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.
Please log in to display a button below to enable notifications when a new blog entry is published.
Junior Youth Weekend Away (Zach Penman)
Being a youth member only a year ago means that as a ministry trainee this year I get to do lots of the activities I enjoyed as a young person, but this time actually being in a leadership role!
Our annual Junior Youth Weekend Away happened a few weeks back where, with the maximum number of youth members we could fit (31), we travelled in convoy to the Tom Roberts Adventure Centre (TRAC) in Newent, Gloucestershire. From the point of arrival to the very last moment fun was had by all (Especially me!).
With 10 leaders from both X Focus (of a Friday evening) and Pathfinders (from all services), it was a time to unite as adults who work especially with these youth members to celebrate the joy of God's word. We also had Andy, our visiting speaker, who taught through the book of James, and with it several challenging topics which we dwelled together on in the newly built lecture theatre at the site. More of that later.
I think the most important part of the time away was the teaching, but some Junior Youth may say it was the delicious food made for us throughout the weekend, and some may say the best bit was all the games. The TRAC centre truly has it all! Go kart tracks, zip lines and even a rowing pond! To my joy the pond was closed, so I didn't get the opportunity to embarrass myself.
We played "Catch the leader" in total darkness with only a few glow sticks to light the way, and we enjoyed newly made friendships and older ones too whilst toasting marshmallows at the campfire.
James is really quite an amazing book! And working through it was a real joy, and I think the members saw great truths in it. The session which I thought was most challenging was from James 3 and on taming the tongue (the session came with many tongue-rolling youth members!). How astonishing is the idea that we can fill our time using our tongues for great things like encouraging other Christians in God's amazing word rather than using it for ungodly chatter or gossip? We got to the idea of prioritising your tongue! Make it too busy with praising God so sinful words and acts can't be done by it, or at least reduced.
- Praise God we all came home safely!
- Praise God his word was read and explained in a way that engaged all 31 members and the leaders
- Praise him who came to Earth and did no godless chatter or gossip; let him be an example to us
- Thank God for practicalities sorted: food, travel, games and fun
- Thank God for the energy both leaders and members had
- Pray for these fun and life changing holiday weekends to continue with Christ at the heart of it all!
Lunchtime Carols (Richard Crane)
Our first carol service of the season took place on Tuesday 11th December, with sandwiches and mince pies served to a good crowd of local workers and church family. The mayor joined us as we sang, heartily accompanied by the new organ, and Will spoke helpfully from 1 Timothy.
The next carol services are on Sunday 16th and Sunday 23rd at 7pm, so do plan to come along and invite your friends! Further information about dates and times of Christmas services can be found here. All are welcome. And if you or your neighbours work locally, why not think about joining us occasionally for our regular Tuesday lunches, which restart on 15th January?
iServe Africa (Sam Allberry)
At the beginning of November I had the privilege of visiting Nairobi to speak at a pastors' conference being run by our mission partner Harrison Mungai, whose ministry we have been supporting at St Mary's for a few years now. Harrison has been leading a ministry called iServe Africa, which trains people in local church ministry across Kenya.
One of the new initiatives for iServe is the new Institute for the Gospel and Emerging Issues on Africa, known as Injili Africa, and the conference I was speaking at - on the gospel and sexuality - was the Institute's inaugural event. They hope in future conferences to address issues such as corruption and tribalism.
While in Nairobi I had the opportunity of visiting iServe Africa's new building, which St Mary's has helped to fund. The first two floors of the building are now complete (they hope to add another two floors at a future date) and house offices, dormitories for male and female ministry apprentices, and space for conferences. The money given by St Mary's paid for the retaining wall (very important as the building is at the foot of a steep hillside), tiling and painting for the building. The land to the side of the building is also being well used, with crops planted to earn the ministry a little more revenue.
I was also able to visit Gracepoint Church in the Kikuyu suburb of Nairobi, which Harrison planted a year or so ago. The church is already a little too big for its building so Harrison is considering what the next steps might be for it.
It is exciting to see how the Lord is using Harrison and the team at iServe. Do continue to pray that these new facilities would enable the ministry to expand, and for many more to be trained up and deployed in gospel ministry across Kenya and the wider region. It is a remarkable ministry and we are very privileged as a church to be able to support it.
For more information do visit their website.
Christians in Sport Quiz Night (Chris Hutton)
Sue Barker or Virginia Wade... the difference between winning or losing!
On Friday 23rd November, just over 100 people representing all sorts of sporting interests in the local area competed to win the annual Maidenhead Sports Quiz run by Christians in Sport.
14 teams entered and the top five teams were only separated by two points. Which is, as I learnt at my cost, why convincing your team mates to choose one female tennis player over the other and then getting it wrong really matters... doh!
The Christians in Sport team, led by Ian Lancaster, put on a professional show and hosted the evening very well. There was good range of questions testing all sporting areas. The 'youth team' did well, proving many years of watching/playing sport doesn't always give you the advantage.
At half time, just before we tucked into a curry, Ian took 10 minutes to share the gospel to the crowd. He talked through Luke 2 and the Good News of the birth of Jesus. Asking what Christmas really means to each of us and explaining how Jesus, our saviour, is central to this celebration.
It was a great evening, spending time with friends, and hearing the gospel shared. At the end of the night, a particular highlight was seeing '2 ways to live' being written up on a scrap piece of paper and explained to a non-Christian guest.
For those interested, the question was who was the last British female tennis player to win a Grand Slam?
Giving to St Mary's (The Finance Committee)
The Giving-Receiving Balance with our church family
At this time of year, as we reflect on the birth of Jesus, God's ultimate gift to mankind, we are traditionally encouraged to celebrate by offering gifts to our family and friends and to receive gifts in return.
As we think through and balance our family Christmas giving, it's also an opportunity to think and pray through the balance of our giving and receiving with our Christian family, namely our fellow worshippers, ministers, operational staff and a small army of volunteers, that together form St Mary's.
So, what 'gifts' do we receive from St Mary's? No less than five services packed with Christ-centred teaching and associated children's activities each Sunday, a whole raft of mid-week outreach and pastoral events including those for babies, toddlers, children, teens, town-centre workers and seniors. All this delivered in accessible facilities in the heart of our town.
All this needs to be funded. St Mary's PCC has been planning its 2019 spending over the last few weeks and months. Each year, priorities are set and compromises made as St Mary's strives to deliver its God-given mission. There is always more St Mary's could do and it is sometimes funding that stops us doing it.
How is St Mary's Funded?
The Lord provides the finances for St Mary's mainly through the generous giving of our congregations. The Finance Committee on behalf of the PCC plans spending carefully in order to make the best use of the resources God gives us. In order to do this, it's a great help to know how much income to expect from those who call St Mary's their church family and belong to our congregations, so we can budget more accurately.
How can I give to St Mary's?
Here's a brief summary of the ways we are able to contribute to the work and witness of St Mary's Maidenhead.
Regular Giving Scheme
Best for members of our congregations with a regular income
The Regular Giving Scheme (RGS) is the name given to the St Mary's offering scheme and forms the foundation for the church's income. You tell us how much you plan to give on a regular basis (you choose how often), which in turn, helps us plan.
The RGS also makes it simple for St Mary's to reclaim Gift Aid from HM Revenue and Customs. Gift Aid will be explained in more detail in the February 2019 edition of Touchline.
The RGS will be covered in more detail in next month's Touchline, meanwhile, you can learn about and join the RGS at: www.stmarysmaidenhead.org/rgs.
One-off (or occasional) Gifts
Best for visitors, friends, relatives, colleagues or congregational members not on a regular income
Regular giving is not possible for everyone. Visitors, friends, relatives, colleagues or indeed congregational members not on a regular income may wish to give occasionally, ad hoc or just the once.
The various ways you can make one-off or occasional donations will be covered in the March 2019 edition of Touchline.
Best for anyone with an Amazon account who wishes to supplement their main giving
AmazonSmile is a website operated by Amazon with the same products, prices and shopping features as Amazon.co.uk. The difference is that when you shop on AmazonSmile, the AmazonSmile Foundation donates 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible products to the charitable organisation of your choice, at no cost to you.
St Mary's is a registered charity on AmazonSmile and you can find out how to link your existing Amazon account to AmazonSmile in the Giving to St Mary's/AmazonSmile section of the St Mary's website.
For those who wish to leave a gift in their will to St Mary's
St Mary's welcomes all gifts in wills, however large or small, and we commit to use your gift in accordance with your wishes.
Legacies will be explored in more detail in the April 2019 edition of Touchline.
St Mary's Finance Committee
Women's Breakfast (Rae Binning)
The recent women's breakfast was well attended with a large number of women from across the congregations gathering in the church. Delicious food (bacon butties, pastries, yoghurt, fruit...) was served which more than compensated for the early start.
Rachel Meynell challenged us to think clearly about our identity. Through our lives as women we often change where we base our identity - we are daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, workers, divorcees, planners, carers, etc etc. Yet there is danger in basing our identity, our sense of self worth and value on these roles. Feelings of pride or inadequacy can often result depending on how well or badly we think we are living out those roles.
We were encouraged to see where our true identity lies, to look at who we are in Jesus - beloved children of God, sisters with Christ, heirs in the kingdom. Nothing and no one is strong enough to bear the weight of our identity except God. There was plenty of time for us to discuss these issues around our tables:
- Where do we look for confidence and approval?
- If we put Jesus at the root of our identity how does that affect the way we respond to people and circumstances?
If you missed this breakfast and think it could have been helpful, don't worry, there will be a sequel in the new year on working out our identity in the every day.
Great News (Will Stileman)
"Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you: he is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10-11)
With all the busyness and familiarity that surrounds Christmas it is hard to be filled with wonder over all that the birth of the Lord Jesus signifies, and to truly celebrate it. So let us ponder again what the angels said to the shepherds.
First, it is good news of great joy. For those of us who have been believers for a while, this is not new news as it was for those shepherds; nevertheless, it remains good news of great joy. It is not something to simply acknowledge and not get too excited about. There we were, ignorant of God and lost in our sin. Without Christ we are alienated from God and objects of his righteous anger. But because God sent his eternal Son to be our Saviour, we can become God's child rather than remaining his enemy. We can face the prospect of life with him in the new creation instead of eternal separation from him in hell. As Jesus once said: it is those who have been forgiven much who love much. It is when we appreciate how pitiful and hopeless our natural state before God, that we can truly appreciate the good news of great joy that is Jesus.
But not only is it good news of great joy it is for all the people. It is for everyone. It is for members of our family. It is for those who live in our street. It is for all our colleagues at work. It is for all our old school friends and team mates. It is for everybody in Maidenhead whatever their background and worldview. Whether people recognise it or not, this good news of great joy concerning Jesus is for them.
So our great prayer this Christmas is that none of us take the great miracle of Jesus' birth for granted; and that there will be many who join us at St Mary's over Christmas who recognise for the first time their need of a Saviour and understand that Jesus is exactly the Saviour that they need.
Three hours a month (Viv Lee)
I've finally got around to reading the letter to the churches from the GAFCOM Assembly, 2018, in an abridged form, which quite excited me. The letter states that "faithful proclamation of this Gospel is under attack from within and without, as it has been since Apostolic times. External attacks often deny the suffering of Christ's sacrifice. Secularism seeks to exclude God from all public discourse and to dismantle the Christian heritage of society. Tragically there has been a failure of leadership in our churches to address these threats to the Gospel of God."
The GAFCON conference theme was 'Proclaiming Christ faithfully to the Nations', we have received the gospel, this is the faithful witness of previous generations, yet there are still billions who are without Christ and without hope. 'We repent for the times and seasons when we have only preached to ourselves and not embraced the difficult task of reaching beyond our own cultural group in obedience to God's call to be a light to the nations (Acts 13.47)', ending with, 'we invite all faithful Anglicans to join us in this great enterprise of proclaiming Christ to the Nations.'
As a result of the GAFCON Assembly, where Will Stileman was present, you have to ask yourself, what type of cross-cultural mission do YOU have in mind? Do you fancy learning a new language and leaving your extended family for years at a time to go Asia or Africa, for example?
Or do you want to do it right here, in Maidenhead, on our streets once a month as a Street Angel?
I praise God that we have a faithful leader in Will who encourages us to 'get stuck in', to live the Gospel and share it with others; giving us the opportunities to invite 'seekers' to events and courses as well as the Bible knowledge to be confident in doing this. But first we have to know people to invite.
The news is full of disasters, poverty and refugees, so have you noticed that it can seem that our compassion has reached its limit. There is so much hurt around, so much need in our world, that we can begin to dissociate ourselves from it. But our calling is to remain open to God's word and all God's people, even those who don't know him yet, and to be tender and compassionate!
In our attempts to participate in gospel mission we cannot do everything. But we can do something! And perhaps that begins with a commitment not to look away.
Street Angels talk to everyone, the drunk, the homeless, the doormen, the taxi drivers and the vulnerable. We are THERE! We listen to sad life stories, we make the homeless feel human by talking to them as equals. We hear sad stories of lives wasted, lost and hurting and we celebrate with the hen dos and birthday parties. We pray for people on the streets and also when we get home.
After seven years on the streets of Maidenhead we are well known, we never have to appeal for money as there are grants we can apply for because we make a difference bringing the peace of God to a hurting world. (We were asked to start by the christian Chief Constable because of evidence from other town centres of the dramatic fall in recorded crime on the nights Angels are out.)
We follow in great footsteps as Jesus-enthusiastic amateurs. None of the early Christians had any formal training, just fellowship and listening to Jesus: we can all do this because of our christian fellowship and gospel teaching. We just have to have the conviction of the Spirit that we will be given the words to speak when needed. 'Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks the reason for the hope that you have.'
Come and join our inter-Church group, which is so encouraging. Learn, as one of a team, how to talk naturally of Jesus and your faith, how to counter the challenging conversations in a team of both young and mature Christians. To be salt and light in our town, bringing people in to be discipled by the properly trained to pass on this wonderful message and heritage to the next generation. We have lost five Angels this term through illness, work pressure or moving and without more volunteers we will not be the reliable presence that people look for on their evenings out.
'It is better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil' and losing three hours sleep for Jesus once a month isn't really suffering is it?
For more information about Street Angels, contact the Church Office.
Inaugural Organ Recital (Matthew O'Donovan)
On 27th October we were delighted to welcome just short of 200 people into the refurbished church, of whom perhaps as many as a quarter were not regular members of the St Mary's congregation, for the opening recital on the new organ. It was wonderful that David Goode was able to give the concert. He is a member of St Mary's, and - when not busy as college organist and a house master at Eton - is an internationally acclaimed recitalist. David has previously been organist at First Congregational Church LA (home to the world's largest church organ) and, before that, at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford, and King's Cambridge (search for 'Carols from King's 1992' on YouTube and you'll catch a few glimpses of him on the organ there).
David certainly put the instrument through its paces with a varied and entertaining programme which displayed the organ's wide range of tone colours to vivid effect, in spite of the somewhat acoustically deadening effect of a fairly full house. After William Walton's Orb and Sceptre - a march written for the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953 - we heard three Chorale Preludes by Bach. These were pieces nominally written to be played as a kind of 'playover' for the hymn - but in some cases they are rather elaborate pieces in their own right, and one of them was - appropriately enough - written in order to show off a new organ. Nonetheless, Bach was always very responsive to the theological content of the hymn, and David introduced these themes to us as he spoke about the pieces. The epic and unabashedly 'gothic' Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue by the English-Canadian organist Healy Willan finished the first half.
The second half of the programme began in light-hearted style with a concert medley of Gershwin themes, before we turned our ears to the sounds of Paris with the virtuosic Scherzo by Maurice Duruflé and the last two movements of Charles-Marie Widor's Fifth Symphony - an expressive Adagio and the famous Toccata. The organ sounded excellent - notwithstanding one pipe slipping rather out of tune in the heat of a packed church, and we had many very complementary comments from visitors. It was particularly pleasing to hear that the organ - which sounds rather loud in an empty building but conversely felt somewhat lacklustre at the opening event in June when we had several hundred people on their feet crammed into the building - seemed just right with that size of gathering in the room. It is my hope that, as we anticipate filling the church several times over for carol services in the coming weeks, it will greatly encourage us in our praise of our Lord and Saviour.
I would like to extend my particular thanks to David for his generosity of time and talents in giving the concert, but also to Jonathan Wallace and his colleagues from Henry Groves & Son, and our consultant Paul Hale, who have built us a fine instrument indeed, and whose considerable flexibility in accommodating the vagaries of the completion schedule for the building works was much appreciated. I'm also grateful to a number of members of the St Mary's music team who generously gave of their time to enable things to run smoothly on the night. If anyone was unable to attend the concert but would like a copy of the programme, I have a couple of dozen spares and am more than willing to distribute them to any who are interested, on a first come, first served basis.
Should we seek to be effective? (Jon Harris)
Is it a priority for God that we, as a St Mary's family, are effective?
'Effective' may convey an air of efficiency, of obligation sufficiently met, or in some circumstances may indicate a measure of success. This sounds positive but we need to strike a note of caution: people don't talk about 'effective' families, they talk about loving or healthy families. Is effective a commercial accolade that a church family should resist seeking after? The answer is no and yes.
The purpose of each of us is to bring glory to God (Isaiah 43:6-7) and the way to do this is to follow his commands (John 14:23). This is not, however (as the tone of that sentence might be construed), something that is formulaic, jingoistic or bombastic. Quite the contrary, as we see in a snapshot from Paul's life in 1 Corinthians 16:6-9. A Godly effectiveness demands we live with uncertainty, that we submit to God's unrevealed plans and that we deal with opposition.
"Perhaps I will stay with you for a while, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go. For I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me."
- Uncertainty: Paul, the 'super apostle', couches his plans in very uncertain terms, "Perhaps ...even ... wherever I go ... I hope." Paul has no fixed plan that he is resolute on pushing through. Nor must we.
- God's plans: Paul, expert in the law and diligent student of Jesus teachings, still submits his plans and desires to The Lord's blessing, or overruling, with his words, "if the Lord permits". Paul is humble and wise in 'pushing doors' to see which ones God will open.
- Opposition: Paul, God's chosen means of taking Jesus to the gentile world, did not fear 'getting bogged down' by opposition and did not plot a careful path around it. Neither must we.
Paul might easily have founded his outlook on the wisdom his forefathers passed on from God to us in Proverbs 21: 29-31:
"The wicked put up a bold front, but the upright give thought to their ways.
There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord.
The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord."
'Effective' would be a good compliment to give a church family that follows God's commands and works to bring him glory. But such a church family will have created for itself the goal of following God's commands and bringing him glory - not have built itself the goal of striving to be 'effective'.
The Charles Davis Trust Service (Jenny Taylor)
Charitable grants, which have been given out each year for more than two centuries, benefit senior citizens in the Old Borough of Maidenhead each November. Historically, each year approximately 150-200 pensioners of 70 years of age and above have received a bag of coal to help them keep warm throughout the winter. They now receive food vouchers from a local supermarket! This is all due to a very generous merchant called Charles Davis who owned properties in Maidenhead High Street 300 years ago.
When Mr Davis, of St James, Westminster, made his will, he stipulated that after his death the rents of the two buildings at 79 and 81 High Street - close to the entrance of today's Nicholson's Centre - should be used to provide poor people in the town with coal and firewood. The Charles Davis Trust was founded and Mr Davis' wish is still respected each year. Mr Davis also asked that recipients of the money should attend a service at St Mary's Church on the anniversary of his death, which was 11 November 1716. This has been held each year ever since.
This year the annual Charles Davis Service was held on Thursday 8 November in St Mary's when we welcomed 71 people who had applied to receive a Sainsbury's voucher - this year amounting to £35. There were 154 applicants and vouchers have been sent out to all those who, for different reasons, were unable to attend the service. It was great to be able to hold it in the newly refurbished church and for everyone to be seated around tables, café style. Refreshments were served after the service as vouchers were distributed.
Thanks are due to the willing team of volunteers who assisted the Trustees on this occasion to ensure that everyone was made welcome. This was made so much easier this year due to the improved access into the church building.
Fire Evacuation Procedure (Dick West)
We hope we will never have to evacuate the church due to a fire, but we should be prepared just in case. This is a basic guide on what to do.
What should I do if I hear the fire alarm?
Walk to the nearest Fire Exit which will normally be the way you came in to the building. Proceed to the Assembly Point at the driveway entrance and wait there for instructions.
Do not stop to collect personal belongings. Do not collect your children from Sunday school classes - they will be brought to the assembly point by their leaders and a register will be taken.
In the event of a fire the driveway will become a pedestrian area, except for emergency vehicles. Don't attempt to leave in your car until given the all clear. Do not attempt to re-enter the building. Do not assume it's a false alarm. Next time you are at the church please make a mental note of where the Fire Exits are located and the Assembly Point sign. At each service and church event there will be fire wardens on duty and staff trained in how to use fire extinguishers to ensure we can safely evacuate everyone.
What should I do if I discover a fire?
Raise the alarm by breaking the glass in one of the Fire Alarm Call Points, located by the Fire Exits. Evacuate via the nearest Fire Exit. Without putting yourself at risk, assist anyone who may need help to leave the building, i.e. the elderly or the young. Go to the Assembly Point at the driveway entrance. Wait there for instructions from a fire warden.
You are not expected to fight a fire. Fire extinguishers are located around the site and the purpose of these is to assist with the means of escape.
All Age Family Holy Communion (Will Stileman)
Holy Communion (also known as the Lord's Supper and Eucharist), along with Baptism, is a rite that was established by Jesus to ensure that his disciples never forget their continuing dependence on his atoning death, until he returns to earth on the Day of Judgement. How often Christian believers should celebrate Holy Communion and at what age children should be allowed to participate in it are matters of debate in which, like Baptism, we want to allow Christians to exercise freedom.
When the Lord Jesus instituted Holy Communion, he effectively hijacked the Jewish Passover which commemorated God's salvation from slavery through the Exodus from Egypt. Jewish children brought up under the old covenant were expected to participate in the Passover celebrations, and parents were expected to explain the reasons for the various decrees and rites to their children.
I can see no theological reason why children being brought up by believing parents to trust in Jesus should not be allowed to participate in Holy Communion, especially if they have been baptised. I would suggest that Paul's warnings against participating in Holy Communion in an unworthy manner in 1 Corinthians 11 do not prohibit children from participating in the rite, but some would disagree.
Our next All Age Communion Service is on Sunday 11th November at 9:15am and 4pm. The meaning of communion will be explained and the bread and the wine will be brought to the congregation as they remain seated in the pews so that parents can serve their children, if appropriate. We are giving advanced warning of this so that parents have the time to decide amongst themselves whether or not to allow their children to take communion and to prepare their children in advance for what is going to happen.
Whether we think children should be allowed to eat the bread and drink the (non-alcoholic) wine or not, it is good for all of us, whatever our age, to meet together under God's word and be reminded about and express our utter dependence on Jesus' death.
Follow up to A Problem that Will Never Go Away (Will Stileman)
In the last edition of Touchline I reported and commented on the disturbing Pride Celebration service that took place at Reading Minster on 30th August (the article can be found on this blog entitled: "A problem that will never go away"). At its last meeting on 9th October, the St Mary's Church Council (PCC) instructed me to send the following letter to Steven Croft, the Diocesan Bishop of Oxford.
Dear Bishop Steven,
You are already aware of my deep concern and unhappiness over the Eucharist Celebration at Reading Minster on Thursday 30th August to celebrate Reading Pride. When I rang Stephen Pullin, the Assistant Archdeacon, who organised the event, he informed me that he had run the event with the full knowledge and support of both Bishop Andrew and the Archdeacon. When I informed our PCC about this they were deeply grieved. We have members of St Mary's who are same-sex attracted and / or identify as gay. We also have those who are confused about their gender. We love them, accept them and encourage them to trust Christ and walk in faithfulness before him. But LGBT+ Pride Celebrations do not promote a God honouring understanding of gender and sexual fidelity but a godless, secular one. They advocate the acceptance of lifestyles that are contrary to the teaching of Scripture which should not appear to be affirmed. We believe for our bishop to give his backing to a service of Holy Communion to Celebrate Reading Pride is a betrayal of his responsibility to Jesus Christ and to us.
I have since met personally with Bishop Andrew on September 27th. It was a very painful meeting in which Bishop Andrew confirmed that the event had his support, that he hadn’t been naïve and that the service was an appropriate missional and pastoral event reaching out to the LGBT+ community.
As a consequence of this I, and the PCC feel we are no longer able to receive the spiritual oversight of Bishop Andrew, Olivia Graham and Stephen Pullin. The PCC at its meeting yesterday passed a motion unanimously to that effect. I was also instructed by the PCC to write to you as our diocesan bishop with the request that alternative arrangements are made for our episcopal care.
Please be assured that this request doesn't change our desire to be fully involved in the life of this diocese as we seek to proclaim Christ and make faithful disciples.
I look forward to our meeting at Church House on 16th October.
I have since met with Bishop Steven, along with three other clergymen in this diocese whose PCCs have similar concerns. The meeting with Bishop Steven was warm and courteous. He listened to us and understands our concerns and he will be writing to our PCC with his response in due course.
I will keep you informed of any developments but please do continue to pray for the PCC that we might be filled with godly wisdom and courage.
Human Trafficking (Eleanor Kershaw)
The slave trade was abolished more than 200 years ago (The Slave Trade Act 1807), yet there are still an estimated 40.3 million victims of modern slavery; 15,000 of which are in the UK, hidden in our communities.
Miriam was 'rescued' from an abusive relationship, had no income and was homeless. How could she refuse the promise of a better life, as the Nannie of a church-going family... Each Sunday she sat silently next to her 'keepers' in church. Others around her viewed her as a shy girl, not realising what suffering she would be facing that coming week, and again week after week. She was 'seen' in church yet wasn't 'seen' at all. Miriam was sold on to a further three other families before being truly rescued when the Home Office raided the home, after concerns were finally raised. Thankfully now her healing journey has begun.
'The Clewer Initiative', a three year project, has been established by the Church of England as a response to this terrible trade. It is through this project that churches are being equipped and mobilised into action to help end slavery, particularly in the UK. The project provides resources for churches and the wider communities to detect modern day slavery and helps educate people on how to safely raise concerns.
On Saturday 20th October, 'The Clewer Initiative' came to Maidenhead! We welcomed representatives of 19 different churches and organisations in Maidenhead, congregating at All Saints Church. The speaker, Suzette Jones, shared her expertise and knowledge, training us in what the issues are in our communities and how to recognise the signs. It was really exciting to see over 100 people united as God's people, praying together about these issues, and making a stand to say "We see you" - the victims of modern slavery. We welcomed people from other faith groups, and it was wonderful to utilise this opportunity for outreach; witnessing to them in our worship together.
- Please pray: We ask God to help us be a part of love's movement, to work for a world where human beings are valued, where no one is enslaved, no one used against their will for another's pleasure, need, or financial advantages
- Find out more: The Clewer Initiative website
- Report a concern: Modern Slavery Helpline 0800 0121 700
11am Men's Weekend Away (Jamie Henshall)
I was fortunate enough to join a band of 12 men from the 11am congregation in escaping to the countryside of the South Downs for a men's weekend at The Pines, and I'm so glad I did.
Roger Hines was my chauffeur for the trip and after a swift journey filled with entertaining conversation, we arrived on Thursday evening to be greeted by huge portions of lasagne and garlic bread, prepared by our fabulous chef John Hollidge. It wasn't long before we gathered together to open our Bibles at Romans 8, which would be our study material over the next 36 hours.
It is a famous chapter (often known as the 'great 8') and from the opening line we were all hooked... "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). An amazing thought which we would go on to understand in the context of the Christian battles with sin in the present, and the future glory which awaits.
After a good night's sleep in the cosy accommodation, followed by a breakfast of the highest standard, we got stuck into the Bible again. Richard Crane led us as we discovered the wonderful truth that as Christians we are filled with God's life-giving spirit, "But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness." (Romans 8:10).
More studies followed, as well as a bonus session where we read a chapter of a book on holiness provided by John Driscoll and discussed how as Christian men we could live holier, distinct lives. We spent time sharing our personal challenges, and praying for and encouraging one another in love. We even managed to squeeze in a fabulous walk on the South Downs and a late-night game of Bean-farming so boredom was never a danger!
I have returned encouraged to live out my salvation by being an ever-holier man of God: 'Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation - but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it' (Romans 8:12). I don't always manage it but I'm encouraged that if I'm in Christ, I'm not condemned, and that no matter what life brings he will bring me home: 'in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us' (Romans 8:37). I've been reminded again of the goodness of God, I've got to know a group of guys really well, and I've had a lot of fun.
Sign me up for next year!
The Crown That Lasts (Will Stileman)
Every Saturday in November England are playing an international rugby match at Twickenham. Now as an ardent England rugby supporter I will be unashamedly rooting for the national team and if they do win (I am not currently hopeful) I will bask for a few moments in their reflected glory. However, very quickly any elation will evaporate and by December I will have forgotten all about it and moved onto the next thing.
In fact even for those athletes who have the thrill of playing in those matches the excitement won't last. It never does. Boris Becker at the height of his achievements once said "Where do you go when you are best in the world? What is next?"
He had achieved what he had striven for but it didn't satisfy and the success didn't last. None of the rugby players who are playing at Twickenham this month will be playing in 20 years' time. That is the trouble with the things of this life: they never last.
Now the Bible often uses sports imagery to describe the Christian life and in one passage the apostle Paul writes these words: "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever." (1 Corinthians 9:24-25)
Whoever wins this month will eventually lose their dominance and be forgotten. And what is true of rugby and sport is true of our own lives. Our own successes in commerce, in relationships, in education, in DIY will not last - eventually economic recession, or ill health or death will get the better of us.
But there is a race in which all who compete, and last the course, get the winner's gold medal. They get a crown which lasts for ever and which gives lasting satisfaction. The prize or crown that Paul is speaking of is the joy of living in the physical presence of God, and enjoying a relationship of intimacy and love with the God who made us and all that is good.
And it is only through Jesus Christ that we can have that relationship, and win that prize. As Jesus himself once said "I am the way, the truth and the life, no-one comes to the Father except through me."
So here is the great tragedy. Many throughout the world are striving after success and meaning in their lives, but they are ignoring the one person who can give it to them.
That is why our Mission Statement at St Mary's is: To know Jesus and make Jesus known; and our first priority is to engage Maidenhead with the gospel of Jesus.
If you like rugby I hope that, like me, you will enjoy the November matches, but I hope even more that you will take the time to learn from Jesus Christ how you can win the prize that lasts for ever and brings eternal satisfaction.
Loving One Another by Praying for One Another (Rachel Meynell)
Why do we find it so hard to pray for one another? I'm not talking about assuring someone that you will be praying for them (which, by the way we should make sure we actually do if we say we will), but I am talking about impromptu praying while chatting with someone who shares something that is hard or something good that they are rejoicing over.
The first of our essentials as a church is that of dependant prayer. We believe that God is all powerful, that he answers prayer, and that he loves it when his children turn to him in praise, or for help. In Colossians 4:2, Paul says 'Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful'. We are commanded to do it and we need to do it because we live in a hostile world. So why don't we? It is almost as if we think God has His hands tied, doesn't care, or is too busy to listen. Or maybe it is because we are too busy or we don't care.
We have various opportunities to pray together corporately - the St Mary's evening, Growth Groups and the Friday morning prayer meeting in the chapel - regular times when we show our dependence on God by coming before him with others. How amazing it would be, though, if we were also learning instinctively to pray with one another whenever we have the opportunity or see a need.
So, with our neighbour after the service, talking about what has spoken particularly to each of you and praying together for it to impact your hearts. Or at coffee time, when someone has shared something, just bringing them before God right there and then. Or meeting a friend for coffee or a meal, and praying for one another before you go your separate ways. When we lived in Uganda, local Christians who came to our house always wanted to pray with us before they left - they would have thought it odd if we didnât talk to our Heavenly Father together. It was completely normal behaviour for them.
How many opportunities we miss to bring one another before the King of the universe, who made us and loves to answer His children's prayers. Let's be part of changing the culture and be bold in loving one another by praying for one another wherever and whenever we have opportunity.
The Kitchen Table Project (Penny McCrabbe)
The Kitchen Table Project is all about parents sharing ideas, supporting, and encouraging each other as they bring up their children. The project looks at producing resources and ideas to help parents on this journey.
There is a Facebook page one can link up to: www.facebook.com/ktpcampaign
The reader will then receive little ideas to inspire them. Examples of these in recent weeks:
- Using Lego or toys to help illustrate story time
- Recommendations of helpful books
- Ideas for music resources
- Quotes, e.g. 'One of the best things you can do for your children is invest in your couple time'
A review of the Facebook page said, 'It is so helpful to have regular and gentle prompts and ideas about how to introduce Jesus to our children in a real and relevant way.'
The Kitchen Table Project also organise events to help inspire parents. There are a series of events called 'Raising Faith' in cities across the UK. Their goal is to inspire parents with simple ideas to help encourage their children in the faith.
There is also the option to receive an email once a month for those who want ideas, resources, and encouragement to inspire one into the journey.
In addition to all the above, parents are able to partake in an 'Inspire session'. This is an opportunity to meet with other parents to chat about children and faith, and to figure out together where in the world to start. The Project provides everything needed to make it easy to run, fun, and interactive.
One idea I have for us a church family is to share our resources. Several of us buy books, DVDs, CDs, and games but often only use them once or twice. I think it would be great if we could pass these onto others so we can share them and encourage each other. However, I am not sure exactly the best way to go about doing this in a formal way so if anyone has any ideas, please do come and talk to me!
Update from Henley (Sam Brewster)
Thank you for your prayers for us in Henley. For those who don't know us, I was a curate at St Mary's until the end of June 2018. We've since moved to Henley to pioneer a new congregation, Trinity at Four. We meet at one of the Anglican churches, Holy Trinity, and we've now had six Sunday services. So far, we've mostly loved the whole experience. There have been some real encouragements: new people coming along to most of our services, three new families who look like they're going to become committed members, the core team enjoying themselves and serving away. It's also been challenging! It's hard work running the activities of a church with a small group (we're about 30-40 adults and 30-40 kids on a Sunday), and compared to St Mary's it all feels quite small and fragile. But we are looking to God to provide some growth as we seek to preach the gospel Sunday by Sunday, and make as many connections as we can in the local community. Lucy and I are doing well and really enjoying working together. Lucy is doing a brilliant job coordinating all the children's work, on top of the demands of looking after our girls full time. Amelie is at pre-school, and making friends. Joanna is toddling around and becoming more vocal by the day.
We always welcome visitors, so if you'd like to come along to a service, we meet every Sunday at 4pm! More info on our website: www.trinityatfour.org.uk
For those who pray, thank you! We need your prayers! Here are a few specific things:
- Pray as we settle into the regular rhythms of church life after the excitement of starting; for strong relationships to form
- Pray God would bring new people along, and we'd see non-believers coming to faith
- Pray for our family that we would seek to be faithful to Jesus, and to persevere in the ministry here, even when it feels challenging
Lots of love from us all!
Sam, Lucy, Amelie, and Joanna.
Hospitality Sunday (Toby and Beth Martin)
On 16th September, the 6:30pm congregation held a 'hospitality Sunday' where members were invited for Sunday lunch, hosted by a few volunteers including ourselves. Mike and Helen Walker did a great job at organising, matching up hosts and guests. We were a little apprehensive as we had just moved house and are moving again soon, but we still had the bare essentials of our cooking equipment! So, come Sunday, four members of the 6:30pm turned up at the door. It was nothing fancy - sausage and bean casserole, and a lemon tart from the supermarket - eaten with the last of the odds and ends of cutlery we could find in the drawer! But everyone was very appreciative and it didn't feel at all like a burden. It was lovely to have more time to get to know people (Beth particularly appreciated having more than an occasional five minute chat after the Sunday service), and to be able to have the joy of fellowship as we shared a meal.
Perhaps it is a surprise to us that the Bible actually has quite a lot to say about hospitality. The word 'hospitality' used in the New Testament literally means 'love of the stranger'. So the commandments for Christians to exercise hospitality in the Bible (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9) are not arbitrary: they are rooted in the character of the God who, in Christ, has welcomed people like us to eat at his table - people who were once strangers to him, alienated from him because of sin. In other words, when people become Christians, they are welcomed to eat at God's table - so it's normal for them to then welcome others to eat at their table.
There are some wonderful examples of this in the book of Acts. When thousands of Jews at Jerusalem become Christians, one of the first things they do is prioritise regularly eating together (Acts 2:42-47). When Lydia, a businesswoman at Philippi, becomes a Christian, she immediately invites Paul and Silas to stay at her house (Acts 16:15). When another man from Philippi, the jailer who guarded Paul and Silas, becomes a Christian, the same thing happens: he invites them round to his house for a meal (Acts 16:34). In each case it is obvious that there is deep joy in Christians sharing food together.
As we look back on our time at St Mary's, this is one of the things we wish we had done more of: having people round to eat with us. We have so appreciated others opening their homes to us, and wish we could have made more opportunities to enjoy having others over ourselves. But when we have done it, we have loved it: there is nothing quite like having people round for dinner to get to know them and enjoy fellowship with them. And this is true whether or not we pull out all the stops to produce an amazing meal. There have been times when we've had people round to eat oven-cooked frozen fish and chips, or pizza! But we long for others to know this joy more and more. Perhaps as our culture becomes more individualistic, this is an important way we can shine out God's transforming love as Christians.
Waste Knot... Chissock Woodcraft (Penny McCrabbe)
I imagine not many of you have considered what happened to the wood from the pews, from around the organ, and from the doors in the old church? I certainly hadn't thought about this until I heard that Chissock Woodcraft, a small company in Hare Hatch, had taken some of the wood away to recycle it. The afrormosia wood, originating from equatorial Africa, is rare and it's trade and export tightly controlled.
Chissock Woodcraft is a traditional woodworking business making bespoke furniture and up-cycling furniture. The business also provides a renovation and repair service. They sell old woodworking tools, collectables, and a large range of reclaimed fixtures and fittings for cabinets and home.
I caught up with Steve Hedger, the manager of Chissock Woodcraft on a sunny Monday afternoon. I received a tour and had a look at some of his work.
Penny: Tell us about Chissock Woodcraft.
Steve: Chissock Woodcraft began in 2006 at the Coach House site, situated in the grounds of Yeldall Manor (a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre). The business became a Social Enterprise whose aim was to provide work experience for those in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse during the resettlement phase of their programme. The business included furniture making, restoration, upholstery, and the sale of refurbished and second-hand furniture.
Three years later, the business became a CIC (Community Interest Company) as this status corresponded to the aims and objectives of the Social Enterprise.
In 2014, due to the recession, a decision was made to divide the assets of the business between the existing members and separate businesses were created. There are now 7 small independent businesses on the site including 'Sprocket and Gear', 'Stripey Baskets' and 'Lines Guitars'. Each small company became a 'member' of the CIC. The CIC was renamed in 2016 as the 'Coach House Works CIC'.
Penny: Do you have volunteers from Yeldall Manor?
Steve: Yes. We offer a range of placements with the different businesses on site which help people back into full time employment through building their self confidence and developing their skills.
Penny: How did you hear about the wood at St Mary's being available?
Steve: My name passes about churches as I have worked with other churches in the area. St Mary's is also linked with Yeldall Manor.
St Mary's Church office contacted me about the wood. Quite a lot of it was unusable as the pews were veneered. The end bits of the pews were the useful parts. The pulpit and the long slats of the organ were also used as they were solid.
We also took two of the interior doors which were made from afrormosia wood.
Penny: What have you done with it?
Steve: So far we have made a TV stand. This has recently been finished and is now for sale. We used the two doors mentioned above for the front of the barn.
We also used some of the afrormosia for a private property near Waltham St Lawrence.
We used the prayer kneelers as slats for bench seats.
I am currently working on a 'shepherds hut' using the remaining wood. This is a long project. I'm hoping to get the roof on before the cold weather sets in so I can work on the indoors part of it during the winter.
For more information about opening hours and the work of Chissock Woodcraft, visit their website.
ReNew Conference (Robert Weeks)
Recently four members of the PCC attended the national ReNew Conference in Leeds. For those of you unfamiliar with ReNew, it is an annual conference for Evangelical Christians. The purpose is to look at the progress and events of the past year within the Church of England and think about what needs to be done going forward to achieve the goal of 'a nation of healthy local Anglican churches' spreading the gospel. This has been both a source of hope but also of challenge.
There were testimonies from churches all over the UK, fellowship, and workshops on "how to" topics ranging from being effective in the Church of England, recruiting more lay leaders, being the best PCC member you can be, and planting churches. This shared experience was thought-provoking and challenging; and has motivated our thinking into how to do the best for both the gospel and St Mary's.
There were speeches and rallying calls from two bishops and one (retired) archbishop, as well as the chance to meet up with brothers and sisters in Christ from across the UK.
The overarching theme of the conference was "every member ministry" where we are reminded of the call to use our gifts (endowed upon us through the spirit) to further the gospel, in accordance with the teachings of 1 Corinthians 12:1-31. To spread the word and build the church we cannot rely solely on the clergy to deliver all ministry. We are called to use our gifts for the ministry; be that leading groups, childcare, offering lifts to others, cooking, or the multitude of other ministries that contribute to the building of the church and the furthering of the gospel in Jesus' name.
We should all be challenged to think and pray if there is anything we could do, offer, or pray about to participate fully in this "every member ministry". To explain, through metaphor, we are not on a cruise ship for the righteous - passengers on a comfortable journey towards salvation guided by the clergy, but we are all crew members on a lifeboat - called to serve in any way we can, to save others.
To paraphrase a famous rallying call; ask not what your church can do for you, but what you can do to further the gospel.
Looking Back (Toby Martin)
On to pastures new...
Some of you might have heard that I am now coming to the end of my time here at St Mary's. I finished the Cornhill training course back in June, and have received an offer from Grace Church, Boroughbridge (a church in a small town in North Yorkshire) to be their trainee pastor; I'll be working for 3-4 days a week and studying for two. My last Sunday at St Mary's will be 21st October, and I will be starting at Grace Church on the 28th.
Beth and I are excited about the move, but sad to be saying goodbye to our good friends here at St Mary's. Below are a few thoughts on each of those emotions!
1. Excited about the move
Many of you will know that North Yorkshire is a very beautiful part of the world. What is less well-known is that it is also a very spiritually needy place: it's estimated that less than 1% of its population are evangelical Christian believers. That's why Beth and I are excited to join Grace Church - an evangelical free church which was started around 10 years ago. The church seems great from our one visit; they are committed to Jesus, to each other, to mission, and to training. And what's more, North Yorkshire is Beth's homeland - she grew up there and so is happy to be returning after eight years away (though with an accent which now sounds distinctly more southern!).
I will be continuing to train, though not through the Church of England ordination system (despite Will Stileman's repeated efforts to 'keep me in the fold'!). I will be studying part time for an MA in Christian Ministry, doing a distance learning programme through an organisation called Crosslands. Beth has funding for her PhD until April, and once that pot runs dry she will start looking for work (though she's not yet certain what that will look like). Beyond that, Beth and I are considering staying in the North long term, perhaps in North Yorkshire, and perhaps even in Boroughbridge... depending on the Lord's will!
2. Sad to be leaving
Beth and I have had so much to thank God for over the course of our time at St Mary's. A (very much non-exhaustive) list of things we are thankful for would be: many people's hospitality and friendship; giving Beth a warm welcome and looking after her (and me!) while she was ill; giving us a place to live; giving us a car; helping us move; standing shoulder to shoulder in ministry and mission; providing us with a growth group that was eager to be changed by God's word every week; being blessed by a godly and prayerful staff team.
Furthermore, I have benefitted massively from my time here in terms of training. The Cornhill training course helped me to handle the scriptures rightly; St Mary's gave me a wonderful taste of on-the-ground Christian ministry with a wide range of different people. Having only previously worked with teenagers and students, it was wonderful to join the Hereward's House ministry team (which organises an evangelistic outreach to a local care home for people with dementia), and to be tasked with answering questions about Jesus from 100+ primary school children at 'Christmas Unwrapped' - to mention just the two extremes of the age spectrum.
Probably one of the biggest encouragements for me during my time at St Mary's has been seeing people become Christians. Thinking of the steady trickle of people professing faith in Christ over the last couple of years gives me great cause to rejoice and praise God for his power and mercy.
All of which is to say: thank you, St Mary's! Praise God for your devotion to Jesus and his people. Beth and I will miss you and wish you all the best as you care for each other and hold out the word of life to those around you.
If you would like to contact me via email from October onwards, please use . And if you would like to receive occasional ministry news emails, please email me on that address and I will add you to the list!
Holiday Club 2018 (Zach Penman)
From Tuesday 28th August we had the church transformed into a marvellous medieval castle and all the rest, from the Bailey in the garden to the Craft Gallery. It was a great effort to make it look amazing as we welcomed over 100 children onto the church site for our three day holiday club.
We started with Jesus is the king to be promised; and with lots of fun, team games, jokes and songs the children learnt how God's king will rule over the whole world forever.
The Thursday we welcomed back those from the first day back again for more fun and medieval craziness! We shot at soft toys on cabbages with bows and arrows, as well as learning that this world is broken, but Jesus has come to fix it. A great truth that both children and adults were excited to think about in our group bible times in our very own decorated rooms.
And finally, the last day. In the short time we are together in the morning I am amazed as to how much we manage to fit it, Friday saw us jousting cabbages and making full size shields from scratch! As well as finishing the week with looking at how Jesus has come for messed up people so that they can become friends with God. What a great way to end the week and to see all the parents joining the last session in the church to find out what their children have been learning was so encouraging. A great prayer would be that these sessions provoked thoughts in parents as well as children.
Sunday we shared a royal banquet with our knights of the very small round table and all the families of those who attended holiday club. A Sunday service that was just as energetic as the week allowed parents to enjoy in the singing and talks that excited their children. The barbecue was a great time for people to make new friends and enjoy the marvelous sun in our church garden together. We give great thanks for the weather throughout the week and also the fun of the whole holiday club.
Trick or Treat - that is the question! (Kate Wheatley)
Trick or treat - that is the question!
This year, the 31st October is on a Wednesday and so 7up is thrilled to be able to put on a real treat - a special Superhero party.
Jesus said 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.' (John 8:12)
We would love the children to come into the light of our party, to find out more about Jesus who is the only real superhero that there has ever been.
We are opening up the evening to all those aged 5-10 and we would be thrilled to see our church kids and their friends.
All the details are on the flyer. Come dressed up as a superhero if you would like and we guarantee a bag full of tasty treats to go home with!
A Problem That Will Never Go Away (Will Stileman)
Both our recent sermon series [in Matthew 13 on Sunday mornings and in 2 Timothy on Sunday afternoons and evenings] have highlighted a problem that will affect the church until Jesus' return. The problem is false teaching that inevitably leads to false living, and the endangering of people's salvation.
In our generation, there are two matters of false teaching which are wide-spread. One is a 'prosperity' gospel. This is a gospel which promises health, wealth and prosperity in this life, while underplaying the Bible's teaching on sin, self-denial and suffering. The other is a 'no-need-to repent' gospel. Here, God's blue-print for marriage and sexual ethics outlined in the Bible is actively ignored, while behaviour that God condemns is accepted and blessed.
So in one sense it is no surprise that on Thursday 30th August Reading Minster held a service to celebrate Reading Pride week during which communion was celebrated on a table bearing the Rainbow Flag. But it is nonetheless extremely disturbing, especially as that service had the full support of our local bishop, Andrew Proud, and our archdeacon, Olivia Graham.
As a church we actively welcome all people whatever their background and battles. We long for the whole of humanity to know the saving news of Jesus Christ. We abhor all bullying and abuse of same sex-attracted people. We want St Mary's to be a loving, safe Christ-centred community. But LGBT+ Pride Celebrations along with the Rainbow Flag are part of a secular movement which aggressively promotes behaviour that God calls immoral.
So for instance, the apostle Paul writing to the church in Corinth warns, his readers with these words: "Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy, nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." [1 Corinthians 6:9-11]
From Paul's comments we see that it is possible to be deceived in this area. Homosexual practice, along with a host of other behaviours, is sinful, and very serious in its consequence. But notice how Paul is speaking of those who habitually, unrepentantly practise these things, not those who are tempted to (for such were some of you indicates this is past practice for those who have come to Christ). The wonderful news of the gospel is that in Christ there is forgiveness and a God-given, wonderful fresh start. This passage is one of several in the Bible which warns us that homosexual practice is wrong in God's eyes. It is because of what the Bible says (not our own prejudices) that we must be very worried about what happened in Reading Minster. That service will only be understood among the public as promoting behaviour which God declares is wrong. What is more, when a leading church does this, the impression is given that Christ promotes such behaviour. That is both dangerous and confusing, especially to those who struggle in this area. Jesus once said "Whoever causes one of these little ones - those who believe in me - to stumble, it would be better for them if a great mill stone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea." [Mark 9:42]. Jesus is talking about His little ones - by which He speaks with a fatherly care of the vulnerability of those who trust in Him. As Jesus makes clear, it is a very dreadful matter in God's eyes to lead people into sin.
So as a church we cannot sit back and do nothing. I have personally seen Bishop Andrew to express my concern and dismay and the PCC [our church council] will at its meeting on 9th October make a decision over what action we are going to take. In the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ we have a better story to proclaim than that symbolised by the Rainbow Flag! Jesus and His apostles proclaim God's truth. God can be trusted. He knows what is best for us and He gives us the power and means of grace to live His way. You can read some testimonies - and much more - on the marvellous Living Out web site.
Organ Update and Inauguration (Matthew O'Donovan)
'Loud organs His glory forth tell in deep tone!'
Invented by Ktesibios in the mid-3rd century BC, pipe organs have been around a while. In ancient Greek and Roman culture they were used at outdoor entertainments such as races and games. In recent centuries, organs have been equally built in concert halls, convention centres, cinemas (in the days of silent film), private homes and, if you want to hear the largest fully functioning organ in the world, you need to take a trip to Macy's department store in downtown Philadelphia where the shoppers are entertained by twice-daily organ concerts. But it seems especially fitting that what Mozart called 'the king of instruments' should have had such a prominent role to play over the years in the praise of the King of Kings: organs have been used in Christian worship in the western church since at least the 7th century, no doubt enduring at least in part due to their unique effectiveness at underpinning and supporting the human voice.
Our new organ was first heard in public when the Prime Minister opened the church building on 1st June, and it has since been in regular use. The sharp-eared, however, will also have noticed an evolution of the instrument's tone from week to week: our organ builders have been at work throughout the summer in order to complete the regulation and voicing of each of the 1,870 pipes. That process is now finally complete with the addition, at the start of September, of three electronic bass stops; these sound through four loudspeakers within the organ which are specially designed to provide the sort of deep tones (more than an octave below the lowest note on a bass guitar) which would require pipes of a size for which we do not have the space in the church building.
In replacing the pipe organ, we were keen to ensure that the new instrument would not suffer from the same problems as the old one. It had significant tuning problems caused by a badly-planned layout, not helped by an unsympathetic heating system. It was also a mongrel, containing a mixture of pipes cobbled together cheaply at different points during its history. The oldest were from a small house organ given to the church in 1817 (a time when the entire population of Maidenhead numbered just one thousand). Many pipes dated from 1877 (along with several of the organ's mechanical parts), some from 1909, others from 1951, and still more from 1967 (when the instrument was moved into the new building). Much work had been done on a shoestring; between the wars the instrument memorably boasted an electric air-pumping contraption involving a bicycle wheel and crank made by Heath Robinson (of popular proverb - he was a parishioner). An ill-fated attempt to refurbish it cheaply in the early 1980s had to be 'rescued' by another organ builder, and the resulting instrument - though it made the very best of a bad job and lasted more than a decade longer than predicted - was lightweight and uneven in tone (the only way to make it loud enough to support a really large congregation was to make it 'squeal').
We are extremely grateful to Jonathan Wallace and his team from Henry Groves and Son Ltd., a Nottingham-based family firm, who have built our new instrument for us with a high quality of workmanship and at a competitive price which made the project feasible, and to Paul Hale, our consultant. We are particularly blessed that Jonathan had a timely opportunity to source some particularly fine pipes which comprise the 'core' of our new instrument. Most of these come from an excellent organ built by the Walker firm in 1932 for what was then Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys, Leicester. The school, which until only a few decades ago had a strong tradition of organ playing, became a sixth form college in the 1970s and, a few years ago, decided that the organ was surplus to requirements. Jonathan, learning that this fine instrument was destined for the skip, acquired the pipes cheaply in the hope of using them in a new organ planned for another school near Nottingham. When the latter school's funding fell through, he was on the lookout for a new project in which the pipes could be used; ours came up at the right moment. The Wyggeston pipes have been augmented with some well-matched, quality pipes from a contemporaneous instrument being discarded by a Nottingham church, and a few of the best pipes from the previous St Mary's instrument, carefully voiced so as to blend well with the rest. The 'action' (i.e. mechanism) of the organ is entirely new, built - unlike the Victorian parts of our old instrument - using materials designed to perform reliably in modern, centrally-heated buildings. The complete instrument has a space-efficient detached three-manual (i.e. with 3 keyboards) console which can be moved to any part of the front platform. I am happy to furnish anyone who is interested with full technical details about the instrument, or discuss in detail the rationale behind the decisions made at various points throughout the design process.
The result is an instrument with a fine, cohesive, and varied tone that carries enough weight to support a large congregation with ease, and which has already proved itself in vastly improved tuning stability during the extreme July temperatures. It is an instrument which will not only encourage and support our congregational singing from week to week, but, we hope, enable us to adorn the gospel attractively when large numbers of visitors enter the building at our various Christmas carol services and civic services. Indeed, in the Lord's generosity, the instrument has turned out to be more successful than either we or the builders might have imagined. As one of the finest instruments in town, I anticipate that it will attract visitors in its own right - amongst them a number of Wyggeston alumni organists who will be keen to see where their old school organ ended up. We have already had several requests from local organists' groups to visit. I hope this will raise awareness of the church and bring people into contact with us who otherwise would not have been interested in St Mary's - but ultimately it is not so much St Mary's that people need to discover as the Lord we serve. Please join me in praying that, as people come to hear this fine instrument in the coming months, they leave us having encountered the Pearl of infinitely greater price. Soli Deo Gloria.
On 27th October the organ will be formally 'inaugurated' in a concert given by internationally renowned organist David Goode (a member of the St Mary's church family). Do come along if you can, and bring friends; admission will be ticketed but free. Details will be going up on the church web site shortly.
Project Connect - Update on Building Works (John Blackbeard)
We moved into the refurbished church in early January 2018. What has been happening with the completion of the building since then?
Unfortunately, our builder, Westco, went into liquidation shortly after we moved in and so were not able to complete the last few things and are not able to fix the inevitable snags that occur with a refurbished building. We have thus had to explore different ways to get the snags fixed, but at the same time not jeopardise our contractual position as Westco is wound up.At first we tried to find a new contractor that would take over and complete the project as that would have been the simplest outcome contractually. After several attempts, this proved unsuccessful. We then started to look for individual subcontractors that could fix specific snags. There is a long list of snags and some are big and serious while many are small and not serious. The bigger ones are:
- The heating system was not installed correctly and the control system did not work. We have experimented with several options but in the end asked the project heating engineers to redesign the electrical wiring and control system. This has been done and an electrician has almost completed rewiring it. We hope to have it up and running well before the cold weather arrives.
- Ceiling planks outside the welcome area. As you may have noticed, some of the ceiling planks came loose and were in danger of falling down. We had to redesign the fastening system and apply the new design to each and every plank.
- Automation of doors to the welcome area and some other doors on site. These were never connected up and a company has now been contracted to complete the connection and commissioning.
- Bollard on the driveway. This was not completed and commissioned. We had to install the outstanding components and commission it and we are now better able to manage access to the site.
- Glass doors to the two vestries. These were badly installed and the doors sagged on their hinges rendering them unfit for service. A company has been located that will reinstall them and we can then also connect them up to the access control system.
- Ventilation in the two vestries. No ventilation was included in the design and while comfortable and warm in winter, the vestries are too hot and stuffy for use in summer. We are planning to install a window in each vestry to overcome the problem.
- Top windows in the church. These are a great new feature of the refurbished church as we can open them in hot weather to let out the hot air and cool the building (hot air rises). We were very grateful to have them this past summer. Unfortunately, the windows were not installed correctly in the frames and will all have to be taken down and reinstalled. The electrical opening mechanisms were also not fitted correctly (three have since failed) and will need to be replaced. We also experienced another unusual problem with the windows. Some pigeons decided they were an ideal access point into the church so they could build their nests in the new organ! Thanks to Steven Wheatley who explored several different tactics to keep them out and finally solved the problem by fitting spikes at strategic points to keep the pigeons out but at the same time not disturb the good aesthetics of the windows.
- Rain gutter downpipes. With the first heavy rain, it became obvious that the design of the gutters and downpipes were inadequate and water overflowed the gutters at some points and is starting to mark the outer walls of the church. The designer has visited site and we await their redesign. After agreeing that, we can install the additional downpipes, hopefully before the winter rains set in.
- Baptistry sealing and operation. We were thrilled to have a baptism service in February. It proved an interesting experience as we discovered that the sealant round the edges was not complete and we had to do that before we could fill the baptistry with water. We also had to have safety barriers made. We experimented with different pumps and piping arrangements to empty the baptistry and now have a good system that works so we look forward to many more baptisms.
- Hearing loop. It was not installed correctly and while it does provide some benefit to hearing aid users it is nowhere near the design level of performance. Thanks to many hours of testing and analysis by John Bowen, we now know where and to what extent it is defective. Discussions with a specialist hearing loop company are progressing to test and, if successful, install a high level hearing aid loop.
- Ventilation in the welcome area. The new welcome area with all the glass walls is light and appealing and is a good showcase to the high street as we had planned. We have also started using it for several meetings such as Worker's Lunch and Women's Bible Studies. While the sun warms it nicely in winter, it gets too hot in summer so we plan to install some opening windows or even air conditioning to cool it on hot days.
- Tap in welcome area. The tap fitted was a boiling tap, but proved unsafe for children as it could be activated and produce boiling water even if switched off. We had to replace it with a new warm and cold water tap.
There are also many other small things that need to be fixed and we are fixing those as we go along.
We need to have all snags fixed by the end of December 2018 so that we are ready to offset the costs of the fixing against any final payment that may possibly be due to the Westco estate. (That is a simplification as contractually it is more complex, but that is the essence of it). Thanks to good project management, we had only paid to Westco the value of works they had completed so when they went into liquidation, we were left with a sum of money that was never paid to them. We believe this will be sufficient to complete all the remaining items and snags. We should therefore still complete the building and all snags within the final approved total cost.
The organ and AV systems were not part of the Westco contract, but also had to be completed after we moved in. John Bowen, John Croft, Jim Beswick and others have worked tirelessly to complete the AV installation and are now almost done.
As the main building refurbishment ran a few months late on the contracted program, we missed the slot that the organ builders had reserved to install the organ. They have therefore had to return to site several times over the past few months to complete the installation and tuning of the organ when they had some spare time. The organ casing at low level also remains to be completed and we are researching suitable materials.
So, as you can see, we have been and are still busy fixing the last outstanding items. The new church is great, and many have remarked on that, but when it is all finished, it will be even better. A big thanks to Neil McDonald and all those that have worked so hard to help us on the project and finally, we continue to thank the Lord for our super new church that we can use in new and different ways to praise Him and to reach out with the gospel.
Ministry Training Course (Marc Boulter)
What is the Ministry Training Course?
The Ministry Training Course (MTC) is an interesting and exciting course to grow in your understanding of the Bible and Christian service for a range of reasons:
- Personal Christian spiritual growth
- Leading small groups (youth groups, growth groups, youth camps, men's or women's interest groups etc.)
- Preparing and delivering talks to a range of audiences about Jesus under the guidance of the Holy Spirit
- Development of apprentices within the church
The course covers:
- Bible reading
- Expositions (or comprehensive explanations) by excellent theologians on books in the Bible and practical application - a strong focus on Christ as the giver of life and joy in our lives now and eternally sets the agenda
- Doctrine, praying, and practical ministry
- Workshops on how to prepare and deliver talks to a range of audiences
- Biblical theology (Bible overview, study of the nature of God, and Christian beliefs)
The teaching is fun, stimulating and deep. No prior knowledge is required and no-one is put on the spot. The group-work is encouraging and supportive whatever your contribution level.
In addition there are guest speakers and singers on a regular basis - examples include:
- Nathan Tasker talking about his life and singing
- a presentation on 'Technology and the Bible' by Andy Geers who produced the excellent Prayermate app
Why do MTC?
It is a no-pressure course focused on enhancing our understanding of the Bible and seeking how we can use our skills and talents to grow Christ's kingdom with the help of the Holy Spirit - something all Christians are called to do.
There are about 70 participants on the course each year from gospel-centred evangelical churches across the south central region of England with a range of participant ages and backgrounds. There are university leavers, youth workers leading holiday camps, church youth leaders, prospective missionaries, parents of school age children, prospective ministers, retired executives seeking to support church work, prospective growth group leaders and many more. Participants from St Mary's included Anna Boorman, Peter Wheatley, Dick West, John Blackbeard, Nicola Winson, Heidi Cooper, and myself.
I was fortunate to have the time to do the course to understand how I can be useful to God, soften my heart, and be able to hear God's plan for my life. My next steps are to do year 2 and also lead a Growth Group.
Where is MTC?
The MTC course runs over two years (though you can choose to just do one!) and is held at St Ebbe's Church in Oxford from 10:15am to 3:45pm every Tuesday across the academic year from September through to June. The organisers record the lectures and post them on the 'Dropbox' internet storage site so if you miss a day you can catch up online.
Getting there is really easy via train, car share or drive with park and ride.
The cost is £190 per term. If you would like to go but cost is an issue, please speak to one of the St Mary's staff team.
Further details can be found at www.scgp.org.uk/training.