennial from now on alternating with other forms of celebration)) attract many visitors who come to enjoy the friendly atmosphere and excellent homemade food as well as the memorable displays and stalls.
Although Harvest Festival weekend is a smaller event it is another way the church engages with the community. Members of the congregation visit local farms in a group to find out about their work and share some time with them, collecting mementos on the way, which are blessed with the harvest loaf at the celebratory service.
In recent years we have had a pancake and soup lunch on Shrove Tuesday, which is a wonderful opportunity to socialise with villagers who do not normally attend church.
Hewelsfield, in common with other small parishes always struggles to meet the Parish Share
demand from the Diocese. However, the Church is on course to pay in full for this year.
A great deal of fund raising takes place throughout the year and 5% of the proceeds are donated to charity.