Blog

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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Real Lives 2020 (Ian Miller)

Imagine coming to St Mary’s to hear a gifted interviewer interviewing someone with a powerful and real life story of how Jesus has given them real hope in their lives. Imagine that interviewer then speaking in a winsome and helpful way about Jesus. Imagine enjoying that event – the company, the atmosphere, the refreshments, the background music. Imagine that there was not just one such event but a whole week of them, a week of Real Lives.

There is no need to imagine! A week of Real Lives events will be happening from 25th February to 1st March at St Mary’s with a great line up of guests.

Glen Scrivener is our gifted interviewer and speaker. Glen preached at all four services at St Mary’s on 19th January. Originally from Australia, he was a curate at All Soul’s Church, Eastbourne before becoming the director of Speak Life and working as an Evangelist.

Our guests include a number of people from St Mary’s such as Alison Bird, Shubbie Awoyemi, Tracy Wild and Angela McDonald. Professor Russell Cowburn, Shane Taylor, Ed Watson and Jeremy Marshall all come from further afield. All of our special guests have worked through big issues in life coming to know Jesus or finding him to be their real hope.

We have a great webpage which tells you about our speakers and enables you to buy tickets. There are short films which you can watch which will (hopefully) excite you about the prospect of coming.

Please be praying for Real Lives week:

  • For yourself – that you would be able to come and have courage to invite others
  • For your non-Christian friends – that they would come
  • For the publicity – that many would respond to flyers, adverts, posters etc. and come
  • For the speakers – who are speaking publicly about their faith and personal matters
  • For the organisation of Real Lives and for plenty of volunteers

Please join us in the Chapel every Friday from 8:30am-9:15am until Real Lives to pray – we will put aside a dedicated time for Real Lives week.

Coming

Please mark out the week in your diary, book online at www.stmarysmaidenhead.org/reallives and come! Don’t be embarrassed if you have not brought someone – come and hear these great stories of God’s work in people’s lives.

Inviting

Why not start early? Set aside time early on to read up on the speakers, watch the films on the website and get motivated.

  • Start early! Now is the best time to invite and it is all too easy to put it off, and off…
  • Make a list! Not everyone is a list person but it will help with praying and think “who?”
  • Don’t limit to best friends. You may want to start there but why not invite a wide range of people – your cleaner, the local shop-keeper, a dog-walker you see, work colleagues etc.
  • Be confident: the events will be superb. Your friends will not be embarrassed – the events are interesting, engaging, warm and friendly.
  • Invite people to all events. It may seem over the top but they may come to a couple at least and if they come early in the week might come back for more!
  • Take a stash of publicity. Keep a load of flyers in your bag. Leave them in your local shops. At the station. On the train. Give them to anyone who will take them! Put posters up in your windows. In your cars. In your gym. On school noticeboards. Be creative for Christ!
  • Use the St Mary’s website. You can download the publicity so that you can send it to friends electronically. This can be a great addition to a face-to-face invitation but would be a poor substitute. We even have the publicity in Mandarin, Polish and (hopefully) Urdu.

Serving

After deciding which events you want to come to, it would be great if you could consider how you might serve at other events. Please look at the volunteer boards in the church hall for more information.

Junior Youth Weekend Away (Charlotte Faulkner)

On Friday 22nd November, 32 members and 10 leaders took the journey to Woodcroft Christian Centre in Chepstow near Wales. Here we spent Friday evening to Sunday lunch time together as a group doing fun activities, getting to know each other better and looking at chapter 14 of Luke’s gospel.

The weekend was lots of fun! Saturday morning, we carousel-ed round various activities: Franken-fruit which involved sewing different fruits together and attaching googly eyes to create a film star for the next activity. They then moved on to the film making, where they were given a category (e.g. The Olympics) which they had to use as inspiration for their films which we showcased on Sunday morning. And then to top it all off a game of dodgeball.

After lunch, everyone gathered in the sports hall dressed in their disguises to be briefed on their next activity which was to solve a Murder Mystery. To do so, they had to go to the different suspects and interrogate them or complete one of the activities they had to get a clue. The youth were amazing at this and truly uncovered the secrets of ‘Williams Manor’.

Tom Brewster came along to lead us through chapter 14 of Luke’s gospel. In his four talks, we learned about how our relationship with God calls for compassion to others who are suffering (14:1-6), that we should embrace humility rather than pride because one day Jesus will exalt us (14:7-11), that the way we get to go to heaven is because of what Jesus has done not our actions (14:12-24), and finally, that loving and following him will not be easy as he calls to be in charge of our lives (14:25-35).

All in all, it was a wonderful time away with the Junior Youth. Thanks to everyone who helped in any way, without you it would not have been so successful!

Happy New Year (Will Stileman)

Happy New Year! By the time you read this I will be in South Africa on the first stage of my sabbatical. In case you have missed the previous communications, I have been granted by the ‘powers-that-be’ in the Diocese of Oxford time off between Christmas and Easter to have a decent rest.

I will be in South Africa for six weeks. The first two weeks are a complete indulgence. I will be watching cricket as England just happen to be touring South Africa! I will then be spending two weeks at a theological college in Cape Town (George Whitefield College) which will act as a bit of a retreat and give me a chance to do some studying. For the final two weeks Becca is flying out and we will have a holiday together which will include a visit to Durban to see the charitable project that a St Mary’s member, Corlea Human, is heading up. I will be back in the UK in mid-February. After that you may well see me around Maidenhead and at the odd Sunday service, but I will be there simply as a member of the church family. I am also intending to be around during the ‘Real Lives’ week and will be praying for opportunities to bring along non-Christian contacts and friends.

I am hugely blessed to be supported by a godly and able staff team in whom I have confidence. They will manage fine without me. In my absence Jon Drake and Rachel Meynell will be responsible for all pastoral matters while Dick West and John Blackbeard will be responsible for anything to do with the practical operations. Ultimate responsibility for St Mary’s lies with our Churchwardens, Damien Eustace and Rae Binning. So, these are the people to consult in event of a crisis.

These months between Christmas and Easter will be a significant time for us as a church. Not only do we have the ‘Real Lives’ Mission week, but at the beginning of February, Tom Brewster joins the staff team as a trainee Director of Music. The Sunday morning congregations will also be embarking on a major sermon series in the early chapters of Genesis. I also hope that many parents and those who help with our children’s and youth ministry will be attending the first of the ‘Parenting Matters’ sessions led by Mel Lacey on the evening of 13th January.

We have a memory verse for this year: Romans 5:13 ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.’ That will be my prayer for myself and for you all while I am away.

Christingle Making

The annual Christingle making took place in the St Mary’s church hall with the usual mix of young and old, first timers and old-hands and oranges, sweets, mince pies and fun. Some were so keen to be part of the making that they turned up 45 minutes early, but most arrived just before the 10am start!

As you can see from the photos, making Christingles is a production line. Oranges are cored, red tape is stuck around them, candles are inserted before the cocktail sticks, laden with sweets, are pushed in. As always, the most popular task - amongst both children and adults alike - is putting sweets onto the cocktail sticks!

Christingles go back a long way - and each part of them help us to remember the significance of the Christmas story:

  • Orange - the world that God made
  • The sticks - the four seasons (or possibly the four corners of the world!)
  • The sweets - God's good gifts to his world
  • The candle - Jesus, light of the world
  • The red ribbon - Jesus' blood, shed for our forgiveness

Within an hour, 413 Christingles were made, placed on the trays ready for today’s Christmas Eve services (2:30pm and 4pm). These services are a wonderful opportunity to share the joy of celebrating Jesus' birth with others come and share in the joy of celebrating Jesus's birth.

Christmas Unwrapped (Charlotte Faulkner)

Where was Jesus born? How many wise men were there? What does the Donkey do?

These all seem like super easy questions, right?

Well, unless you answered ‘In a cave’, ‘We don’t know’ and ‘The bible doesn’t tell us about a donkey’, you may know quite a bit less about Christmas than you thought you did.

From 4th-6th December, we asked 485 kids from 11 primary schools these questions as well and then helped them to unwrap the true meaning of Christmas.

One of the highlights of the sessions was making mince pies. Helped by our amazing group of volunteers, the kids were able to mould some pastry into whatever they liked. The most popular designs this year were snow men, presents and unicorns! They also got to vote for their favourite Strictly Come Dancing pair, do a word search, dance and much more fun stuff!

One of the key things that Sarah taught them was the idea of Bubblegum and Fluff. Bubblegum is the original story, what the Bible tells us about Jesus’ birth. The Fluff is all the stuff that has been added onto it over the years, like the Christmas trees and elves. They then watched a video about why the Bible is reliable and trustworthy, before Kate sent them all off to read and write down what the Bible says about Christmas.

To practice what they had just learnt, they were asked to sort out Christmas cards into ‘Bubblegum’ and ‘Fluff’. Some were really quite tricky, where would you place a card that has the three wise men on it? We know there were wise men in the Bible but were there three?

They also got the chance to hear from the acclaimed Nutty Professor who went through one of the quizzes with them and then later answered some of their amazing questions.

Here is a selection; why not think about how you would answer them…

  • Why should I read the Bible?
  • Why did the wise men and shepherds travel to see Jesus?
  • Why would the wise men go to such a gross place?
  • Why did God want Jesus to be called that name?
  • Did Joseph and Mary know that they were having the saviour?
  • Why did angels tell the shepherds about Jesus?
  • If angels told the shepherds how come we know about it today?
  • What did Jesus come to save us from?
  • Is Jesus the Messiah of the Christians?
  • How do we know that Jesus is God’s son?
  • If Jesus is God’s son – then who was Joseph?
  • How did Luke (and other gospel writers) know what to write down?
  • Why do we get presents at Christmas?
  • Is Jesus coming back and if so when?

Ways to Support Mission Partners (Jo Jobson and Jo Wheatley)

Jo Jobson, Chair of the Mission Partner Support Group, was asked to give some advice on ways to support mission partners and Jo Wheatley was asked to reflect on her experience of this as a Mission Partner.

Jo Jobson (Chair of the Mission Partners Support Group) writes:

Why do this?

We aim to link one of St Mary’s Mission Partners with each Growth Group, so that a personal relationship can be established - which has benefits for both sides. The Mission Partner will be encouraged by regular contact & knowing they are cared for. The GG will gain a greater insight into God’s amazing work of spreading the gospel worldwide and into all walks of life. They will learn about a country or an area of work of which they may have no direct experience & may build up friendships with the Mission Partners & their families.  Knowing what God is doing in a different context can also change our perception of our own situations.

How can we do this?

Rather than giving the Growth Group leaders something else to remember, the arrangement works best if another group member (or members) takes responsibility for it. You can find information about your Mission Partner on this website. Liaise with the St Mary’s Mission Link to ensure that you receive the monthly prayer updates from the Mission Partner. Include these in your growth group prayers.

You will find Partners’ email addresses via the Care List search. Contact them to introduce your group and let them know that you will be praying for them.  Partners’ work can be lonely, isolating & immensely challenging, so they love to receive emails or letters – no matter how brief (or long!) Even if you don’t know them, tell them a little about your life & ask about theirs. Don’t be put off if you don’t always receive a reply – they are human too!

Other practical ideas

  • Pray specific Bible verses for them and their ministry, and then email these to them
  • Send them a photo of the Growth Group so they can identify who is writing to them
  • Find out when their birthdays are & send them a card signed by all in the group
  • Try a Skype call with them during one of your meetings – if you’ve pre-arranged it, it may well work!
  • If they live in the UK or are back on furlough, invite them to a meeting, whether it’s to find out about them or for them to join in with your Bible study. Invite them to other events at church. Host an ‘at home’ afternoon /evening for church members to drop in & catch up, for coffee or a ‘bring & share’ meal. Organise an update session before a St Mary’s Evening they’ll be coming to - they will be so delighted to be able to talk about their work, joys and struggles to people who they already know a little.
  • At Christmas, send a food parcel of items they like but which are hard to find or very expensive in their country, or a Christmas card signed by the group
  • Donate frequent flyer miles to them
  • Purchase an iTunes gift card for them; you can send these through email or if you buy a physical card simply email them the code on the back
  • Call their local florist (not everyone is in the jungle these days) and have flowers delivered
  • Ask them if you can host an evening of prayer for them and the local people who work with them

View from a recent Mission Partner, Jo Wheatley.

Philippians 1:3,5 'I thank my God… because of your partnership in the gospel…'

This was the verse Steven and I used for our Prayer Card as we so valued our supporters as part of our partnership in the gospel. Ever since I first went overseas in 1986 I realised (and the Mission drummed it in) that I was only a cog in the wheel fulfilling Christ’s command of Matthew 28:20. Without the prayers and support of others, any Ministry would be in vain.

Back in the old days we had to write Prayer Letters every three months (NB no computers then! Letters took six weeks or more). Now with the technological advance sending communication is so quick. But it is hard to write if we never hear back. It is a two-way ministry. As Missionaries we need to communicate but as supporters so do you. It’s a relationship. Some are better at this than others. I write a missive, Steven writes 2 lines! It doesn’t matter. When overseas or in a cross cultural situation receiving a line like: 'prayed for you last night and by the way it’s snowing and Will is soon off on sabbatical' means so much. It’s also nice to receive a photo of the Group and hear about the individuals in the group and how to pray for them. This makes visiting when on Home Leave so much easier. To meet in the flesh and personally thank the Group is special.

One of our Growth Groups set up a rota and every week one member of the Group would e-mail a few lines. Another group sent food parcels at Christmas. Another time the Group were concerned they hadn’t received any contact in a while and asked if we were okay. In fact, I was quite low and it is during those times that we most need prayers BUT it’s so difficult to ask.

We need Partnership.

6:30pm Ladies Day Away (Hazel Tomlinson)

We had a wonderful day away at St Katharine’s, Parmoor in Frieth. The 16 of us met there at 10am where we started with our first study - looking at what contentment is which Rachel led. After a small break, Kat lead us in our second study - being content with what we have. It was an amazing time spent in sharing, praying and getting to know each other better.

On our return we made some little angel charms which Becs kindly organised, whilst those who could knit helped Katie Croft out with knitting some little Christmas stockings. There was lots of laughter and some special bonding.

Our final study was about being content when life is hard which was very challenging. We looked at Corinthians as Paul was such an amazing role model in regards to living life even through adversity. We learnt how God is our comfort in all our troubles. We looked at Philippians 4 and focused on rejoicing in the Lord, not being anxious about anything but being thankful for all our blessings and looking at what we have instead of what we don't have. Philippians 4 verse 8 is a wonderful verse to put into practise. We finished listening to a beautiful song by a lady called Debbie Arnott which is based on Philippians 4 'I will be anxious about nothing'.

We ended with some time of open prayer, reflecting on what we had learnt, before breaking up into small groups and praying for each other.

We had a wonderful meal together cooked by the staff at St Katherine's and even had some champagne brought by Ruth! Again lots of time to share and get to know each other better.

We all set off home at 9pm encouraged, blessed and thankful.

Mission Partner Update: Harrison and Rhoda Mungai

It was a delight to welcome Harrison and Rhodah Mungai, our link missionaries for iServe Africa, to St Mary’s during November. They were able to meet a good number of the church family, both to pray for each other and to share updated news about the work and ministry of iServa Africa, based in Kikuyu – just north of Nairobi, Kenya.

iServe Africa is a Christian organisation that exists to promote faithful Bible teaching and servant leadership through four main programmes, namely:  TransformD for high school leavers, Apprenticeship for university graduates, Utumish (Servanthood) Course for local leaders as well as Injili Afrika that deals with contemporary issues affecting the African continent.

Each year many young people go through the organisation – currently there are 40 beds available for young people in dormitories which are used by TransformD members for six months of the year, camps through the school holidays and the apprentices during their Ministry Training Course.

However, only Phase One of the project is complete. With more space available there would be extra capacity for more training, thereby enhancing efficiency and creating sustainability. Phase Two would provide 24 en suite rooms plus training rooms and a library.

Many of you will remember that St Mary’s generously donated funds towards Phase One a couple of years ago. iServe Africa are now launching Phase Two and are praying that God will provide £160,000 to complete the building of the Training Centre to help them in their quest to reach the continent of Africa with the gospel.

Current prayers for Harrison and Rhodah and the iServe Africa programme are:
  1. Praise God for the 35 young men and women who were recently commissioned into the Lord's service and pray for their future ministries.
  2. Pray for gospel workers who have signed up for this year's Utumishi Course which provides training in Bible handling skills.
  3. Pray for those who are preparing to apply for the TransformD Course in 2020 – this is specifically aimed at school leavers, before they move on to university next autumn.
  4. Praise God that Phase One of the Training Centre Project was completed last year. Please pray for Phase Two where fundraising is underway and pray that the Lord will provide the required £160,000 by August 2020.

iServe Africa prayer requests are always available in the monthly edition of the prayer diary and regular newsletters can be found in the iServe Africa slot on the Missionary Noticeboard in the Hall foyer. If you would like to receive these personally direct from iServe Africa please send your email address to me, [hidden], ( and I will forward them on.

Harvest Giving (Steven Wheatley)

22nd September was St Mary's annual Harvest Day, when we had an opportunity to show our gratitude for all that God gives us, by sharing these blessings with others. This year there were two strands to our giving.

Locally, we shared in a very practical and tangible way with Foodshare. Food brought to the Church throughout the day was taken to the Foodshare store for distribution as needed.

Further afield, we were able to send over £10,000 to SIM Malawi, to help with their work following serious flooding some months ago. SIM together with their partner church, the Africa Evangelical Church, and the Evangelical Association of Malawi, have been helping people who lost their homes and fields through the flooding, by supplying emergency supplies and help with rebuilding. So far, nearly 2,000 families have been helped.

As the country gears up for another rainy season, with the prospect of further flooding, much of the relief work has been suspended for the time being, but will be restarted once the rains have finished and roads are passable. The gift from St Mary’s will be used during this phase of the work.

Parenting Matters (Will Stileman)

In the Bible both Old and New Testaments stress the responsibility of God’s people and, in particular, believing parents to instruct their children about God and his ways. For instance Psalm 78:3-4 declares that ‘...what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.’ In a similar vein, Paul issues this challenge to Christian fathers: ‘Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and the instruction of the Lord.’ (Ephesians 6:4)

It is because of this that as a whole church family we want to be helping one another to do the best job we can in bringing the next generation up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

To that end, on the evening of Monday 13th January 2020 (7:30pm for 8, until 9:30pm) we are hosting the first of our Parenting Matters events. Parenting Matters consists of three evening sessions presented by Mel Lacy (the other two are on 27th April and 28th September). The title of this first evening is Raising Kids for Christ, which will be focussing on identity and raising children to know who they truly are. Mel has been doing children’s and youth ministry in various ways, countries and contexts for over twenty years. She has had extensive experience in church-based children’s and youth ministry and has, more recently, been the Director of the Children’s and Youth Ministry Course at Oak Hill College (a position she continues to hold). She is great value and comes highly recommended. These evenings should be of immense interest to parents, grandparents, and all who help out in any form of children’s or youth groups. 

Do visit Growing Young Disciples if you want to find out more.

Cru-Club Celebration (Brian Jones)

Maidenhead Crusaders, or Cru-Club as it has been more recently known, was started 70 years ago by Eric and Kitty Golden to reach out to unchurched boys. It’s been based in various locations and moved to St Mary’s some time after I became involved 40 years ago. It was originally a boys’ Bible class on Sunday plus sports on a Monday night but the two meetings were combined to ensure no one missed out on (or escaped!) the Bible teaching slot. There was close liaison with many similar groups in the Reading area and a good tradition of inter-group competitions and annual House Parties. Badges were awarded after ten attendances and Bibles after 50, and it was our pleasure to present six Bibles at last Saturday’s final birthday celebration bringing the total over the years to 131.

We used an in-house programme to train young leaders whenever possible and at least four have gone on to be youth leaders in their own right (Adam and Daniel, Adam and Harry) and another into ministry (Joel). One talented football player (Andy) went on to win the Premier League (needless to say we won quite a few football trophies while he was in the group!)!

At least 20 different people have helped out over the years with Gary, Ian and Steve being our present team and Joanie, Ruth, Helen and Bob working faithfully in the background. Recruitment seemed to work best with boys bringing their friends, Marcus once famously bringing his whole class.

Why run it? Crusaders helped me stay in touch with my Christian faith through my teenage years and with 95% of young people having little or no connection with churches anything we can do to bridge that gap is vital.

Why stop now? Well my first Crusader is now a grandfather himself! And we all have to retire sometime; Gary (with Sara) as my main helper has moved away; the group is smaller and the boys can all be catered for at 7 Up, X and Shift Focus; plus a whole host of other small pointers.

Huge thanks to all who supported our final birthday, it was a great occasion.

Massive thanks to St Mary’s for their background support over the years to a group that was effectively independent.

Grateful thanks to St Piran’s for hosting us on a occasional basis over the last 10 years, fitting us in wherever possible.

Humble thanks to all those who have helped and assisted in so many ways and for those of you who have, unbeknown to us, prayed.

It’s been great fun - hard work - sometimes frustrating, often encouraging, but in the long run we are all just small cogs in God‘a family playing our part in building his kingdom.

Real Lives Week 2020 (Ian Miller)

Between 25th February and 1st March 2020 we have a great line up of events at St Mary’s at which people will be interviewed about their life stories. These include the story of a prisoner who was one of the most violent men in the criminal justice system (Shane Taylor), of the former CEO of a city bank who is now battling incurable cancer (Jeremy Marshall), of a Muslim who became a Mormon and then a Christian (Shubbie Awoyemi) and of a woman who suffered abuse, struggled with addiction and became a single mum (Angela McDonald). We have invited these and a number of others to be interviewed about their stories because each story speaks of the gripping and life-changing story of God’s love and faithfulness to real and ordinary people.

My hope is that you will find that Real Lives week offers a variety of events to which you can invite friends and family to hear the impact of Jesus in people’s lives. At the evening events there will be drinks, nibbles, music etc and then interviews conducted by Glen Scrivener who is a gifted evangelist. After the interview he will give a short gospel talk.

More details will be forthcoming, but in the meantime why not:

  • Put Real Lives week in your diaries (25th February to 1st March)
  • Start praying for the week and for friends, colleagues and family you might invite
  • Check out Glen Scrivener’s website and perhaps send links to some of his films to your friends: he has some great Christmas films
  • Get to know some of the speakers you will be inviting your friends to hear by looking at the following films of Shane Taylor (4 mins) and Jeremy Marshall (25 mins)
player


Update from Oliver and Lucie Strange

Greetings to all at St Mary’s! It was very touching to be asked to give some news about what we’ve been up to. Our time at St Mary’s was a real blessing - Lucie attended the 11am service until we married after which we both moved to the 6:30pm congregation. We remember with fondness getting married in the church, as well as being involved with the music group and the opportunity for me (Oliver) to cut my teeth in preaching. It was very exciting to be involved with Curt & Janice Hopkins at the Windsor Fellowship before we moved to Oxford where I trained at Wycliffe Hall and both of us met some wonderful people.

For me, the best part of my time at Wycliffe was getting to know a few Christian brothers who were completely devoted to Jesus and passionate about preaching his word and bringing people to know him. I also loved getting to go on several missions to universities with the late great Michael Green. It was so encouraging to see young people from all over the world brought to faith, and to find that the students were a lot more open to the Christian faith than I had expected.

Lucie got thoroughly involved with the spouses group at Wycliffe, and found a wonderful job working with BeSpace, a local charity that runs and supports prayer spaces in schools. This combined her primary school experience with her passion for engaging children with the Christian faith. She also met some great friends who supported her and built her up in the faith. 

We went through several rounds of trying to find a curacy before visiting Burford, with all parties feeling that this was the right place for us to go. With a few months remaining before we were due to arrive, the vicar of Burford, Richard Coombs, felt God was calling him to move to minister in Cheltenham. This was a bit of a shock at first, but we felt God would be able to use us to support the ministry of the 7-church Benefice during the vacancy. 

And so we had a rather unusual first year of curacy, but it was a privilege to support the ministry team and the whole flock across the Benefice as we kept the ship afloat and searched for a new vicar. In God’s generous provision he brought us a new vicar – Tom Putt, who is doing  a wonderful job already of leading us on as a church. It is such a pleasure to be in a church where the Bible is faithfully preached, where evangelism is a high priority and where we get around eighty children and young people on an average Sunday at Burford. I’m enjoying working with Tom and learning what to do when you first arrive in a parish, and Lucie is enjoying the Ministry Training Course at St Ebbe’s, which is a good opportunity to catch up with folk from St Mary’s.

We can both testify to the thorough equipping with God’s word that we received at St Mary’s, which has stood us in good stead for our subsequent journey. Please thank God for this, and for all that he is doing in Burford, and pray for us as we will begin to consider (in a year or so’s time) where God wants us to be next.

Oliver & Lucie Strange

Life Matters (Rachel Meynell)

Life Matters. Does it? 

And does God care about the details of our lives? Well yes, he does. He made us in his image, he rescued us in Christ and he included us in his body, the church. No wonder he has something to say about every aspect of life. Over the next three years or so, we are planning a series of seminars on those issues that confront us day by day. 

Marriage Matters was the first in the series (more on that in Melinda’s article, below), Parenting Matters will be our next one on Monday 13th January 2020.  Future subjects are: work, singleness, prayer, abortion, euthanasia, anxiety, bereavement, finances and retirement.  

Our hope and prayer for these sessions is that they will help us all to live wholeheartedly and consistently for God. 

Marriage Matters Evening (Melinda Stylo)

On the evening of Saturday 9th November, Adam and I joined a group of 18 other couples from St Mary’s to spend time focussing on our marriages and what God says about them. Will introduced the evening by acknowledging that each relationship is unique because we all come into marriage with different experiences and backgrounds. My immediate thought was ‘Ain’t that the truth!’ You see, Adam and I come from two very different families, languages, cultures and childhood experiences. At times it has felt as if we have very little in common. Except Jesus. We have Jesus in common. And we both want to become more like Jesus. And we both want our children to know Jesus. And we both want our lives to glorify God. Perhaps we do have some things in common. But how does our relationship fit into all of this?

The first reading we looked at was Malachi 2:10-16.  Adam and I found it interesting how much God has to say about marriage relationships in this passage and were especially struck by how seriously God takes faithfulness (v10), how our relationships are part of our worship (v13-14) and how they affect generations (v15). Rachel then took over as we looked at what it means to be faithfully loving each other in the context of our different roles, our communication and through conflict. Throughout the evening we looked at various Bible passages, spent time in discussion with our spouses (having been told to ignore all other conversations around us) and listened as Rachel gently guided us using encouragement and warnings.

There was a lot to take away and think about but, for me, the point that had the most impact was that in every interaction I have with Adam I should be seeking to glorify God and help Adam become more like Jesus. ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.’ Ephesians 4:29.

Adam says he didn’t realise that his relationship with me was meant to be the second most important thing in his life – after only his relationship with God. The Malachi passage has a lot to say about this, most strikingly that the Lord is the witness between a husband and wife.

Will then lead us through how we can faithfully pray for our marriages in the light of God’s grace. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, ‘Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ.’ No matter what our circumstances, we can always rejoice in the gospel. Although the evening was primarily aimed at Christian couples, so much of what we covered is applicable to those of us married to someone who’s not a Christian. Ultimately, it’s all about bringing glory to God even if he’s the only one who sees it. We ended the evening by looking at how we can use each line of the Lord’s prayer to pray over our marriages. I think I’ll start with that!

The General Election (Will Stileman)

In a little less than a month, on 12th December, the General Election will be upon us. So, I thought I should make some suggestions about a Christian approach to politics and in particular to a General election.

First, we should seek to be informed. I am embarrassed to admit that I am more likely to know the names of the English Rugby Team than who is in the Cabinet, and shadow Cabinet. But if we have the privilege of living in a democracy then we ought to take our responsibility seriously. It would be sad if, when the history of the first quarter of the 21st century comes to be written, it came to light that the Christian Community did next to nothing to address the major moral, social and political issues of their day. Such failure, should it happen, might be put down to apathy or cowardice, but I think a more likely factor would be culpable ignorance. We must be informed.

Second, we must be gracious. It seems to me that when mud is being slung truth is always a casualty. It is very easy for us and politicians to see things in black and white and pretend that one side or the other has a monopoly on morality. The fact is that there are fine, moral people in all the main political parties, as well as those who appear to be self-serving. It is through honest and rigorous debate conducted with grace that the truth has the best opportunity to come out. I suspect that how Christians conduct themselves in political debate and the way they reach their conclusions is as significant as where they put their cross on polling day.

Finally, we need to be unselfish. I suspect at the end of the day most people in this country will vote for what is going to benefit them most personally. There will be a whole range of issues to consider: Brexit, Climate Change, Overseas Aid, The NHS and Social Care, Education, Medical Ethics, Immigration, Defence. We may well have differing orders of priorities, but what should concern us is what is best going to help and benefit others, particularly the most vulnerable in our society.

When Jesus was on earth He said that the first and most important commandment is that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. How Christian people approach an election is part of their worship.

The 9:15am Interviews (Maggie Dos Santos)

As part of a series of Sunday morning interviews to get to know congregation members Jon Drake interviewed Maggie Dos Santos.

When I studied at the local university in Lanzhou, an inland city in northern China, I joined an ‘English corner’ organised by a Malaysian-Chinese lady, Joy. She used the gospel of Matthew to teach us. A few months later, she asked me to help her with Christmas shopping. While we were waiting for the bus, she said, “Jesus was tempted in the desert for forty days but didn’t die, do you think he is just a man?” I said, “of course not, anyone would be starved to death. He must be God”. Then she replied, “but do you think he is not human?” I said “no, because he ate like us and he felt hungry.” “That’s right. Jesus is God and Man”, said Joy excitedly, “I think you actually know who he is and what his faith is. Would you commit your life to him and believe him?” I said “yes”. So, she led me to pray and explained the gospel carefully to me. This may all sound strange but I became a Christian - I did struggle to think whether I really became a Christian because I never had a spectacular conversion. But the Lord made it clear to me that he sowed a seed (maybe mustard☺) in me and he will let it grow.

Joy left China almost right after I got converted. Somehow, I ended up with some underground church groups. Each week we were unsure where exactly to meet but we managed to hold services week after week. I felt a bit strange and scared and my parents were really concerned. Often, they switched off my alarm for Sunday mornings so that I could not travel to the service (it’s about 1.5 to 2 hours bus journey). But miraculously, my desires for the Lord kept increasing and I never stopped worshipping. I finally got baptised on 24th March 2004 in a bath tub. It was -10 outside but we felt no cold as we were all so joyful. 

After baptism, I moved to Xiamen along the south east coast and joined the local church. It is one of the largest underground churches in China and has been since the revival in 70’s. My faith grew solidly there. On one hand, we can worship, meet in groups and prayer meetings with much more freedom, although we are constantly under scrutiny and watched by the government. The pastors and leadership team shouldered most of this pressure. On the other hand, the church always taught and encouraged the faith-centred life. Our life pretty much evolved around the church life. Often, we were too keen to join the training camp or Bible reading course, but there were not enough spaces for everyone. The needs in and outside the city have always been high. We regularly went on short mission trips. I remember that we had to hire the football stadium to provide the carol service. Now, most people from my growth group are serving the Lord full time. 

Recently, my church has been cracked down and many other underground churches nationwide have experienced the same. The famous ‘Autumn Rain’ church crackdown in Chengdu has stunned many believers. But what is really amazing is the strong faith witnessed by brothers and sisters in such persecution. Pastor Wang yi is still in prison and many co-workers have lost their flats, jobs and kid’s schools. In my home church, the mansion house used for worship service has been shut down and there are 24-hour police guards monitoring it. But the church declared their faith openly and continues to have a Sunday service via social media. Believers are forced back to small groups for secret Bible study and prayer meetings during the week.

However, when I regularly speak to the brothers and sisters, they are shocked but not frightened and they trust God is on the throne. They told me that they count it as joy and felt honoured to suffer for Christ like the apostles and early churches (Acts 5:41-42; Romans 5:3-5; 2 Corinthians 12:10; Colossians 1:11; Colossians 1:24; Hebrews 10:34; 1 Peter 4:13). Indeed, though they feel hard pressed on every side (2 Corinthians 4:7-12), they count it as pure joy and part of God’s sanctification work (James 1:2-4).  They also firmly believe the true faith needs to be tested and refined. After living here for many years, my memory of this kind of church life and strong faith have become vague and I have felt overwhelmed by their current sufferings. At first, it was a shock with fear but soon it turned into joy. I felt so encouraged by their faith and Christian views. I started to long to have a heart like theirs to be able to count it as joy. I also cannot help but thank the Lord for his sovereignty and loving kindness for his own sake, and for my dear brothers and sisters in my home church.

Book Sunday (November 2019)

Sunday 3rd November was Book Sunday at St Mary's, where a wide selection of books were available for sale before and after the services. Alex Mitchell from 10 of Those reviewed four books (details at the end of this blog item). Watch Alex's 170 second review by clicking the video below.

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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 Quenchshops or online through 10ofthose or The Good Book Company.

The books were

  • The Weirdest Nativity (Andrew Sach and Jonathan Gemmell)
  • The Longest Wait (Alison Brewis)
  • Reading Between the Lines (Glen Scrivener)
  • An Open Door (Maud Kells)

Mission Partner Angy King (Chris Hutton)

Sports England state that there are 25-30 million people playing sport in the UK, this includes sports clubs and gyms. To compare, there are about 32 million people in work in the UK and about 19 million families.

The community of sport is a huge mission field and the numbers are right up there competing with the big areas of society. Yet the reality is that many sportspeople don’t even know any Christians, let alone the Christian message. And those Christians who are involved in sport may not even be looking to share the gospel with those in their clubs and teams.

Well, wonderfully, there are many Christian, evangelistic organisations working within the sports community - Sports Chaplaincy UK is one of them - providing, supporting, and training sports chaplains nationwide. Our mission partner, Angy King works for them, sharing the gospel through her role as sports chaplain to Reading Women’s Football Club and also as the Pastoral Coordinator for women football chaplains in England.

She supports all ages from the under 10s up to the first team. Last year, she was specifically asked by the manager to provide pastoral support to the 16-18 year olds in the Academy who are trying to balance full time training with their school studies, many also living away from home for the first time.

Angy’s week looks like this:

Monday evening -attends each team’s training session. Angy speaks to coaches, players and, especially with the younger age groups, the micro community of parents and grandparents who stay to watch. She introduces herself as the chaplain explaining that she is there for pastoral and spiritual care. Each week she listens as the parents share how their week has gone and voice any concerns. Issues arising within families this year have been online grooming, bullying, illness, bereavement, depression, injury, and whether to accept a place in the academy at 16 or stay at their own school and drop out of elite football. She is thankful for the opportunity to witness to them and prays they will remember the love and compassion shown when the time comes for them to consider the bigger questions of life.

There are two Christian families in the 14-16s group and it has been a privilege to be able to pray with them and to encourage the girls to attend Christians in Sport summer camps - where the families will also be connected to other Christian families coping with the commitment with playing sport at a high level.

Tuesdays - Angy spends the day with the first team who train at Bisham Abbey. Starting with breakfast together at 9am, she spends the morning speaking with and encouraging players both those actively training and those rehabilitating in the gym. It is when sharing lunch with the players that Angy often has great conversations on a variety of questions and topics - sometimes pitched very loudly at her across the dining room! This season players have initiated interactions on forgiveness, the authority of the Bible, believing in God, spirituality, the death penalty, would LGBT couples be welcome in church and should schools be allowed to hold nativity plays. She prays on the way to training that God will use her to bring them closer to him and will guide her words and actions.

There are matches most weekends for all age groups:

Saturdays - Angy tries to watch the younger ones but will always attend first team matches on Sunday afternoons at Adams Park in High Wycombe. She arrives early to meet the stewards and greet the players and staff. Her match day role is to provide hospitality in the VIP room, serving sandwiches and drinks to admin staff from the visiting team, dignitaries from other clubs, international teams and the Football Association.

This provides an opportunity to speak about sports chaplaincy and offer the chance for the visiting team to consider incorporating the role into their club. As SCUK pastoral coordinator her role is to ensure that as many clubs as possible have been made aware of sports chaplaincy.

This year conversations have taken place with big clubs such as Arsenal, Man City, Man Utd as well as smaller ones such as Yeovil, Cambridge and Lewes. In the last 3 months it has been exciting to introduce chaplains into the women’s teams at Leicester City, Newcastle United and Derby County and they are currently looking for chaplains for 3 other clubs.

Angy continues to write evangelistically in the programme notes at home matches. She takes a current football topic and weaves a Bible verse or a challenge into 250 words. Topics this year have included authority, relationship with God, injustice and disparity, Halloween, Christmas, and what Jesus’ resurrection means for us.

New Testament and Psalms with the Reading logo on the front are presented to players and staff who are leaving the club with a message to thank them for all they have done. She is confident God will call them one day and she prays they will remember the gift and want to find out more.

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 his disciples never forgot their continuing dependence on his atoning death, and to do so until he returns to earth on the Day of Judgement. How often Christian believers should celebrate the Lord's Supper 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 fulfilled 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 the Lord's Supper, especially if they have been baptised. I would suggest that Paul's warnings against participating in the Lord's Supper in an unworthy manner in 1 Corinthians 11 do not prohibit children from participating, but some would disagree.

Our next All Age Communion Service is on Sunday 10th 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 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 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.

Windsor Fellowship Church Update (Pete Matthew)

Our vision remains the same: we as a church family, exist for the honour of God and the love of Windsor. We pray this will happen as we’re built up as disciples of Christ and reach out with the good news of Jesus to our local community.

We had a delightful meal at the Harte and Garter hotel for our Annual Thanksgiving Dinner at the end of September. This was a (delicious) opportunity to get to know one another better, celebrate all that God has been doing in the life of the church, reflect on some of the harder moments, and look forward to what God might want to do over the coming year. We reminded ourselves that it is ‘God who makes the seed grow’ (1 Corinthians 3:7).

We are now about five years old as a church and it is exciting to see growth, particularly with some new families joining with young people. This has led to the launch of a new youth group called Contact. Contact meets monthly for pizza, games and Bible study. They’re currently looking at Jesus’ ‘I am…’ statements in John’s gospel. In a couple of weeks they’re having their own ‘Day Away at Home’ to include the Rugby World Cup Final and bacon butties! We would love to see this particular youth ministry grow and for the young people to really explore faith for themselves, and build strong friendships with one another. Please pray that our young people will feel part of the wider church family and that they might feel they can invite their friends to Contact.

We have also enjoyed growth over the last year in our worship team, enabling fresh ideas and new vision. We have learnt lots of new songs, including a few all age songs with actions. The sound team had some training and so the balance is sounding great! Please pray that we would worship God, in spirit and in truth.

There continues, as always, in the mixed bag of church life, some challenges. We continue to meet at the Windsor Youth and Community Centre, a venue which whilst inviting with its bright blue walls and dodgy sports hall acoustics, means every week the setting up and setting down is a big task. We have also had people leave our number, which has been sad. We miss them! Please pray that we would be steadfast in our service of each other and the Lord.

Looking ahead, we are gearing up to take part again in the Windsor Homeless Shelter starting in December. This is a fantastic opportunity to work with other local churches to reach the homeless in Windsor. It is running for an extra month this year so prayer would be appreciated for rotas to be filled, particularly for the night shift slots.

Several events are coming up for people to invite their friends to. In November there’s an evening drinks reception with Jeremy Marshall. He’ll share how his Christian faith impacted his work in the city and how it is helping sustain him through his battle with incurable cancer. We have also started a ‘Parenting Teenagers’ course running on Thursday evenings. Nearer Christmas, we will be having a festive evening of wreath making with prosecco (great combination!) for the ladies. Please pray that we would be bold and full of wisdom as we invite guests to these events. It would be great to see lots of new faces at our Christmas carol services.

Finally, we are reminded of Philippians 1:3 - ‘I thank my God every time I remember you’. We do thank St Mary’s Maidenhead for your prayers, support, but most of all, our partnership in the gospel; as we run the race together.

Beside Still Waters in the Turbulence of Life (Karen Martin)

Amidst the bacon butties, croissants, fruit and a slight hot drink crisis, over 150 women gathered to listen to Susannah Padiachy speak about finding joy amidst anxiety.

She began with the statistics: in 2013, 8.2 million people sought help from their GP for anxiety. We live in a broken, difficult and unjust world where we can be hurt. We live in a time and place where demands on us are high—relationships break down, health is not guaranteed and work/life balance is not readily attainable. If our response to life is fear, then that is an understandable reaction.

Fear is wired into our limbic system. God created us with the capacity to be frightened. It is essential for our survival: fight or flight. But when fear of fear drives our lives and affects our outlook, our relationships and our decision-making, then we need to think again; this is not God’s design.

When we create structures to contain our anxieties then we can be building something as destructive as the anxiety itself. Susannah spoke of phobias, OCD, eating disorders and other deep mental health issues that can sometimes be traced back to a need to control the world around us, to make it feel safer somehow.

And this was only her introduction!

She then invited Sharon, a member of St Mary’s, to the stage. Sharon gave testimony of learning to live with crippling panic attacks that began when she was a teenager. Brought up in a stable and Christian home, God was there but seemed too abstract to be of any real help. She expressed honestly, that God too had become something to be scared of.

It was through reading her Bible and listening to teaching that she realised God had a plan for her, that he has one for all of us, and we only need to give him the chance to work in and through our lives. Personal relationship with God, through Jesus has given her an anchor that is dependable.

If she suffers anxiety and panic now, she gives it to God - an exercise in making sure that she no longer seeks to control everything.

It was acknowledged throughout the room that anxiety comes in many guises, with many people recognising areas of life which challenge them.

Susannah shared her own experience of fears that accompanied her daughter’s devastating diagnosis several years ago. She described it as being at the bottom of a pit face down. She felt that if God was there at all, then he was only a presence looking down at her, watching whilst she tried to scramble out on her own.

Not giving up on faith, she continued to go to church, and one day, she felt something change. She wasn’t on her own in her fears, but God was there with her in the person of Jesus. Like Sharon, she was filled with realisation that God had a plan for her, for her family, for her daughter. She could be a different kind of mum - no longer terrified to step out of the front door, but one who put trust in God. She couldn’t change anything, but trusting God was far more dependable and reliable than trying to do this life without him.

She drew our attention to Psalm 23, encouraging us to see that David had many enemies and was in mortal danger. In the midst of that he was able to pray that 

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2     He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3     he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

Amidst fear and suffering, amidst trials and troubles, we can find joy. Modern society cites happiness as our right and that we should seek that to the exclusion of all else, but the Bible teaches us that we can hold onto a deep joy that transcends circumstances - the joy of grace.

Grace is the free gift of salvation, the hope of a future without fear. For ‘He will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ (Rev 21:4).

In the meantime, in the everyday in this fallen and broken world, we can choose to trust Jesus. We can find his joy in the midst of our anxiety.

Susannah left us with a challenge - will we make that choice?  Will we allow Jesus into the pits we find ourselves in and let him walk alongside us, enabling us to trust in God’s plan for our lives?

Update from St Mary's White Waltham (Dave Atallah)

Join us in giving thanks!

Last year we started a regular children’s programme for Sunday mornings. This year we have added a group - so now we have a pre-school group and then two groups covering primary school age. These two groups meet together, in the ‘Treehouse’ (church centre), for games and activities and then they separate to hear and interact with the Bible stories at their different levels. Our children’s work is coordinated by Katie Croft, and we give thanks for her enthusiasm, the need for expansion and the volunteers from St Mary’s Maidenhead (SMM) that have enabled that to happen. Some weeks we don’t need all three groups, but the provision means that any family visiting on a Sunday feels well cared for.

For adults, we ran an encouraging Christianity Explored course in the summer, with some brilliant interaction and testimony to the power of God’s word. This group have mostly continued together this term as a ‘White Waltham group’ within the SMM Christian Foundations Course on a Monday evening. We give praise for the provision. In parallel we have kicked off a new ‘Bible course’ with another group of people, so we’re seeing an increasing number of people meeting to hear God speak through his word and help each other grow in fruitfulness.

Please join us in prayer!

There continues to be lots of opportunities for mission to take up in schools and the community. Please pray for one or two people to come alongside Dave in leading and teaching. A big prayer point for us is finance. We have had a preaching series on ‘Joy in Generosity’ and taken on a new direct debit tool to make regular effective giving easier. We are looking at who we ask for what money and in what ways. We want the gospel message to be free, but admit that keeping our beautiful old building running costs money. 

We are also seeking to increase our parish share contribution to safeguard future ministry, to increase our commitment to international mission, and to replace our heating to improve the welcome and reduce the danger of frostbite! All of these things cost, and we are already struggling to meet our costs. 

However, as the mission of the church becomes clearer, more exciting, and better communicated, we trust that God will provide, we give thanks for generosity already received, and we are joyfully dreaming big dreams for Christ’s church in this place.

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.

Katie Croft
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.

Richard Crane
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.

Thomas Walton
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!

Suzie Eves
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!).

Simon Eves
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.