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Oxford: A quieter parish than Afghanistan
The Very Rev Bob Wilkes pictured in Afghanistan when he was working there for five turbulent years in the 1990s
OXFORD’s new City Rector will face a far quieter life in his new role after spending part of his career in wartorn Afghanistan.
The Very Rev Bob Wilkes has been appointed priest-in-charge at St Michael at the Northgate Church, following the retirement of the Rev Hugh Lee at 65.
It is traditional for the vicar at the city centre church to take on the role of City Rector, and one of Mr Wilkes’s first duties will be leading the service in St Giles on Remembrance Sunday.
The Cornmarket Street church will provide a significant contrast to his time in Afghanistan.
Mr Wilkes, 61, said: “During the 1990s, I was a regional director for the Church Mission Society in the Middle East and Central Asia.
“I led the International Assistance Mission in Afghanistan for five years, during the Mujahedin civil war and the Taliban takeover, during which we increased the team from 60 to 150, and doubled the number of projects from 10 to 20.
“We frequently came under bombardment, with rockets flying in and we were often pinned down in our headquarters in Kabul. It was pretty hairy at times.”
His family were living in Summertown and Mr Wilkes’ wife Sheila, now 58, was working at Cherwell School.
Mr Wilkes was Dean of Birmingham Cathedral for the past three years.
The father-of-four and his wife Sheila, 58, plan to live in Oxford in time for an inauguration service at the church on Wednesday, November 4.
He plans to continue the outreach work started by Mr Lee, to support vulnerable people in the city and the homeless.
Mr Wilkes added: “St Michael at the Northgate works very closely with organisations that support the homeless, including the Gatehouse.
“While we may not be able to transform people’s lives on the spot, we can make them feel welcome and point them in the right direction.
“I think Christian hospitality is very important, and I hope people have a positive encounter when they come into the church.
“We get lots of tourists dropping in and they may only be in the church for a few minutes but I still want to make them feel welcome, and also reach out to the other faith communities in the city.”
Mr Wilkes is a graduate of Trinity College and studied theology at Wycliffe Hall.
He said: “I know quite a few of the church leaders in Oxford and I’m looking forward to returning to a city I know very well.”
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