FINCHAMPSTEAD has a new rector, and he says he can’t wait to meet you: The Revd Dr Leonard Onugha was installed in the post for the parish of Finchampstead and California at a special service held at St James’ Church on Monday evening.
Introduced by the archdeacon of Berkshire, the Ven Stephen Pullin, the Rt Revd Olivia Graham, the Bishop of Reading, led the service which included an act of communion and the opportunity for Dr Onugha to make his commitment to the parish.
The choir sang a number of pieces including the hymns. Those seated inside the church wore masks and weren’t able to sing, while the congregation on the church lawns could.
There was also a collection for Bishop of Oxford’s Outreach Fund.
Dr Onugha is no stranger to Berkshire: he had previously served the parish of Emmer Green and first explored ministry by joining the parish of St Paul’s with St Agnes and St Barnabas in Whitley.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be rector of a parish,” he said. “I’m a bit overwhelmed by it all, because in my mind, it’s still the me that I see when I wake up in the morning, and not deserving of all the effort everyone has gone to to make it a special day.
“It’s a bit surreal and I’m trying to get head around it through the eyes of people around me. If I’m completely honest, it hasn’t sunk in yet.”
Married to Joanna, the couple have known each other for a long time and he sees his ministry and being a team effort with her.
“We wanted to share the gospel, to share the love of Christ, with people. But we never thought one day it will result in us together leading a community and a parish. It is quite special for us, humbling and joyful.”
The parish includes St Eligius in Arborfield, St John’s in California/Gorse Ride and St James, each with its own histories and futures.
“St James is a well-established community, the history goes quite far back actually,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s changing demographics.
“The big question for us is where do we best go to recreate what has become the core of the community here, the life of faith, the joy and the love?
“What is it that the church brings to community? Where do we go to bring it?”
With this in mind, Dr Onugha wants to help nurture the current congregations, while also reaching out to the next generation, something he feels is challenging.
“That brings us to a place like Arborfield, because there is a housing development coming in with younger families. We can use our resources to create community with Arborfield.”
Examples include creating space for young people to ‘just be’ and hang out.
“I will say, one thing about my Christian is the chance to breathe life into the community, to share what Jesus really is about. It’s not about rules, it’s not about being dressed up, it’s actually bringing life, bringing freedom to people and showing what Christ has to offer.”
Dr Onugha said that while he grew up in a Christian family, he “rebelled at the right time” when he was a teenager, and then came to faith at university.
Now he’s looking forward to getting to know his new parish.
“I’d love to meet you,” he said. “If you’re anywhere in the neighbourhood, say hello. If you see me on the road, say hello. I like meeting people – it’s a big part of why I switched jobs. I found that I had far more enjoyment being with people and giving time to people.
“I look forward to helping the community. I hope to help us deepen our sense of unity and understanding one another, pushing always for the growth and development of our community.”