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 The Prince of Wales Bridge 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.
St Briavels has its own shop, The Pantry which sells local produce and serves coffee and cakes.There is a pub in Brockweir as well as St Briavels which also has a health centre with dispensary, as well as the Church school and a YHA hostel located in the 12th century Castle.
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.
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 a ‘Good’ Ofsted
report, April 2022. ‘Open the Book’ is used throughout the school year. 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.
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, though currently under review in St Briavels, which encourages both congregations to relax and socialise. Each church hosts a community carol service where members of various clubs offer readings and choose carols.
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.
Our worship is enhanced by the music of accomplished organists, and hymns are taken from Anglican Hymns Old and New.
Each parish has its own PCC, which meet for individual church meetings 4 – 6 times a year. 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. The organ was fully restored in 2016. In 2018 new, comfortable pew cushions were purchased for every pew in the church. A ‘Little Larder’ of essential food supplies for those in need operates from the church porch. A prayer station was set up this year, 2022, whilst projects being considered by the PCC for the future include an updated kitchen/refreshment facilities area and the provision of supplementary seating with discreet storage facility in the building.
Having good acoustic, the church is used as a concert venue by visiting choirs, for various charity concerts/recitals and also by Wye Valley Music. The church is generally in need of repair and though contracts are in place for regular maintenance of the organ and bells, the prominent clock on the tower needs attention. 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 8.30am on the 1st and 3rd Sundays each month a BCP Communion is celebrated.
Mid-week Communion is held every Wednesday alternating with Hewelsfield.
A small choral group sings at 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, organizes Open Gardens days, and holds a fund raising Harvest fish and chip Supper with entertainment.
The PCC struggles to meet the Parish share, which 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 organized including those previously mentioned as well as a stall at the annual village fete.
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 is a composting Eco Loo in the churchyard. 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.