The St Mary's blog is a mixture of news pieces and topical articles. Each month a number of these are collated into a printed magazine, Touchline. Blog items over three months old are moved to an archive, which is available when logged in. Views expressed here are those held by the individuals posting, and not necessarily representative of St Mary's Church.

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4pm Women's Weekend Away (Heather Fielding)

A gaggle of gals from the 4pm congregation descended on the gorgeous House of the Open Door near Broadway, in the Cotswolds. We had a wonderful time deepening friendships, having uninterrupted conversations, enjoy meals together, exploring the gorgeous surroundings, playing silly games (very competitively!), laughing (lots) singing and most importantly delving into God's word.

It was such a treat to have proper time to consider Hebrews 11-13. Our speaker, Sarah Shelley reminding us to 'fix our eyes on Jesus when life is a blur.' We had space in our small groups to share what blurry times we're going through, pray for each other and discuss practical ways to prioritise time with our Lord every day.

Saturday afternoon was downtime with some popping in to Broadway village and others opting for a walk around a local National Trust property.

Many of us were repeat customers and had been looking forward to the weekend for a number of reasons: 'Quality time with God,' 'recharging my Mummy batteries,' 'sharing with one another' and 'being challenged'.

Highlights of the weekend included 'talking about my faith in an unbridled environment', 'fellowship', 'getting to know the Bible better', 'Getting to know people - it's been two years since I've been at the 4pm and there's still people I hadn't spoken to', 'the games, definitely the games'.

We left the weekend challenged to throw off sins that hinder us and encouraging each other to set our sights on our eternal home and to 'run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.' (Hebrews 12 v 1-2).

The Outnumbered Husband (Katy Singeisen)

My husband is hopelessly outnumbered in his house. He battles with understanding the social interaction (verbal and non-verbal); the theory of mind; the imaginative thought processes and the sensory world of his nearest and dearest.

The poor soul is PNT (predominantly neurotypical i.e. not autistic). His wife and children are not. They are all autistic. If we have autistic visitors, he becomes increasingly bewildered by their manner of communication, their jokes, their way of behaving. It is the experience of autistic people in the PNT world in reverse and I cannot help feeling sorry for him.

Autistic people are not, of course, all alike. Just as in any group of human beings, there are different personalities, abilities, hobbies, interests, likes and dislikes but they seem to have no particular problem in understanding or in communicating with each other.

The challenges faced by us in a PNT world are various but there are a few that people can really help with. May I give you a few to consider?

  • Many of us have to deal with a world which is too bright, too fast and TOO LOUD. In a crowded, noisy and well lit room, there is a danger of the senses becoming overwhelmed leading to an overloaded sensory system which then proceeds to blow up or shut down. If the information you are relaying is important, find somewhere quiet and dimly lit and away from other conversations. Processing one conversation can be done, trying to process two or more simultaneously is very difficult.
  • Try not to use inferences, implications or agenda in your speech - it probably won't be picked up leading to some interesting, unexpected (but probably unwanted) outcomes.
  • Pause occasionally to let your autistic listener a bit of time to process. You may find that he/she is analysing word 15 when you have reached word 302 and are just getting to the punchline. You will be disappointed by the blank expression of non comprehension (got lost in the flow of speech before the punchline but may arrive eventually....)
  • If you do come across an autistic meltdown caused by overload (it may look like a temper tantrum but it isn't), try to guide the person to a quiet, safe place. Don't expect any response to speech until it is finished.
  • The interaction that most of you have with such ease (you have no idea of how beautiful and elegant it looks) is not possible for an autistic person. Ours is the clunky sort. Social interaction involves (for us) using only the intellect and it is exhausting. Please forgive us if we run out of steam and for all the other times we appear rude or stupid because we get it wrong or are so focused on something else that we seem to ignore you.

Thank you.

I have no idea why we have been created autistic but God is not prone to making mistakes.

Katy Singeisen

What next? A mission statement for St Mary's (Will Stileman)

We are full of thanksgiving to God, our heavenly Father, for his gracious hand upon us as a church. 2017 was a tumultuous year for all sorts of reasons: the delays in the building work; our builders eventually going into liquidation; and the Church Commissioners throwing out the proposed United Benefice with White Waltham to name just three!

But we are now back in the refurbished building, and although there are still issues to be sorted out, we are beginning to make good use of it. In addition we are so grateful to God for the results of the last Gift Day: not only are we close to clearing the outstanding debt, but it has allowed one of our mission partners, 'iServe Africa', complete the first phase of its training centre. What is more, despite all the problems we have had over White Waltham, Dave Atallah, is likely to be taking up his post there sooner rather than later. And then on top of all that, God has done more than we can ask or imagine and has opened a door for Sam Brewster to launch a new family friendly congregation in Henley.

Now, with Sam Brewster moving on and Dave Atallah's heavy involvement in White Waltham as well as continuing to lead the 4pm, there is going to be more pressure on the staff team. This will need careful monitoring. However, I am in the process of applying for a curate, and if our application is successful, that curate will join us in July next year.

So, as a church, what should be our next aims?

Periodically, since arriving at St Mary's I have written papers, with the PCC's approval, which have outlined our strategies and plans as a church. The last of those, called Ten Years On was written four years ago, and it has been encouraging to re-read it and see how, through God's grace, many of those plans have come to fruition. Some things have not turned out as we expected but still wonderfully the gospel has gone forward. In all the papers I wrote, I commented that we don't have to invent a vision or mission statement for St Mary's because God has already given one in Scripture. Two passages, in particular, come to mind: The great commission at the end of Matthew's gospel, where Jesus said: 'All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.' Christ has given his church their marching orders! The other passage is that great verse in Ephesians which speaks of God's purpose to 'bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ' [Ephesians 1:10]

But having steered clear of all Mission Statements for the last 15 years, the vicar and the PCC have now done a U-turn and come up with one! With Project Connect nearing completion and with many of the initiatives we had planned coming on line, we thought it would be good to set our priorities for the next stage of our church's life and ministry in a pithy, memorable form. This is a document we can keep coming back to and which will be a useful tool in helping us to decide what activities we should be focusing on going forward.

This mission statement was first presented at our church's Annual General Meeting on 19th April. I commend it to you.

St Mary's Mission Statement, Values and Priorities

  • To know Jesus is to know the God who made this universe and everything in it
  • To know Jesus is to be united with God and indwelt by His Holy Spirit
  • To know Jesus is to become the people we were made to be: holy, enjoying a living and loving relationship with our Creator

Three essentials:

  • Dependent Prayer. Prayer is the chief mark of faith. We express our trust in and dependence on God as we give ourselves to prayer both individually and corporately.
  • Biblical Teaching. All that is needed for faith and godliness is found in the Bible - the trustworthy Word of God. So we give ourselves to both learning from the Bible and passing on its unchanging truths to our generation.
  • Loving One Another. It is by the genuineness of our relationships of love with one another that we demonstrate that we are disciples of Jesus.

Three priorities:

  • Engaging Maidenhead with the gospel of Jesus. It is our responsibility to proclaim the good news about the Lord Jesus in such a way that people have the chance to really engage with Him.
  • Growing mature disciples of Jesus of all ages and backgrounds. It is our ambition to encourage everyone associated with St Mary's to be a wholehearted disciple of Jesus.
  • Partnering with other churches to make Jesus better known. We recognise our responsibility to work with other churches for the growth of the gospel in our region, the UK and other parts of the world.

The mission statement is also located in a more permanent place here on our web site.

Growth Groups at St Mary's (Jon Drake)

Our Growth Groups are such an encouragement to many at St Mary's. We have a number of groups that meet in the evenings, and also some daytime groups. In September the evening Growth Groups will be reorganising. This will be a good time for new people to get involved, so I'm writing to explain why Growth Groups are great to be part of, and why they are reorganising.

Why Growth Groups?

I can honestly say that one of the greatest helps in my Christian life over the years has been belonging to Growth Groups. I hope many others will feel the same.

Our evening Growth Groups are organised within congregations and meet in someone's home. They tend to have between eight and sixteen members and they meet for ninety minutes to two hours each week, except for the weeks when St Mary's Evening falls. Each group is different, but they all include time to catch up with each other, a Bible study discussion and time to pray.

Growth Groups are a brilliant setting to do many of the things the Bible calls us to do for each other as Christians. In the Bible study we can 'teach' and 'encourage' each other (Col. 3:16, 1 Thess. 5:11). Often we learn in a different way in an interactive discussion to in a sermon because we can ask questions and put things into our own words. Growth Groups are a great place to 'love one another' (John 13:34), 'carry each other's burdens' (Gal. 6:2) and pray for each other. In our groups we can also support one another as we reach out to others with the gospel.

If you are not part of a Growth Group at present do speak to your congregation leader, and look out for information coming soon about joining a group from September onwards. No experience is needed and it's fine to try a group and see how you find it.

Why Growth Group reorganisation?

Every four years there will be some reorganisation of the evening Growth Groups and that is happening this September (the daytime groups are organised differently). This will be a smaller reorganisation than four years ago in September 2014, when the groups became congregational for the first time. My hope is that each person will find themselves in a group with some old friends they have been with before and some new friends they can have the joy of getting to know.

There are many advantages to having some reorganisation every four years:

  • It is good for existing Growth Group members, because it gives us the joy of sharing our lives with new people. Most of the groups are now at capacity, so without some reorganisation it is not possible for new members to join them. I hope all groups have found it exciting to be joined by new members and we want that to continue.
  • It is good for those who have recently arrived at St Mary's. It is wonderful that new people join our church each year. We know that it is important for both recent and longstanding members of St Mary's to mix in a small group setting. With groups at capacity this can only happen if there is some reorganisation.
  • It is good for our congregations as a whole. It is the congregation, more than the Growth Group, that is the local expression of the body of Christ. Believers have a responsibility to serve each other in the body, but that is hard when we don't know folk. Having some reorganisation of the Growth Groups allows us to spend time with and develop bonds with a different group within the congregation. Over time, we trust, this will greatly strengthen our life together as the body of Christ.

In the early summer we will put out a brochure explaining how many evening Growth Groups will be on offer in each congregation from September. My hope is that, for the reasons above, as many people as possible will say that they are flexible to join any group, or perhaps specify one or two people they'd like to be with, or an evening they can't manage. The congregation leaders will then work with Growth Group leaders and others to organise the groups so that each person is in a group with some old friends and some new.

As the groups reorganise, it will naturally be painful to no longer be in the same Growth Group as some who have become dear to us. We are very grateful to group members for facing this change so we can share our lives with a wider number in the church. One good way to continue fellowship with dear friends we are no longer in a Growth Group with is to form a prayer triplet or square. This is a group of three or four who meet weekly, fortnightly or monthly to share and pray for each other.

It is important that this reorganisation is conducted sensitively and thoughtfully, so if you have questions, concerns or suggestions please speak to or email your congregation leader directly. We will be delighted to speak with individuals or groups, to put our heads together on how this reorganisation can be done in a way that works for us all.

I write this with great thankfulness to God for all he is doing in our Growth Groups, and excitement about what the future holds as we seek to grow the number of groups and people involved for the glory of his name.