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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The 9:15am Interviews (Gemma Stephenson)
As part of a series of Sunday morning interviews to get to know congregation members and cover some topics of interest, Rob Wingfield interviewed Gemma Stephenson.
Rob: Tell us a bit about your family.
I'm Gemma Stephenson and my husband Ben, daughter Molly and I, attend the 9:15am service.
What brought you to St Mary's?
Ben and I went to antenatal classes in 2011 ran by Debra Jonckers and we made great friends with the other eight expectant couples. We first came to St Mary's to attend the baptism of one of the babies, the daughter of a lady called Janet.
So you had Molly. How were those early days?
The early days of parenthood were pretty horrendous. Molly couldn't feed when she was born due to having an infection. She had a lumbar puncture at one day old and thankfully didn't have meningitis. She did however, have to stay in special care for a week to receive antibiotics to rid her of the infection.
Due to the stress of the situation and lack of skin to skin contact with Molly, I couldn't breastfeed. Once home, I became increasingly anxious, obsessing over what happened and blaming myself. I felt I was a complete failure because I wasn't able to give my baby breast milk which I was told numerous times "was best". My spiralling thoughts led me to complete insomnia for three solid weeks. When I began to have suicidal thoughts I called the Samaritans and eventually referred myself to the Community Mental Health Team. With the help of their psychiatrist and my GP I was admitted to a psychiatric Mother and Baby Unit in Winchester. As the name implies, Molly stayed with me at the unit.
While in hospital I would sit on my bed and cry out to God to help me. I wasn't a Christian but I didn't know what else to do. During my 10 week stay, other than immediate family, the only people to visit us were two women from our antenatal group. One of those women was Janet. She visited numerous times and would call me on the payphone. The only reason I could see for her visiting was her Christian faith. None of my friends who had known me for over 10 years were brave enough to visit us, but Janet did.
Upon discharge I received lots of different help and treatment. Janet invited me and Molly to Baby Cafe at St Mary's and a group of us from antenatal classes came every week. I started to come to the 9:15am with Ben and Molly in November 2011. Fred and Aileen Watts welcomed us the first week and everyone was so friendly and welcoming that we kept coming back. Ben and I attended Christianity Explored, Molly was baptised and I was confirmed five years ago.
I do still take medication and I do suffer with anxiety which causes me to worry and catastrophise on a regular basis. Following a shock at work at the end of last year I suffered with some insomnia again. I now have the skills to recognise what's happening in my head but it's still really hard to cope with at times.
My faith helps massively. When I am struggling I pray more and mine and Ben's growth groups pray for me too. It can be impossible to share what's going on in my mind but the Lord already knows. He saved me eight years ago and will always be there loving me forever.
SAT-7 Live TV Broadcast (Alison Bird)
On Thursday 11th July five of us from St Mary’s (Ann Casey, Ali Peck, Jo Jobson, Sara Hewins and myself) went to London to visit the offices of SAT-7 to watch their Iranian team put out a youth programme live on air. It was so exciting to go into the studio and meet the two presenters before the show began. They were both young and enthusiastic about their work, reaching out across the world to young people, sharing the Good News of Christ and helping them with their day to day problems.
As the show prepared to air at tea time in Iran and elsewhere the five of us ladies gathered in the operations room next to the studio and watched the technical team running the countdown of “10, 9, 8, 7, 6 … We are live….”. Then the screens in front of us came alive with the two presenters chatting happily in Farsi to the camera and to each other. On this day they were to interview a successful Iranian singer who seemed to be a big star in Germany. Of course we couldn’t understand a word they were saying so I might be wrong about this!
What struck me was that hardly was the programme up and running than viewers began to contact the studio with their comments and questions. A man at a screen behind us was collating all the messages coming in and SAT-7 would be personally responding to all of these. This gave the programme a whole extra dimension of excitement as those hearing the Gospel message could communicate directly with SAT-7 to ask questions and find out more. They could also ask for help and advice as they sent in their problems and other questions.
SAT-7 Pars broadcasts to Persian speakers in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Europe. They can watch via satellite television and the internet. Support and prayer is offered via phone and messaging apps. There are a wide range of programmes featuring Bible teaching, Women’s, Children’s and Youth programmes, documentaries, worship and praise and also feature films.
It was such a privilege to be able to go behind the scenes to see SAT-7 Pars operating. We were greeted very warmly on arrival by Dave Mann, the Support Development Executive at SAT-7 UK. He spent a long time showing us round and answering our many questions. Then we were served delicious Persian tea and biscuits by the very friendly team.
We came away even more convinced than we already were that SAT-7 is one of the most exciting things happening in the Christian world today. It is watched by 25 million people across the Middle East and North Africa. It brings a message of faith, hope, love and peace to people watching from the safety of their homes. This way it can bypass strict Government censorship and reach people who might otherwise never hear the Gospel as Christianity is banned in their country or has been driven underground. SAT-7 broadcasts not just in Persian but also in Arabic and Turkish.
Here at St Mary’s we support the work of SAT-7. If after reading this you would like to know more or to give directly to SAT-7 please do speak to Ann Casey, our SAT-7 rep, or to any of us who visited the studio. We’d love to hear from you.
Can Science Explain Everything? (Book Review)
Roger Battye reviews the book 'Can Science Explain Everything?' by John Lennox after buying it at the Book Sunday in June.
This is a slim book introducing a large subject. I chose to read it as I thought that I knew the answer and hoped to find confirmation. I did, but more than that I found reasons both to support and challenge my views.
John C Lennox is a formidable writer, and debater. He is also a pragmatic Christian, who acknowledges that the Bible includes metaphors as well as incontrovertible truths. I found that reassuring, but some might find it controversial.
The book does not claim to be more than a summary of the issues. Here are some of the main points as I saw them.
Science and God are not alternatives. Science seeks to find rules governing how things occur and to quantify them. Put simply, this means establishing rules. As new discoveries are made, the rules may be modified, sometimes radically. Most people now accept that the earth moves around the sun.
But who made the rules? Whoever that was must have a complete understanding of science. It is not unreasonable to deduce that the rule maker has the power to decide if and when a rule may be broken. Miracles are examples of rules being broken. While it is appropriate that scientists seek a logical explanation for all unexplained events, they will not find one if the rule maker has made an exception.
Theists recognise God as the creator of everything. For Christians Jesus is a miracle. Neither of these statements should be seen as a threat to science.
It was interesting to see how many famous scientists were committed Christians.
Science may tell us, with increasing accuracy, 'how', 'when' and 'where', but only God knows 'why'.
My favourite quote from the book was the author’s response to Dawkin’s taunt that 'Christians were afraid of the dark'. 'No', he said, 'Atheists are afraid of the Light!'.
Anyone who has read Dawkins 'The God Delusion' should read this book and consider the other books listed at the end.
Jo Clifford (Brian Jones)
Jo has spent the last 10 years working in Tanzania helping to provide scripture in aural and visual formats for various local languages. Recently, many expatriates have been either refused work permit renewals or issued with a final two year permit. Jo had to leave the country last summer while appealing a refusal and has only recently been able to return.
It's been a time of huge uncertainty for her and her colleagues and she will now spend the next six months handing over her work to two nationals. It's also possible that she will be able to continue to provide assistance remotely from next year when she takes up a new role as International Coordinator for Media Services with SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics) International.
What has Jo's work involved recently?
- Overseeing the recording of two New Testament translations one in the Vwanji language and one in the Malila language
- Hosting a Jesus Film team as they came to record the script of the film in two languages – Bungu and Malila
- Recording the first parts of Bungu Mark
- Training some Kinga pastors how to use the Jesus Film projection backpack
- Taking part in planning meetings for the next financial year
And how best to pray for Jo?
- Pray that she is able to continue to make the most of her time here in the UK
- Pray for clear guidance for her future and wisdom to know where to relocate in Europe and for financial provision to meet increased living costs
- Pray for her new role with SIL
- Pray for peace in this time of transition and good relations with work colleagues as Jo passes on her work to national staff
The British Museum's Bible-related Artefacts (Becca Stileman)
A few of us had a real treat in early July when we went round the British Museum with Mark Meynell, who helped us to focus on a few key artefacts which are particularly linked to the bible. He also recommended a book which is available at the British Museum called – ‘Through the British Museum with the Bible’ by Brian Edwards and Clive Anderson. Here are my very brief notes of what we saw:
Room 4: The Rosetta Stone is a broken part of a bigger stone slab containing a decree about the king (Ptolemy V, r. 204–181 BC). When it was discovered, nobody knew how to read ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Because the inscriptions say the same thing in three different scripts and scholars could read Ancient Greek, the Rosetta Stone became a valuable key to deciphering the hieroglyphs.
Room 6: The Assyrian Empire – The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III - glorifies the achievements of the king and shows tributes coming from all directions. The second panel down shows a man described as Jehu offering a tribute to Shalmaneser III. In 2 Kings 9, God speaks to Jehu, one of King Ahab’s generals who became the next king.
Rooms 10a and 10b: The sculpted reliefs in Room 10a show the sporting exploits of the last great Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal (668-631 BC) and were created for his palace at Nineveh (in modern-day northern Iraq).
In Room 10b, you see panels depicting the Siege of Lachish (710 – 692 BC). Lachish was one of the chief cities of the kingdom of Judah and in 701 BC it was captured by the Assyrian King Sennacherib (704-681 BC). The siege followed the refusal of King Hezekiah of Judah to pay tribute to the Assyrian Empire and is mentioned in the Bible (2 Kings 18). Sennacherib’s army moved on to Jerusalem and besieged it but Jerusalem was not captured at that stage (2 Kings 19). Room 8: King Pul (Tiglath-Pileser III) was a well-known king of Assyria who was mentioned in the books of Kings and Chronicles (2 Kings 15 and 16, 1 Chronicles 5).
Upstairs to Level 3:
Room 57: Lachish, about 25 miles from Jerusalem and at one stage Judah’s second city, had fallen to the Assyrians in 701BC in the time of Hezekiah, king of Judah (see Room 10b). In Room 57 are the Lachish letters – pieces of pottery used as writing tablets. The letters were probably written shortly before Lachish fell to the Babylonian army of King Nebuchadnezzar in 588/6 BC during the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah (Jeremiah 34:7).
Room 55: The Taylor Prism is a six-sided clay document which contains the annals of Sennacherib, written down in cuneiform script in 691 BC. It provides an account of the besieging of Jerusalem in 701 BC, an event described in the Bible in 2 Kings 18-19 and Isaiah 36-37.
Room 52: The Cyrus cylinder contains the policy of Cyrus that exiles should be allowed to return home which is also recorded in 2 Chronicles 36:22-23.
What a day – what a lot of history! The history at the time of the artefact’s creation and the history of how the artefact was found, researched and translated. A huge thank you to Mark and, I hope, an encouragement for us to visit the British Museum, whether for the first time or as a follow-up and to do a bible overview when next on offer at St Mary’s.
Juan Carlos and Penny Marces (Emma Spear)
Juan Carlos and Penny Marces are our CMS Mission Partners in Lima, Peru and from June 13th to 16th they visited St Mary's, joining in with a great many of the services and activities in the daily life of our church.
Penny is responsible for children's ministry in Peru, in fact for the whole of the Anglican Church of Peru, and was keen to see how our Pathfinders learn - attending a lively 9.15am session!
Juan Carlos, the Vicar General of Peru whose Diocese is - yes, you guessed it - the whole Anglican church in Peru, was keen to learn from Will, Jon and Dave about modern Evangelical Preaching in UK. His Bishop is a bright new figure in the Anglican church of Peru and he and Juan Carlos are breaking new ground in Bible-based, people-centred Evangelical teaching.
They both attended St Mary's Evening and told us about efforts to encourage environmental awareness, children's Bible teaching, youth work and marriage guidance through Bible study.
The visit was concluded with a wonderful church BBQ on Sunday 16th June and the Lord smiled on us with blessings of good weather, plentiful food and happy company. We send prayers of a safe onward journey to Ireland and homeward to Lima.
To find out more about Juan Carlos and Penny Marces, or to receive their prayer updates please do contact [hidden] (9.15 service), Mission Link to Juan Carlos and Penny Marces.
The 9:15am Interviews (The Whitecrosses)
As part of a series of Sunday morning interviews to get to know congregation members and cover some topics of interest, Jon Drake interviewed David and Trish Whitecross their time in mission.Jon: David and Trish, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
We have been married for 52 years, have three children, four grandchildren, and have attended St Mary's for four years.
Before arriving at St Mary's, what you were working in mission. Tell us about that.
The Lord called us to missions in 1991 when David went on a short-term outreach to Brazil with Youth With a Mission (YWAM).
Then, in 1995, after both of us had been made redundant with three children in secondary education, we stepped out in faith and joined YWAM full time... not that we were with the youth as David was already well into his 50's. We joined to study and become support staff: Trish in hospitality at their Cape Town base and David as handy-man.
At that point, having completed our basic training, David’s health broke down resulting in a pacemaker and also a broken vertebra which meant he could hardly walk.
Why these boring medical facts?
Well, it was at this time in weakness that God gave us a passion and a love for Egypt and the Coptic Orthodox Church... a country we had never thought about even as a holiday destination and a church that we had definitely never even heard of. It was very exciting learning that God had a plan for us, especially as David was barely mobile, but we knew that if God wanted us in Egypt then that was where we were going.
From 1998, we served the Coptic Orthodox Church in various ways. The church was founded by Mark the Evangelist who had been with Jesus. We were introduced to Bishop Thomas and initially served in Upper Egypt in his diocese.
Bishop Thomas bought a farm some 60 miles north of Cairo to serve as a retreat and place for foreign guests. There, David taught English and welding while Trish taught hospitality and cooking and opened a little clinic. All of these practical works gave us the opportunity to share the love of Jesus and our relationship with him not only to the youngsters on the farm, but also to visitors to the farm.
We became like parents to many young people who came from abusive and traumatic backgrounds. We were blessed to see many of them healed, change and grow as they learned about Jesus' love for them and accepted him as their Saviour.
While we were in Egypt, there were many instances of persecution against Christians from all denominations and, sadly, it continues to this day but what man does for evil, God uses for good. Christians number about 15 million out of a population of about 80 million. Persecution is a fact of life as a religious minority. During 2012-13, under a Muslim Brotherhood president, persecution became intense. Many churches that were destroyed painted Scripture verses on the walls declaring, as Christians, that they forgave and loved their attackers. This was amazing in a culture which values vengeance. This witness has brought many people to faith in Christ. The faith of all denominations in Egypt is humbling and inspiring; we need to pray for them that they will stand firm in their faith and take the Word of God to their nation and beyond.
We would never have had the privilege of seeing God's amazing love in action if we had ignored his call on our lives.
Our lives were enriched and blessed by our time in Egypt, and we saw the Lord move in amazing ways in our lives and the lives of many others. Don’t ignore God’s call on your life.
Why on earth do they think that? (Callum Patterson)
The Magna Carta. Umberto Eco. Joseph Wright of Derby’s painting An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump. Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon. Star Trek’s Counsellor Troi. U2’s Zooropa album.
No, these are not the specialist subjects of this year’s Mastermind finalists, but waypoints on the whistle-stop tour that Mark Meynell led from the Middle Ages (because the Dark Ages is propaganda) to the present day. For those who attended the 'Why on Earth do They Think That?' day, they were thoughtfully linked together as we learned how the European worldview has evolved over the last 800 or so years.
If the timespan was large, the aim of the day was equally bold – to try to explain why today’s society, our society, thinks the way it does. And to suggest how the lens of that worldview sees us as Christians when we try to share the gospel.
Split into three sessions, the day’s teaching centred around the concept of a worldview. Like a pair of glasses, our worldview helps us to see the world but also to interpret what it is that we are seeing. First, we looked at the mediaeval worldview with its rigid, divinely instituted hierarchy of church and state and how this was challenged by the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Then came the ‘modern’ worldview where theism became deism and then atheism and where Darwin, Freud and Marx enabled God to be side-lined. It too was challenged: by Romanticism, by quantum theory, by the return of totalitarianism and the rise of counterculture.
After lunch, the focus was on our own society, the postmodern worldview since 1989 (since the fall of the Berlin Wall, not apparently my own birth…). And we are familiar with its tenets:
- Who am I? Whoever I want to be, and I can change it.
- Where am I from? Where am I going? I don’t know, so live in the present.
- What is wrong with the world? Whatever oppresses, whatever prevents me from being my authentic self.
- What is the solution? Break the chains.
Having lived in this generation and felt the confusion of the transition from modernism, I can understand, perhaps even feel something of the bewilderedness of questioning everything, even your own ability to understand. I found it interesting and helpful to see how postmodernism is more nuanced than perhaps it is thought of - the assertion that there is not rejection of truth so much as the ability to know the truth. And I also found that the common ground, the parallels that Mark drew between Christianity and this seemingly so far-removed mindset, to be most important. We were reminded that both worldviews teach that we have our own limits, that we are not gods and that we cannot know anything. Both command us to be open and loving to people who are very different to us, for the postmodernist it is through a fear of being an oppressor and for the Christian it is encapsulated in the Good Samaritan. And of course, both speak about the very heart of human experience – the postmodernist struggles to remain authentic to themselves whilst creating personae on social media and in real life; the Christian struggles to live in the world but not of it.
Ultimately, we were shown that we have an opportunity. People are more open to religious experience than they have been for some time. But they have many centuries of preconceptions of what we are going to say and what we will sound like, that we often succumb to. Yet Christ’s gospel as well as our stories, our testimonies can be powerfully effective when up against an expectation of doctrine and dogma. Perhaps we just need to push a little, be prepared to ask: “So why do you think that?”
For anyone who missed the day, you can listen to the talks on this website here.
Also, Mark gave a reading list with the following books highlighted:
- The Universe Next Door by James Sire (1998, IVP)
- Meltdown by Marcus Honeysett (2002, IVP)
- Creation, Power and Truth by NT Wright (2013, SPCK)
- Postmodernity by David Lyon (1994, Open U.P.)
Giving to St Mary's - Legacies (The Finance Committee)
This is the fifth and final article in a short series on the funding of, and giving to, St Mary’s Maidenhead. In previous articles, we provided an overview of the ways we are able to contribute to the work and witness of St Mary’s, then looked in detail at the Regular Giving Scheme, Gift Aid, and One-off Giving. This month’s focus is on legacies.
What is a ‘legacy’?
In law, a ‘legacy’ is a gift made under a person’s Last Will and Testament, especially of money or personal property. Traditionally, this referred to money or property handed down or received from an ancestor or predecessor, however such a gift made from someone’s estate to an organisation, such as a charity or church is also referred to as a ‘legacy’.
Do many people leave a legacy to their church?
Each year about 5,000 people leave a gift in their will to a church or parish. In total, parishes receive around £50 million in legacy gifts each year.
For many people, leaving a gift in their will to their church is a final opportunity to make a lasting gift to God. It is also a way to make a lasting difference to the future of their church and community.
Do I need a Will to leave a legacy?
As with all matters relating to someone’s estate, it is much easier to have your intentions documented in a will.
As Christians, we are God’s stewards, entrusted to use his gifts for the good of our family and to prosper the work of his kingdom. In thanksgiving, we should also take will writing seriously - setting our affairs in order and stewarding them wisely to the end of our time on earth and beyond. For nearly 500 years, the Church of England has encouraged its members to write a will and keep it up to date.
Once you have made provision for your loved ones, you have the opportunity to make a lasting gift to God, by leaving a legacy to his church. A gift in your will to your church is one of the most valuable and lasting ways you can continue to support its mission and ministry.
What would St Mary’s do with a legacy?
Most people would only consider leaving a gift in their will if they think their church will use it for worthwhile projects, not simply to fund operating costs. In order to reassure those considering leaving a legacy to St Mary’s, the PCC has published a policy set out below (and found on the ‘Giving to St Mary’s’ section of this website).
St Mary’s has benefitted from a small number of legacies over the years, the latest being in 2018, enabling us to grow additional ministry leaders, support other churches and boost our missionary support, as reported at the 2019 AGM.
St Mary’s Legacy Policy
St Mary’s welcomes all gifts in wills, however large or small, and we promise to use your gift to make a difference in our church. Our PCC Legacy Policy is to use gifts to help fund significant development projects, whether buildings, equipment, mission, or staff.
Since the needs of the church change over the years, we encourage you to leave the gift in your will for the general purpose of the church rather than for a restricted purpose.
We will discuss possible uses of your gift with your executors when the time comes, bearing in mind your known areas of interest in the church.
You can be confident that your gift will be used to make a real difference to our future mission and ministry.
What are the tax implications of leaving a legacy?
Charitable legacies are exempt from inheritance tax and so a legacy will reduce the value of your estate before inheritance tax at 40% is calculated, giving an inheritance tax saving where the estate is over the inheritance tax threshold.
By way of example, if 10% of an estate is left to charity, the rate of Inheritance Tax charged on the remaining estate is reduced from 40% to 36%.
It is not possible to claim Gift Aid on legacies.
Where might I go for further information?
If you wish to discuss leaving a legacy to St Mary’s, please contact a member of the Finance Committee, via the church office.
For additional information on legacies and wills, including advice for executors and solicitors, please visit www.churchlegacy.org.uk.
Book Sundays (June 2019)
Sundays 23rd and 30th June were Book Sundays at St Mary's, where a selection of books were available for sale before or after the services. Jon Drake spent two minutes reviewing 20 books (full list at the end of this blog item). Watch Jon's 120 second review by clicking the video below:
If you missed the book sale, don't worry. The books are available at Quench, the Christian bookshop in Queen Street, Maidenhead, or through its online site or online through 10ofthose or The Good Book Company..
The list of books reviewed are below.
- Pray Big - Alistair Begg
- Enjoying God - Tim Chester
- Extravagant Grace - Barbara Duguid
- Equipping For Life - Andreas and Margaret Kostenberger
- Can Science Explain Everything? - John Lennox
- Have No Fear - John Lennox
- A Fistful Of Heroes - John Pollock
- True Friendship - Vaughan Roberts
- Before You Open Your Bible - Matt Smedhurst
- The Message Of Thessalonians - John Stott
- Side By Side - Ed Welch
- Children of the Storm - Natacha Vins
- Crazy Lazy - Alistair Begg.
- Hanging In There - John Dickson.
- Long Story Short - Marty Machowski (Family Devotional)
- The Radical Book For Kids - Champ Thornton.
- 50 Craziest Bible Stories - Andy Robb.
- The Friend Who Forgives - DeWitt and Echeverri.
- Stories Jesus Told - Nick Butterworth.
- Beginning With God Book 2
Do not put your trust in princes (Will Stileman)
“Do not put your trust in princes in mortal men who cannot save.” (Psalm 146:3) I was reminded of this verse this last week. A clergyman who has been hugely significant in my growth in faith and who was a family friend has recently been the subject of a number of significant and credible safe-guarding concerns.
Because of his skill as a preacher, his dedication to personal work, his strong personality and the longevity of his ministry, his influence on the evangelical wing of the Church of England has been marked. Consequently these revelations are even more disturbing and damaging. However, it is absolutely right that these matters have been brought into the public realm as only this way can evil be addressed and those who are victims of abusive behaviour be supported and helped.
Let me say at the outset that I never experienced any inappropriate behaviour myself from this man; in fact the opposite - until recently, as far as I was concerned, he was a committed, concerned pastor to whom, under God, I owed a huge amount.
So what are we to make of this and how are we to respond when such things come to light? Below are my musings:
First and foremost we are to: “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) For those who knew the man concerned well, trusted him and, like me, benefitted from his ministry such revelations are disorientating and bewildering. But “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and for ever” [Hebrews 13:8]. Jesus is utterly dependable. He is always loving, always faithful. He will never let us down. Our faith and hope is in Jesus. We fix our eyes on the God who has revealed himself to us in Jesus and not on the deeply flawed disciples of Jesus.
Second, we are to tremble with a righteous fear, knowing that ‘but for the grace of God go I’. When we hear of someone falling into sin, it should be a wakeup call to our own sinfulness and folly. I too have the capacity to sink low into sin. I can be self-deceptive about my behaviour and blind to my hard-heartedness. We need only to think of great king David. He had a wonderful, personal walk with God as evidenced by the Psalms he wrote; yet he committed both murder and adultery.
Third, in view of the first two points, do not put pastors on pedestals. They will let you down. Oh yes, God in his grace does use his flawed, under-shepherds to point people to Jesus as they preach and teach Christ from the Bible; but any spiritual blessings and lasting benefit comes from God, not from those whom he uses.
Fourth, as 4pm & 6:30pm congregations have been reminded in their current sermon series in Revelation: Christ is king and God is in control. The devil may be rubbing his hands in glee at this mess and the discrediting of the gospel through this clergyman’s actions; nevertheless, the devil is a defeated enemy. There have been many scandals in the history of God’s church. Many of them have done great damage. But none has been able to stop the progress of the gospel. Jesus has promised to “build his church and the gates of hell will not over overcome it.”
Finally, pray. Pray for all those adversely affected by this clergyman’s behaviour, that they may know God’s healing touch in their lives. Pray for the truth to come to light and for recognition before God of what has happened. Pray for true repentance and faith: repentance from the clergyman concerned, repentance from a culture that allowed such abuse to exist. Pray for good to come out of this ghastly mess. Finally, pray for Christ to overcome and advance the good news of his kingdom despite the severe failings of his people.
I am still coming to terms with it all. There are important lessons to be learnt which I am trying to digest. I have been trying to support those I know who will have been badly affected by these revelations. I will, within the next few weeks, reach out to the clergyman involved. But, above all, I want to encourage myself and all who read this article to put their hope and trust in Jesus and to demonstrate that hope and trust in prayer.
What happened on PCC Away Day? (Rae Binning)
One of the essentials for St Mary’s from our Vision Statement is ‘Dependent Prayer.’ The Parochial Church Council (PCC) met on Saturday 15th June to spend some extended time thinking about prayer.
We had been given bible passages on the topic of prayer to study beforehand. Our first passage was Luke 18: 1-8, where Jesus tells a parable ‘to show them that they should always pray and not give up (or lose heart)’. Jesus finishes this parable by asking ‘when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’ For those of us who were wondering why this was there and what it has to do with prayer, it is that praying is a mark of our faith. If we are not praying, we are not living by faith, trusting in Jesus, depending on Him.
This is what we need to be doing, both individually, and corporately as a church family – demonstrating to ourselves and each other that we are depending on Him for absolutely everything. Another hard-hitting passage was from John 15 where Jesus describes himself as the Vine. Jesus says ‘apart from me, you can do nothing’. If we let that sink in and believe it, we would not attempt anything without praying.
We discovered that we all find praying difficult: we get easily distracted, other things take precedence, our minds wander, our motives may not be right, we are not necessarily submitting to Jesus’ rule in our lives. But we don’t have to lose heart – we can encourage one another to keep going.
We found the day challenging and did not cover everything we wanted to. The staff team and the PCC will come back to the topic over the next few months, and keep on trying to find ways to encourage each of us to live our lives with a deep dependence on Jesus, which is shown in praying, on our own and with each other as a church.
Don’t be surprised if in the future we are trying things in church to encourage prayerfulness and you may be asked for feedback, as we want everyone engaged with this. We will also be using the results of the recent prayer survey to see what we can change to encourage us all to do better in this vital area of our lives.
Explorers Abroad (Zach Penman)
As Kate said in the family focus a few Sundays back, "What do you get when you take 23 year 5 and 6’s to the Isle of Wight with 7 leaders for a week? Lots of fun and not a lot of sleep!"
Explorers Abroad takes place every May half term and this year, I had the joy of being one of the leaders. I went when I was a child, so it brought back many memories of fun and laughter, and a great time to be challenged about who Jesus is and if I wanted to make him number one in my life.
Day 1 - The journeyWe travelled the great distance of Maidenhead to Portsmouth to enjoy our 45-minute ferry trip across the great ocean to the Isle of Wight; this was a first for me and was ever so exciting! We then arrived at the wonderful Urban Saints centre ‘Westbrook’ which was our home for the next 5 days. We spent the rest of the day swimming in the pool and settling in. A highlight was watching some of the boys try to make their beds!
Day 2 - A day of team challenges
On the first morning of the holiday, some woke up to the sound of pheasants, some by crows cawing, and some by children who had woken up very early…
We kicked off with a hearty breakfast followed by a Bible study looking at the passage from the previous night. This was what we did every day with time to reflect on the passage, ask questions, and for leaders to challenge individuals more personally in smaller groups.After this, we ventured outside to the woodland for a big game of laser tag. This involved all of us wearing large helmets with sensors and holding big laser guns. For two hours, we ran through the woodland shooting at each other; a great deal of fun was had and one team even got a team member dedicated to reloading the guns with ‘laser shots’. It was an exciting game and a first for me - the kids who went last year were very excited to be doing the activity again - and now I can see why! In the afternoon, we went down to the beach where we enjoyed a brief swim and then the team sandcastle building competition; Battenbergs, Macaroons and Fruit Cakes battled it out to build the best sand sculpture. My team, Battenbergs, constructed the most "delicious" (and largest) slice of Battenberg cake out of shells and seaweed, I am sure it tasted the worst though!
We climbed the hill back to Urban Saints and enjoyed a posh supper evening, complete with all the children wearing their own newspaper suits, ties, necklaces, bangles and even shoes! In our meeting, we saw how the second meal was to lead on to our Bible story of Jesus being anointed by a sinful woman during a posh dinner at a Pharisee’s house. We learnt the meaning of forgiveness and why Jesus is the only one who can forgive us. They saw that the only right response to Jesus’ love for us is to love him back.
Day 3 - A day outWe had a day out! In the morning, we visited St Catherine’s Lighthouse at the south of the island and then enjoyed a picnic there with the wind blowing through and the cows mooing. The lighthouse was “pretty cool” as one child said. We then went on a photo treasure hunt, with ten titles to stage photos for. Titles included; strong team, do what the sign says, call the doctor, and POSH!
In the evening, we learnt about the last supper where Jesus told his friends that he would die and WHY it would be so important.
Day 4 - A day out (again!)We went out again, this time to Bembridge lifeboat station where we got a marvellous tour and, through circumstances not caused by us, we got to see both the large Tamar lifeboat and the smaller inflatablelifeboat both out on the sea. They even did some great manoeuvres to show us how fast and powerful these great lifeboats are.
We then went further along the coast to Culver Down where we played hide and seek games as well as crocker within the old war battery. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day.
In the evening, we thought about another meal Jesus had. This time it was a breakfast instead of a dinner and it was after he rose again, we thought about how when we trust in Jesus our sins are forgiven. We had time to think about it for ourselves, if we wanted to accept that offer Jesus gives to have eternal life with him.
Day 5 - The last day
We ate our breakfasts, had our Bible studies and then got in the minibuses to head home - some itching to get home to see missed family and pets, some not wanting to leave! As we drove home, I enjoyed hearing each of the kids’ best bits. Some said the photo treasure hunt, lots said the lifeboat station and seeing the boats in action, and some liked the studies the most and learning about the meals Jesus had.
I think the best bit for me was having a group of kids who, at the beginning were shy and didn’t know each other, and who, by the end of the week, were one big group - all with new friends, new memories and with new knowledge of Jesus and all that he came to do.
Let’s pray that each and every child that went would have the chance to decide for themselves and make the best choice - to follow Jesus. We should pray that they are supported at home and at church by their peers, family and leaders to keep following Jesus.
The 9:15am Interviews (Rob Wingfield / John Furley)
As part of a series of Sunday morning interviews to get to know congregation members and cover some topics of interest, Rob Wingfield interviewed John Furley about bible times with children and as a family.
Rob: Some of you may know John as the person who runs the blog on the church website, but you have a life outside church - what do you do during the week?
John: I am civil servant, working at the Food Standards Agency whose strapline is ‘safer food for the nation’. It’s the Government Department responsible for making sure food is safe and what it says it is.
And of course you have a role at home?
I am husband of Emma and father of three children aged 16, 13 and 10.
You‘ve been through a range of ages as a parent. I’d be interested to hear a little about how you’ve shared your faith at home - how did that work, what you have done, etc.
Emma and I were really spurred on when we heard a talk on Deuteronomy 11:19. Teach God’s words to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. It’s an encouragement to make talking about Jesus part of everyday life, not just on Sundays.
For us this started when the children were very young with bible stories at bedtime, prayers praising God for what we've learnt about him, sorry and thank you prayers, prayers for family and friends.
As they've grown older, we’ve used bible notes with them, like XTB (Explore The Bible), Discover and our 16 year old has an app on his phone that he uses on his own.
But we have also tried to reinforce what they are being taught at church. So on the evenings when there is a children’s or youth group - 7Up, X and Shift focus - we talk through that and ask them questions: what did they learn? What does that mean for them today?
Also on Saturday evenings we try to refresh their memory from the previous Sunday’s teaching and learning - for us as adults as well as for the children.
And we have tried to be flexible. Nowadays, evening bible time can be all together (often while on holiday), or individually during term time. Sometimes it is short - three minutes, sometimes longer, depending on different things that are happening or have happened that day. But there is always a bible verse or reading and a couple of questions and asking how does that apply to our lives?
That’s great to hear how you do things with the children in the evenings, both individually and as a family. How about the mornings? Do you look at the Bible then?
Well, we were prompted by a lodger we had whose motto for his quiet times was ‘No bible. No breakfast.’ We didn’t follow that - we still don’t - but we felt it was good to try and start our day hearing what God had to say.
So what we do is short, not more than 5 minutes. It’s often slightly chaotic as we're all trying to eat breakfast, find kit, make packed lunches etc. Sometimes all the children are there. Sometimes one gets up later, or earlier and is not there. Some days the reading really engages them, some days you'll ask a question and there's total silence apart from crunching of food. We don't always manage it every day - so, for example it is now three weeks after Easter and we have just finished the book of bible readings leading up to Easter!
We have also used different books or notes. Over the years we have used:
- Table talk by XTB
- Big picture books - Long Story Short; Old Story New
- Bible readings
- The short questions in the back of XTB notes
- Advent calendars and most recently
- Book of readings up to Easter
What are the benefits?
It encourages all of us to lift our eyes, albeit briefly, from the day ahead and look to God. It helps us look at our day through His eyes. When the day is not looking good, it gives us a chance to reflect, maybe just briefly, on bigger truths. It helps us to pray for things coming up in the day.
Did you bother when they were very young and couldn’t speak / listen?
Yes, we did. It was habit creation and providing consistency - both for us as parents and for the children. It showed the children how important it was - they can never remember a time when we didn’t read and pray.
That sounds like a big investment in time. What if life is busy? Scouts, Brownies / Guides, music, sport... how do you fit it all in?
We did try and make it a priority so that we could be present.
Get help - there is no need to invent something new. We are all busy or tired enough already to not need to give ourselves another thing to do. There are books or notes or the craft or colouring in from the previous Sunday - use those!
Should all parents follow this sort of approach?
Definitely not. I am not being interviewed as an expert! And what has worked for us has changed over time and will not work for all families. But don’t be afraid to ask others for help with this.
For us breakfast time has worked well; we have friends who talk through a bible passage and pray in the car on the way to school, and another family that do that on the walk to school. Try something, work out what works for your family situation.
Team Games (Simon Eves)
Being a Christian can often feel like running some kind of spiritual long-distance race. We know there is some distant finish line but it is way out of sight and it feels like, frankly, we might not make it. As someone who has recently started training to run a marathon - it’s basically true that running is rewarding and enjoyable but ultimately a lonely sport - it is you and mile after mile of training.
But I’m becoming increasingly convinced that being a Christian isn’t actually like running a marathon. (I’ll admit that there definitely are some similarities - Paul says so in 2 Timothy 4:7 and it’s generally not wise to disagree with the bible!) But fundamentally Christianity is a team game and not an individual event.
I love almost any sport but as a rule I’d much rather watch a team sport than a solo one. There is something wonderful about a team - individuals all working together as a unit to achieve something great.
And that is certainly true of church. God doesn’t save us to live as individuals. We need one another. We need each other to encourage us to keep going, to help each other. But, importantly, we also need one another to carry out the mission he has called us to do.As the Youth Minister I can only do so much. I can encourage young people, open the bible with them, I can meet with some of them one to one and catch up over a coffee or hot chocolate. But I am not a lone marathon runner working alone. I am a member of a team. And I am so grateful for you my team mates, the volunteer leaders who give up their time, the parents who consistently lead their children by day by day example, the rest of the church who diligently pray and support the work in a host of other ways.
But one area where we absolutely need to ‘play as a team’ is in reaching out to those young people who currently have nothing to do with church.
As one individual I can do relatively little to reach the young people of our town. But as a team I think we can do remarkable things.
- Young People: If you’re a young person reading this, you are the ones who know the other young people in Maidenhead. Pray for your friends, invite them to church or to camp, simply speak about why you go to church.
- Parents: Please encourage your children to invite their friends to things. We love having guests on Friday nights at X and Shift Focus. It has been wonderful how every summer we have friends brought along to camp by young people. So do please encourage them and speak to the parents of your children’s friends.
- Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles etc: Do you know young people you could encourage to go on a summer camp or who’d come to a youth group? Invite them to something. Offer to pay if you can.
- Everyone: Let’s pray - ultimately it is not down to us, the Lord and only the Lord can save.
If you want any more information on camps etc. please contact .
Prayer Survey Results (Richard Crane)
On 19th May we surveyed our five Sunday congregations about their attitudes to prayer. Many thanks to the 369 people who completed a form! The results are summarised in graphs at the link below.
Most of the questions were multiple choice, but we also received some helpful suggestions on the format of St Mary’s Evening - our monthly church prayer meeting - which will help us make some practical changes.
On the whole, the results are encouraging: most of us are praying! Spending time talking to our heavenly Father, whether it’s on our own or with other believers, is one sign of genuine Christian faith. Prayer is a privilege and a joy, but it’s also hard work and we are easily distracted. Let’s encourage each other to keep prayer at the centre of our lives.
The full results of the survey are published in Touchline out today (16th June) and on this website. Touchline (including all back issues from November 2012 onwards) is also available on this website.
How long, Lord? (Ruth McElhone / Dave Singeisen)
Around 25 of us in our 20-30s were able to get to know each other better over a barbecue, joined by Matt Searles from the South Central Gospel Partnership. It was a beautiful summer’s evening and as Matt pointed out, quite a juxtaposition; enjoying God’s good gifts of food and fellowship to then thinking about suffering. Matt’s focus was to look practically at where you turn in the midst of your suffering or when seeking to support friends and family, rather than looking at suffering in a philosophical sense (though the Bible does have answers to our philosophical questions too). We looked at Psalm 13 where King David cries out “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?” He is suffering and chooses to turn towards God rather than away. We too can be honest to God about how we are feeling, he understands our suffering and asking “how long?” is not incompatible with trusting God. David goes on to say: “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise for he has been good to me.”
When we are struggling to pray the Psalms can be really helpful. Psalm 13 gives us a useful structure: David tells God of the situation (verses 1-2); he asks for God's help (verses 3-4); he reaffirms God's goodness (verses 5-6). In fact, David spends more time telling God about the impact of his suffering than asking for God’s intervention. God cares about your feelings. God has said repeatedly that we will suffer while we are in this world. He has known of all our sufferings before we were even born. We have nothing to hide from Him. We need to respect God’s authority. When we pray are we like a project manager delegating to a junior: God, I have this problem and to fix it you need to do this list of things! Or do we place our struggles in his hands: Lord, I am facing this, I don’t have the answers, please help me. There was also a useful reminder that we don’t have to be feeling happy when we come to church and there are times when the right thing is to mourn and to mourn with others. In Romans 12 it doesn’t say “cheer up” those who mourn.
Back in Psalm 13 David is never angry or rebellious against God, instead he asks God for help: “Give light to my eyes” v3. We can do the same. We know Jesus promised to care for us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” - Matthew 11:28. And we know that these “light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” - 2 Corinthians 4:17.
This Psalm is what faith looks like. David is troubled but he holds firmly to God. His current situation is very hard but he knows that God's character is good, merciful and faithful. Even more than David, we can see God has been good to us, for we can see clearly that above all the suffering in the world, above the heartache and the pain, above the fear and misery, stands the crucified and risen Lord Jesus. Jesus freely spoke of his anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane. Every step we take in sorrow is one that Jesus has walked ahead of us. In the midst of suffering we can place our trust in Him!
Training Gospel Workers (Simon Eves)
‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’ (Matt 9:37-38)
As we look around at our culture it is easy to get discouraged. There are so many people who know next to nothing about Jesus and seem to care even less. Yet when Jesus saw crowds that were harassed and helpless, people who lived like sheep with no shepherd, he wasn’t discouraged or depressed, instead he was filled with compassion and he told his disciples to pray. He told them to pray to the Lord of the harvest that he would send out workers into the great harvest field.
If you were at the APCM you’ll know that in 2018 we were left a very generous legacy and the PCC decided that a substantial proportion of that money should go to training up more Gospel workers.
Therefore we are currently advertising for two new positions at St Mary’s - for a Children’s Minister in training and a Youth Minister in training. Our hope is that if we get suitable applicants they will work under and and, by the end of their training period, would be equipped to go and lead youth or children’s ministries elsewhere.
You can see a bit more about these positions on the church website at stmarymaidenhead.org/jobs and do feel free to pass it on to others if you know people who may be interested.
But primarily it would be wonderful if you would pray for this plan. That’s what Jesus tells us to do after all! Please pray that these roles would be filled and that through them there would be workers trained up who go out into the harvest field and bring much glory to Christ.
Who's the King of the jungle? (Heidi Cooper)
The early years of parenting are very challenging as children go through an explosion of language and physical development, toddler tantrums, the joys of potty training, picky eating, and childhood illnesses. It’s all part of growing up, but for parents it requires huge dollops of patience and energy while offering very little sleep.
That’s where our Toddler ministry steps in. Held every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning in our church halls, it’s a place where we give frazzled mums and carers a safe space for their children, a hot drink, and the opportunity to talk through anything. We are living out Jesus’s love for his people by giving them our time, and listening and laughing with them about the joys and trials of every day with children.
Our mission statement at St Mary’s is "to know Jesus and make Jesus known". While the first part is easy to do at our weekly church gatherings and Growth Groups, it’s so much harder to go into our communities and live out our faith. So it’s a great gift to our church family that our Toddler groups bring the Maidenhead community to us!
In addition to listening and chatting at Toddlers, we actively teach the Christian message by sharing a Bible story and singing Christian children songs at each session. We invite the group to any events that the church is hosting, and every year we alternate between running a Parenting Course and a Christianity Explored group.
We are always looking for people to help out. Whether you are a man or a woman, it doesn’t matter what your skills are – we will find a role that suits you! We love having people to interact with the adults and children, but also need those able to serve teas and coffees, run our admin tasks and help with setting up and packing away the toys and equipment. The only requirement is the ability to commit to a regular time slot, whether that’s one morning a month or one morning a week.
It’s a blessing watching friendships being formed at the groups. It’s also encouraging when we see how many of our St Mary’s families had their first contact with our church through coming to the Toddler play group.
If you’d like to find out more, please speak to one of our Toddler team leaders (Heidi Cooper, Debra Jonkers, Nicola Winson), Rachel Meynell or anyone from the staff team. And please do pray that Jesus, the King of our jungle and our world, is drawing people to himself through this ministry. Thank you!
Supporting Those Who Grieve (Will Stileman)
A couple of weeks ago I met up with an old friend who had recently been bereaved. She was desperately missing her husband who had died but what made the grief worse were some of the unhelpful things that had been said to her by friends. One friend had impatiently advised that she “draw a line under it and move on". My friend was unsure whether the ‘it’ referred to her late husband or her grief! Another friend had said “You are only sixty three you will soon meet someone else".
In the light of my friend’s experience, I thought I should write a short article about how best to support those who are grieving. One difficulty we have is that people grieve in different ways. Some who are grieving are quick to show their emotions and cry, others don’t outwardly show anything. Some continue to feel the loss of a loved one keenly for many years, others make the adjustment more quickly. We are all wired up differently. People grieve in different ways; and for the most part there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
But however people grieve there are certain principles it is good to follow when supporting those who grieve:
- Don’t avoid those who are bereaved. Again and again I have come across bereaved people who have been deeply hurt by friends and acquaintances who have actively avoided them. They don’t know what to say to the bereaved person and so they keep their distance. Those who are bereaved don’t expect you to fix their grief, nor do they expect you to know what to say, but they do want you to say something, even if it is: “I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say". You don’t have to be in a person’s inner circle of friends to offer genuine support and encouragement.
- Don’t speak to the bereaved about yours or someone else’s experience of loss, but do speak to them about their grief and about their loved one who has died. People who are bereaved love to hear you speak about the one who has died and to hear their name mentioned. Don’t be put off if they start crying. You haven’t made them sad. It is their grief that has made them sad. The tears are just a healthy expression of that grief.
- Do take the initiative to write a card, take a meal round, get in touch. People who are grieving are often exhausted, isolated and fearful. They will, by and large, not initiate contact if they need something.
- Do stick with people and pray for them. For some, the grief of bereavement remains raw for a long time. Many appreciate enormously folk remembering the anniversary of their loved one’s death.
- Believers in Christ who are bereaved still grieve. Although, as the Scriptures claim, Christians do not grieve as those who have no hope, they feel the pain of loss as much as any. It is good to encourage people with the truth about Jesus, but it needs to be done sensitively and lovingly.
If you would like further help on how to be a better supporter of those who are mourning do read Nancy Guthrie’s book: 'What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps'. Most of the tips above are found in her book. She is full of godly wisdom.
Me and My Dad (Ian Miller)
One of the highlights of each of the last three years has been spending good quality one-to-one time with one of my daughters on a 24-hour church-organised camping trip. This year my fourth daughter, Hannah, and I are excited about going together to “Me and My Dad” on 12/13th July. It is organised by churches in Chesham (Bucks) and they have kindly said I can bring a number of Dads and children from St Mary’s Maidenhead. So, if you are interested, read on…
The 24-hour camp involves lots of fun activities which Dads and their son or daughter do together (past years included archery, rocket construction/launching, den building, fire-making, evening campfire cooking marshmallows (and enjoying a beer!) etc). Everything is designed to help fathers engage with their child – time and space is created to get to know your child better and for them to get to know you without other distractions. "Me and My Dad" takes place at Latimer Park, near Chesham (a 45 minute drive). It is for any father with a child (boy or girl) aged around 6-12. It costs £55 which covers all meals, camp fees and activities (there is a small extra charge if you need to hire a tent).
Prior to the event, all Dads who are coming are invited to come for an informal gathering at my house on Monday 1st July at 8pm to talk about the event and think more generally about fatherhood. If you would like to come, please contact me on . Please let me know by Sunday 16th June if you would like to come (places may be limited depending on take-up).
9:15am Congregation Men's Time Away (Colin Peacock)
An overnight stay at the former home of King Zog of Albania is just one of the fulfilling experiences of a new member of St Mary’s church family. Led by Jon Drake, a party of twelve men from the 9:15am congregation ventured forth on Thursday 16th May to gain a better understanding of twelve Romans. No, not an international exchange - but an exchange of views, a period of fellowship and a deeper understanding of Chapter 12 of Paul’s letter to the Romans.
However, could just three dozen lines of text really fill four separate study sessions spread over two days? “In view of God’s mercy” it most certainly could.
Some of the striking things to a newcomer to St Mary’s are the welcome, the scale of its congregation and the distance some members travel each week to attend. A number of people have explained that a significant part of the appeal is the commitment of the ministers and leadership team to study the Bible, to discuss and dissect the text and explain what is truly meant. One of the features of Romans 12 is how we can all strive to live our lives as one body with many members, each using our different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.
'If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith. If it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy do it cheerfully.' Romans 12:6-8
Well we were certainly taught, led, encouraged and served during those two days. This time away also enabled people to get to know one another better. Following a hearty dinner, the evening entertainment featured a host of famous personalities and many sporting endeavours, all written on a slip of paper to be guessed by team members through a single word clue or mime. Great fun but how you mime Blackadder, I still do not know!
A walk to the local pub for lunch the following day, closely watched by a red kite circling above was a rewarding break for our efforts.
St Katherine’s Parmoor, King Zog’s home from 1939 to 1946, is now a retreat at Frieth, near Henley on Thames, where people from all walks of life can come to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the house and grounds and leave feeling refreshed physically and spiritually.
This is the first visit by St Mary’s, I venture to suggest it will not be the last. Thank you all for your good humour, endeavour, fellowship and openness, a great family to be part of!
South Central Women’s Day 2019: Speak O Lord (Tamsin Miller)
The High Street was busy with the normal bustle of shoppers and browsers, but not nearly as crowded as St Mary’s, where the church was packed full of women of all ages from across the region coming to enjoy time together, to worship and to engage with God’s word.
The atmosphere as people met friends old and new was surely a foretaste of Heaven, a feeling compounded by the playing of the gifted band during the songs of worship which started the day and also helped by plentiful supplies of coffee and cake.
With our minds turned to God and His word, Carrie Sandom took us through the first four chapters of Hebrews in two sessions (with an interval for more cake). We were reminded that the book of Hebrews was written to people much like us, faced with increasing temptations to turn away from the gospel they had received, or to dilute it to fit in more comfortably with their surrounding culture. We saw how God, who related to His people through His word in the Old Testament, has now spoken through our Lord Jesus; just as Jesus is superior to human prophets and angels, so his message, carrying absolute authority, requires us to ‘pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away….how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?’ Carrie showed us how the bible is clear that God speaks through His word to every generation by his Spirit. We are therefore to keep our eyes on His word, and to be good soil for it to take root in our lives. We must not harden our hearts, grumbling and complaining when we cannot see His plans clearly, but must rather allow His word to rebuke, challenge and change us. Most importantly, we must always remember that our goal is His Promised Rest. We really have something to look forward to after our earthly lives.
The sun obliged by shining warmly all through our very sociable picnics, and then we split into smaller groups for two of a wonderful range of seminars (taking time for another slice of cake, of course!), ranging from leading bible studies to cultural issues such as living with a non-Christian family and a Christian response to transgender issues. There were plenty of opportunities for questions and thought-provoking discussions and everyone seemed to have found challenges and ideas to implement.
A plenary session, including an inspirational interview and more heart-lifting singing, ended the day and we left to start putting into practice some of those invaluable reminders. Many, many thanks to Rachel and the team both at St Mary’s and the South Central Gospel Partnership for arranging such a fantastic day.
Word Alive (Various Authors)
Word Alive - what is it?
Word Alive is a Christian conference held in Prestatyn, North Wales every Easter for six days. About 5,000 people attend from around the country and overseas. It's held on a Pontins site right on the beach and many families stay on site, but large numbers also book holiday cottages, B&B's and hotel bookings in the local area. A group from St Mary's go each year and we tend to all stay in the hotel next to the site, being together gives a great opportunity for fellowship as well as enjoying the conference itself.
How does it work?
Each day follows the same pattern. For adults there are two main morning meetings with a break in between and a main evening meeting. The main Bible talk, teaching from a book of the Bible, is repeated at both morning sessions so that you can go once to that and then choose a second series of talks to attend should you wish. The afternoon is filled with seminars on different topics which you can dip in and out of, or just enjoy some down time or family time. The main evening meeting is a get together for all adults and is very similar in style to a St Mary's evening service, just on a much bigger scale! Following on from this is the main student evening meeting (though non students are certainly welcome!) as the conference is well supported by UCCF and many university Christian Union groups attend.
Whilst adults are learning in their sessions there are sessions running for children of all ages. Pre-school children have groups for one of the two morning sessions. School aged children have groups for the entire morning and from year 3, an evening group also.
There is teaching for the mentally handicapped and for overseas students, teaching for church leaders and those doing voluntary ministries. Our own Sam Allberry was there this year talking on the issue on singleness.
There is a huge book stall run by 10ofthose and the week provides a great opportunity to just sit and read up on different topics. This year I read a book called "Gay Girl, Good God" and heard first hand how God had transformed the life of a girl trapped in the gay scene.
Why do we go?
Several of those who attended Word Alive 2019 write about why they went and their experiences of attending with young families, older families, without children or as a worker.
We first went to Word Alive in 2008 when our eldest daughter was 7 and in year 2 at school, despite the varying Welsh Easter weather we have not missed a year since. When our girls have reached GCSEs and A levels we have asked if they still want to go, knowing that Easter is a key time for revision. Despite their dedication to working hard and doing well, we are always met with a resounding "yes!".
Hannah, our eldest, said that she loves meeting with other Christians from around the country and it has strengthened her faith to know that it's not just our family or our small community at St Mary's that believes the Gospel. The friends she's made over the years keep in touch outside of Word Alive for prayer and encouragement as they live for Jesus in the world. The teenage work is excellent and the girls have loved going to their meetings.
For me, the excitement of another Word Alive begins early and we can't wait to get there each year. If you offered me an all expenses paid holiday in the sun (which I would dearly love) in place of Word Alive, I would turn you down. What makes it so special? The teaching is outstanding and I love the opportunity for fellowship with the church family. We learn more about God, go deeper into subjects of interest ranging from "can I lose my faith", to "where to do Christians stand on the issue of medical ethics". I love the atmosphere of being surrounded by other Christians, the worship and the fun. It's a little foretaste of heaven.
What struck me most this year were Tim Chester's talks on "Enjoying God". Stopping to think about our one-to-one relationship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in turn was really life changing and encouraging. It can be easy to get carried away with learning Bible knowledge or with serving or just the daily grind of life, but just to stop and enjoy God, knowing in return that He delights in us (Zeph 3:17) was just brilliant. You can download Word Alive talks from their website if you would like to hear more.
We never attempted Word Alive when our children were younger, but now we wish we had. It’s quickly become a big highlight of our family’s year - no exaggeration! Our two children (11 and 15) always ask us to book it again. The balance of Bible teaching and silly games is just right for them, and they also get to meet children from around the UK who share their experience of growing up in a Christian family. The kids and youth sessions each day look at the same Bible passages as the adults, which makes for some helpful conversations. And they always have plenty of spare time for the sandy beach next to the site or hanging out with their friends. It’s brilliant.
I have attended Word Alive several times in the past but this was my first trip for four years. It was a really encouraging time spiritually; singing God's praises with a couple of thousand people was really uplifting and hearing faithful and relevant teaching was challenging and thought-provoking. There were lots of different sessions to attend so there was almost always something of interest.
This year we stayed off-site, which meant the accommodation was nicer but less convenient for popping in and out or for attending the After Hours evening entertainment. It would be great to get a few on-site chalets as part of a group next year!
I don't know how you feel about toddler tantrums...? They're not usually my favourite parenting experience, but when your child has had "the best time ever" on their "Jesus Holiday" and throws one on the realisation that there won't be another of their groups to go to, my heart felt full. I had been slightly apprehensive before we arrived as Simon was serving (more on that below) so I knew I'd be doing bedtime with our two children (10 months and nearly 3) myself etc, and we were staying offsite, but once there and settled we had the best time and the days flew by!
There was so much on - both Pontins and the Word Alive organisers make a big effort to ensure the event is family-friendly: huge inflatables, face-painting, trampolines, swimming, go karts, and lots more are all available for free. There are age-appropriate Preschooler groups run in the mornings (I got to the main Bible meeting) - Tillie's group (our nearly 3 year old) was literally in a soft play centre and she hasn't stopped singing the songs she learnt there - and then, highlight of our day, the Families Together celebration at 5:30pm. This was a wonderful, faithful, accessible, encouraging, engaging and eccentric "Jesus show" (as ours put it) - songs, memory verse ("Preach the Good News, be ready at all times!"), silly yet theological sketches, jokes, dress up, games, craft, prayer - all centred around the book of 2 Timothy. Music and drama were led by Awesome Cutlery. The timing of this and the other sessions can be routine friendly for little ones - for example, we had a picnic during Families Together which was totally okay and a relief!
Staying onsite, or a bit closer than we were, would certainly be something we aim for next year as with young children, it's great to be able to use all of the facilities / nip back to avoid "adventure wees" in the park / for a nap. I loved being surrounded by fellow believers on such a huge scale every day, getting to the Bible talks and being challenged and encouraged anew, getting excited about Jesus with my family lots, and having some adult-only time at two of the late evening celebrations (note: thanks to the friend and babysitter we brought with us!).
I'm still not sure exactly how or why, but somehow I managed to find myself serving on the youth team leading Bible Studies for 14-18 year old lads (I really know how to let my hair down and enjoy my holidays!). But it was honestly brilliant. We had over 200, 14-18 year olds crammed into our meeting room and it was incredibly encouraging to be a part of that work as you saw so many young people genuinely eager to grow in their walk with Christ. From a personal perspective, Word Alive seemed to be really great at looking after the teams and because I was serving it made it possible for my family to come and enjoy a very reasonably priced holiday. One of the great joys is that as a family we were all studying the same stuff so in Tillie's group, Suzie in the main sessions, what I taught the teenagers and what we looked at in the family / all age meeting was all from 2 Timothy and so we were all able to have conversations about what we'd been learning together.
Word Alive takes place next year 4th-9th April 2020. And for more information see their website.