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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Evangelism - Living Out Loud (Jason and Laura Swain)
We've had the privilege of running the Disciple Making Movements course a few times and it is always so encouraging to hear stories of how it's impacting lives beyond the course. Here is one testimony from John & Terry Driscoll.
We attended the six week course run by Jason and Laura Swain on how to speak easily about (and live out) our faith. Jason and Laura made us welcome and the course was friendly and very accessible. We were reminded that people are different, and so we must share the gospel in different ways and in different contexts. Whether or not we share through "Bringing", "Confronting", "Reasoning", or "Hosting"; a simple invitation to come to church might be all I can manage, but that's fine. I remember the very first week and at the start of the course looking at Romans. Romans 1:16 reads 'I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God and to salvation'. That made me think about my commitment to share the gospel and realise that I was comfortable to speak to people about my faith. Jason and Laura provided some very practical ideas and a framework to speak about Jesus in a conversational manner.
Since the course, I have felt confident and more able to speak about what my faith is actually about. Just this week I was able to share the gospel with a member of my rowing club; I would normally have left the conversation there, but this time felt enabled to text him offering to meet and go through our discussion in more detail, if he would like. I saw him the next day and he called out to me that he would come back to me about meeting up, I was encouraged!
The course has left both of us more able and prepared to share our faith whenever the opportunity arises in a natural and relaxed manner. We have no hesitation in recommending Jason and Laura's course to anyone who would like to be able to speak about their faith, it will provide a springboard for conversation!
John & Terry Driscoll St Mary's Maidenhead
Disciple Making Movements is a "biblically-based strategy to teach people, families, ethnic groups, and societies." Or more simply put, we want our friends, families, and communities to know how amazing our God is and how they can have a relationship with him. Two of our key values are that God's words are best and we simply want to "live out loud" as we showcase our great God. We hope it's a really practical and encouraging and fruitful course.
Another 6 week course will run on Tuesdays during the ladies' growth groups. Please chat to us if you want more information.
What is the electoral roll? (Sara Hewins)
This weekend, during church services, you will be encouraged to sign up to be on the Electoral Roll. St Mary's Electoral Roll is the register of its voting members: it's a list of those qualified to attend and to vote at the Annual Parochial Church Meeting (APCM) and to stand for election to the PCC. Church Representation Rules require that every Parochial Church Council (PCC) maintains an Electoral Roll. Note that being on the roll is not the same thing as being a 'member' of St Mary's... you are that by being a regular attender and considering St Mary's as your spiritual home.
Who can be on the Electoral Roll?
The only qualifications required are that you are 16 or over, have been baptised and that you have attended St Mary's for at least 6 months.
Signing up to the Electoral Roll is an important way of confirming your commitment to St Mary's and comes without additional obligations. If you wish, it can enable greater involvement in the life of the church at parish, deanery and diocesan level. It does help the church show its strength and the number on our electoral roll affects our representation on the Deanery Synod so it's great to sign up.
What happens next?
Every six years all names are required to be removed from our church Roll and we therefore have to prepare a new Roll. If you wish to be on the Roll we need you to complete a simple form. This process has started and until 31st March forms will be available at the back of church after every service for you to complete. It will only take a minute or two to do.
So if you wish to be included on the new Roll please be sure to fill one in and pop it into the marked box in the foyer.
Would you invite your work colleagues to pray? (Richard Crane & Dave MacFarlane)
Dave MacFarlane lives in Uxbridge but commutes to Maidenhead as a social worker for the Royal Borough. Dave is a regular at the Tuesday "Local Workers Lunch" Bible discussions that we host, and he often invites his colleagues along too. He inspires us not to hide our faith in fear, but to live openly as Christians in our workplaces. And he has a surprising suggestion for introducing friends to Jesus! Dave writes:
"I was asked recently what I thought was the most effective entry to sharing the gospel with people who don't yet know Jesus. Christianity is different to all other world religions, because it invites believers into a genuine, two-way relationship with the God who created them. It's not about following certain doctrine or adhering to certain rules: first and foremost it's about professing faith in the resurrected Jesus and choosing to follow Him day by day.
"So, if we're focusing on how we introduce people to Jesus, we need to remember we're not introducing them to a religion, we're inviting them to discover relationship with a person. And how better to do that than opening up a conversation?! The Bible would commonly refer to this conversation as 'prayer', remembering of course that this is just ordinary communication with God, in the same way that you and I may have a chat over coffee.
"So, how do we kick off this conversation? Well, I have found that this is becoming easier and easier, as modern society undergoes some form of spiritual awakening. Hard, cold, atheistic philosophy has been found out as not having the answers to life that it once promised. Instead, we find a generation of anxious millennials searching for peace. And where are they looking? Meditation and mindfulness: a Western-take on once predominantly Eastern methods of 'emptying oneself' and 'finding internal peace'.
"Now I know what you might say: that this is a crying shame that they're all turning their back on God and looking elsewhere. I would argue the opposite. They never knew God, and their mindfulness is their way of looking for Him. The step between this and what Christians call 'prayer' is not as great as we realise; the only difference is that we know who answers at the other end.
"Which takes me back to my introduction to Jesus. I often have discussions with people about my prayer-life; when I pray, how I pray, what I pray for, and answers to prayer that I've seen. It opens an easy conversation about Christ and about the relationship with Him that is on offer, often encouraging others to go and try it themselves, whether they believe it fully yet or not. It is my earnest belief that God does honour those small steps of faith and those small prayers prayed, even ones of uncertainty, and I have seen many return for further discussion when they've found that 'there might just be someone out there after all!'"
Harvest Giving (Peter Crossley)
"To know Jesus and to make Jesus known"
This is our vision at St Mary's, not only through our 'local' church but also through our external mission worldwide. It is a privilege and a blessing to be part of this ministry through our Mission Strategy Committee (MSC) and Mission Partners Support Group (MPSG). As you might know, the MSC proposes our annual Mission Budget for approval by the Parochial Church Council (PCC) each year in October.
The PCC also looks for recommendations from the MSC for our Harvest Giving (and a little later our Christmas Giving). At our last MSC meeting we considered a number of worthy charities, deciding upon Open Doors which has served persecuted Christians and churches around the world for 60 years. Our minds were drawn to their support for widows and orphans who have lost their husbands or parents because of their Christian faith.
Also, to find a second more personal connection, I was asked to contact our Mission Partners, Tim and Rachel Green who serve in Malaysia with Interserve. We sought their guidance on an appropriate charity, material need, or project that they knew through their ministry which we could support with the St Mary's Harvest Gift. Rachel directed us to the ElShaddai Centre, which is endorsed by UNHCR and helps refugees and asylum seekers "in transit" by providing education, primary healthcare, shelter, and skills development. Tim and Rachel are involved in a lot of refugee ministry and work closely with ElShaddai. Wherever and whenever they can, they talk about the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. And so the MSC proposed that our donation should be designated to the ElShaddai Shelter for Refugees, and in particular for children who have arrived in Malaysia who have no parents, and the PCC approved this for Harvest 2018.
You may have noted already, through our Weekly Contact in early November, that our Harvest Gift amounted to £5,305.
A very big thank you to all those who made a contribution. Please do get in touch if there is anything you wish to know about our Mission Partners and their ministry.
Giving to St Mary’s – the Regular Giving Scheme (The Finance Committee)
This is the second in a short series of articles on the funding of, and giving to, St Mary's Maidenhead. In last month's blog and Touchline, we provided an overview of the ways we are able to contribute to the work and witness of St Mary's. In this month's article we focus on the Regular Giving Scheme (RGS).
The Regular Giving Scheme (RGS)
Best for members of our congregations with a regular income
St Mary's Church is expected to spend approximately £688,000 in 2019. The Lord provides the finances for all of this, mainly through the generous giving of our congregations. We plan our spending carefully in order to make the best use of the resources God gives us. It is a great help for us to know how much income to expect from those who belong to our congregations, so that we can budget more accurately.
The majority of St Mary's expenditure is recurring. For example, salaries are due monthly, bills either monthly or quarterly, and insurance premiums annually. It therefore makes sense to match these regular expenditures to a reliable, regular, and predictable income.
What is the RGS?
The Regular Giving Scheme (RGS) is the name given to St Mary's offering scheme. You tell us how much you plan to give on a regular basis, which in turn, helps us plan. This is a pledge, allowing St Mary's to budget its expenditure responsibly; it is not a contract or obligation - you can change these arrangements at any time if your circumstances change.
RGS giving can be allocated to a restricted 'purpose' on request, however the vast majority is deposited in the main non-restricted General Fund, which funds:
- The staff team
- The Church, Chapel, Church House Offices, Old Vic, Parish Halls, Garden, Drive
- Two staff houses and two flats
- Ongoing activities of the congregations
- Mission partners in the UK and overseas (12% of budget)
Who is the RGS intended for?
Any member of our congregations with a regular income. On joining, you become a 'RGS Member', however this is simply a term of convenience and does not imply any special status or privilege.
What are the benefits to donors?
RGS makes it easy for you to give regularly in a planned way, rather than having to remember each week, month or quarter. You can set up a standing order or arrange to make payments via telephone or online banking, but you can still pay manually by envelope should you so choose.
The RGS platform provides annual (and/or on-request) statements of your giving and, for information only, any Gift Aid St Mary's has claimed on these gifts, at no cost to you.
If you are a higher rate tax payer, you have the option to claim additional tax relief, via your tax code. More on this next month.
What are the benefits to St Mary's?
The main benefit to St Mary's is to help with budgeting and meeting regular expenditure, as we know what our income will be each month and quarter.
The RGS platform also makes it simple for St Mary's to reclaim Gift Aid from HM Revenue and Customs and to produce the annual statements.
How often can I give via the RGS?
You can give monthly, weekly, quarterly, annually or indeed, occasionally.
Here are some statistics. In 2018, there were 249 RGS Members giving regularly to the non-restricted fund, of which 233 gave monthly, 7 gave annually, 5 weekly, and 4 quarterly.
How can I give via the RGS?
We recommend that, wherever possible, payments are made either by standing order, internet, or phone banking.
A small number of donors give via CAF or another charitable trust scheme, usually as a payroll giving facility. This can provide a tax benefit to the donor but does not allow St Mary's to claim Gift Aid. These payments are usually transferred anonymously, making it difficult to provide a statement of your giving.
As a final option, envelopes can be supplied for cash or cheques which can be placed into one of the collection boxes in the Church Welcome Area. These envelopes are annotated with your RGS Number and are therefore confidential, but identifiable only by the counters. This method is more complex to administer securely but is provided for those who prefer to give cash or cheques and are unable to use electronic transfer.
Some further statistics. Again, from the 249 regular givers in 2018, 241 gave via Standing Order / Internet Banking, 5 using RGS Envelopes, and 3 by cheque.
Notably, 204 (of the 249 total number) Gift Aid their RGS giving.
How do I join the RGS?
A RGS Resources area is available on the church website containing more information, a self-service portal, and a couple of supporting forms that may be required for new members and renewals.
The Self-Service portal has been designed to take you, step-by-step, through most of the frequently encountered requests for services related to RGS, namely: to join the RGS, leave the RGS, notify us of a payment holiday, or if you need to make changes to your giving, tax status, address or to request ad-hoc statements. Most matters can be completed online, including Gift Aid Declarations, however depending on how you usually transact with your bank, you may need a new Standing Order form, so a little paperwork and postage may still be needed (although the portal has been designed to try to minimise this where possible).
Please note that St Mary's does not have a Direct Debit facility. You will have to set up a Standing Order arrangement with your bank. Standing Order forms can be sent via the RGS Secretaries for checking, but these are then simply forwarded to your bank. Donors remain in control at all times!
If you cannot or do not wish to access the online portal, please contact the RGS secretaries: Mike Walker or Carolyn Allen and they will help you join or make the required changes.
Next month: Gift Aid.
St Mary's Finance Committee
Making Jesus Known to Young People (Angie McDonald)
Angie McDonald speaks about her experience of our Friday night youth work, both as a parent and as a leader at X-Focus.
Over the last year or so I have been part of the X-Focus team spending term-time Friday nights playing sports, serving tuck, and teaching God's word to 11-14 year olds (Year 6 to Year 8). It's not everyone's idea of "How to spend my Friday nights".
My two younger children have both been members of X (and later, Shift Focus) and as their parent, I hadn't really fully understood the importance of this two hour Friday night slot. In fact, quite often it was a bit of an inconvenience trying to battle through the 6pm traffic. However, now my children have grown and moved on in their journey, I have come to understand the importance of them taking part in a social event that gives them the opportunity to not only share their faith but also grow in their faith.
As a member of the team, I have had the privilege of seeing the impact of biblical teaching in a relaxed setting, enabling members to be a Christian in a social environment. This has given many of our members the experience of Jesus as their core identity: which doesn't switch on and off depending on who we spend our time with.
As both a leader and parent, I would encourage our church family to do three things:
- Support the group in prayer
- Encourage your children to come along each Friday
- Get your children to encourage their friends to come along with them on a Friday night
If we as a church family, actively support X-Focus through prayer and practical support we will all be partaking in our collective mission to "Know Jesus and make Jesus known".
Eric, The Christmas Angel (Nick Fowkes)
The church became a real theatre for one night. Eric the Christmas Angel, dressed in a hi-vis jacket and L-plate (with additions from Maidenhead's very own seasonal Mexican-Christmas-hat pop-up shop) had St Mary's younger congregants, their friends and families rocking in their seats with laughter in this year's Christmas pantomime. It was performed by Duggie Dug Dug and cast, including the hairy duo Harry and Larry as narrators.
Despite being the worst student in the angel academy for five hundred years and failing his HTBABA (How To Be A Better Angel) course, Eric left behind scroll-dusting for Angel Resources and brought good tidings to mankind under the watchful - and increasingly exasperated - guidance of the Archangel Gabriel. Eric was entrusted with greatly important angelic duties: terrifying Zechariah (full-time Aaronic priest, part-time comedian), confusing the Virgin Mary ("His name is to be Eric?") and advising Joseph ("So who is the father?"; "The Father."; "Yes, as I said, who is the father?" ...).
When he wasn't standing by the Naughty Cloud, Eric attempted to make Jesus a birthday cake, danced a waltz to the Macarena and replaced the entire Heavenly Host singing to the shepherds of Bethlehem. In all his escapades, there were plenty of jokes which children of primary school age found hilarious - and many adults, secretly. "What was the snowman doing rummaging around in a bag of carrots?"
After the interval - with sweets and drinks at bargain rates going like hot cakes - we were introduced to the pantomime baddy: King Herod (an identical twin of both Eric and Bethlehem's only innkeeper). Before dying twice (once quickly, once dramatically, neither correctly), King Herod gave us all a chance to shout "He's behind you" in a crazy alternative version of the Flight into Egypt.
Although subsequent research suggests that one or two of the details of Eric the Christmas Angel were extra-biblical, it was nevertheless a great evening's entertainment for all the family at St Mary's. It was difficult not to laugh with so many children chortling in the aisles (and the nave).
"Sing Hallelula!" (sic)
Woodlands Winter Wonderland (Bob Crittenden)
Woodlands Winter Wonderland came to Woodlands Park on Saturday 15 December. This free event was held in Woodlands Park Village Centre for the first time, from 3pm-4:30pm.
As Dave Atallah, our Vicar, explained, the purpose of these events is to build community in Woodlands Park. They are a gift from us to the local community reflecting God's amazing gift to us of Jesus at Christmas, and we are delighted that so many people join in and have fun with their neighbours. We are particularly grateful to all those organisations and volunteers without whose support these Community Fun Days would not be possible.
Woodlands Winter Wonderland provides an opportunity to look forward to the fun and joy of Christmas and features a number of attractions including Santa's Grotto, hot and cold food and refreshments, face-painting, icing Christmas biscuits, Christmas crafts, a variety of fun and games including nativity hoopla, putting the nose on the snowman, playing Christmas pairs, and the Brussel sprout dip - to name a few of the activities that were on offer! A main feature of the afternoon's entertainment was the "centre games" - a series of games which took place at the heart of the event to encourage participation. The event closed with an opportunity to get into the festive spirit by joining in singing some much-loved Christmas carols.
Woodlands Winter Wonderland is organised by Woodlands Community Events - a collaboration of White Waltham Church, Woodlands Park Methodist Church, Housing Solutions and local residents, all working together to strengthen community in Woodlands Park. The group organised May Day Mayhem earlier this year and more community events are planned for 2019. The events are free to everyone who comes along and run on funding received from local organisations and businesses. We are very grateful for the support of all volunteers, including our friends from St Mary's Maidenhead. Why not join our team next time?
Salty Conversations (Will Stileman)
'Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.' (Colossians 4:5-6)
Believers in Jesus, wishing to be faithful to the teachings of the Bible, increasingly find themselves out of step with the mindset and values of British society. So, like the church in Colossae, we too need to exercise great wisdom in how we act towards the non-Christian society amongst whom we live. However, it is clear from the Apostle Paul's instructions to the Colossians that godly wisdom doesn't involve retreating from the world but interacting with it. We are to be making the most of every opportunity, engaging in conversations - not avoiding them. Our society may be instinctively critical and dismissive of what we believe; nevertheless we are to respond graciously and with a godly distinctiveness.
Currently we are finding ourselves at odds with our society (and tragically a significant part of the Church of England) over gender, marriage, and sexual ethics. And below are some of the things I want to be stressing as I have 'salty conversations':
- All people, whoever they are, are loved indiscriminately by God and so as a church we likewise seek to welcome and love all indiscriminately
- All human beings have disordered lives and naturally have wrong attitudes to God and to one another
- Jesus calls on all people to come to him and be transformed by his loving grace and rule; it is our aim as a church to introduce people to Jesus and to call on them to trust in Jesus and receive him as their Lord
- At St Mary's, we seek to be a loving community where we look out and care for one another whatever our struggles and needs. We are a hospital for sinners, we are not a hotel for saints. As such we get things wrong from time to time. We are sorry when we do and want to learn from our mistakes and change.
- Jesus taught that our gender and identity comes from the God who made us in His image, male and female
- God's blueprint for marriage reflects something of God's nature and his plan of salvation
- God's ordering of our relationships brings blessing to society; society's rejection of them brings harm, particularly to those who are most vulnerable: the poor and children
There are of course many other things that could be stressed, but these are the key things I want to keep saying. Notice that they are true for all people whatever their sexual orientation and gender identity. In the ongoing debate, it is wise to make statements that are true for all people. Yet however wise and gracious we are in our speech and behaviour, there will be those who will not understand or accept we are being reasonable. We will at times be misunderstood, opposed and slandered. When that happens, we are to find our strength and comfort in Jesus and repay evil with good. May God make us and keep us faithful to Christ in 2019!
What can you get for £279? (Simon Eves)
You could get 100 flat whites. You could buy 65 Big Mac meals. Or you could get just one of these ugly jumpers from John Lewis.*
But what sort of holiday can you get for that kind of money?
You could have two nights at the Best Western in Bognor Regis. Or you could fly most of the way to New York (unfortunately they'd probably have to drop you out somewhere near Greenland).
Or you could grab an eight night full board activity holiday for your teenager where they'll have an amazing time and be taught about Jesus in a relative and engaging way.**
If I were you, I'd definitely go for the Summer Camp.
What are summer camps?
Every year at St Mary's, around 100 people go on these holidays and they are simply brilliant. The quality of the activities and the holiday is outstanding, the food is fantastic, and at the same time the spiritual side of things is taken really seriously.
I have lost count of the number of young people who have told me that a summer camp was where they really first 'got it' in terms of their faith. It seems there is something truly valuable in spending a week being given the chance to think about Jesus and the good news of Christianity.
And it's not just churched young people who enjoy them. Every year non-churchy people come and have a brilliant time - including enjoying all the Bible teaching.
So, if you're a parent, basically I can't recommend these camps highly enough.
Why mention them in January?
Bookings are open now for next summer and many of the camps do fill up. If you'd like your child to go next summer then do get them signed up and pay the deposit to guarantee their space.
I don't have a teenage child...
If you're a grandparent / aunt / uncle / godparent etc. then why not invite someone you know to sign up? We have a young person at St Mary's who trusted Christ for the first time this term and she heard the Gospel because her aunt and uncle paid for her to go on a Christians in Sports camp each year.
Are you busy next summer?
The camps aren't just brilliant for young people - they are also incredible places for adults to grow as they serve the members. There are lots of folk who do this already from St Mary's and there are a huge variety of ways to serve at these camps whatever your gifts. If you would like to think a bit more about this do drop me a line.
They are still expensive
I honestly believe these camps are brilliant value for what you get. But it's true they aren't cheap. There is a fund available at church and we love to use it to send young people on these holidays. Normally two thirds of the costs will be covered, leaving a family about £90 to pay and that can be for anyone from church or otherwise.
*for the sake of clarity I should state that you'd have £20 change, so it is a relative bargain at £259. Furthermore, it is my personal opinion that the jumper is ugly and that statement is in no way the official opinion of St Mary's Church.
**£279 is the price of Sparkford 3, a camp we send a number of young people to.
Details of camps we particularly support
- Barnstaple 2 27th July-3rd August
Another camp we have a long standing relationship with as a church, again it has a strong team of leaders and young people always come back raving about it.
- Penrhos @ Brymore 3-9th August
This is the camp which was for a long time known as Edgehill. It has a lovely leadership team and we've historically had strong links with the camp, sending a number of members and leaders along.
- Quantock 1 27th July-4th August
A brilliant camp which fills up most years. The building feels like you're staying in Hogwarts. It is by all accounts loads of fun and really well run.
- Sparkford 3 13th-21st August
In terms of numbers this is normally the camp we send the most people along to. Again - great fun and a lot of St Mary's links.
Booking for all the above can be found by heading to ventures.org.uk and then searching for the relevant camp.
If the dates etc. for these camps don't work for you then do contact me and I can point you in the direction of a number of other good alternatives.
Christmas Unwrapped (Celine Pham)
At this time of the year, children and adults are all preparing for Christmas by buying gifts and by eating their chocolate advent calendars each day. Some of the children apparently eat all of them at once!
With this in mind, it was such a good opportunity to have Christmas Unwrapped again this year at church.
For me, it was my first time helping for the three days with six sessions of two hours. More than 430 children from year 6 of the local primary schools came for this event with their staff.
The programme included quizzes, games, making and decorating mince pies, questions-answers and a Christmas rap all about the true meaning of Christmas.
As the church was specially decorated for this event, all of them had the opportunity to read directly from Matthew and Luke about Jesus' birth. For some of them it was their very first time of reading the Bible!
I really appreciated the freedom and the connections between our church with the schools around, to make it possible. Indeed, I am grateful that we were able to share the reality of Jesus coming to earth to save us, as a baby. Finally, I loved seeing how each day God provided a bunch of motivated volunteers from our church family to welcome with a smile and help the children with their mince pies.
Here are some of the questions that the children asked. How would you answer them?
- How do we know what was given to Jesus?
- Why is Christmas called Christmas?
- What is a census?
- How do we know the Bible is true?
- Why was Jesus a boy and not a girl?
- Why do we give and receive presents at Christmas?
Gingerbread 2018 - A story of icing sugar and saving faith (Karen Martin)
The annual gingerbread evening needs little introduction. But for the uninitiated, it involves nearly 130 ladies, 150 gingerbread houses (spares for breakages or uncontrollable subsidence), a lot of icing sugar and an increasingly professional standard of candied decoration.
This year we welcomed guests into the church for the first time. It is a really impressive venue with sixteen round marquee tables all precisely arranged with boards, bowls, icing, piping bags, sweets and the inimitable gingerbread house kit from Ikea. The ladies were greeted with a glass or two of mulled wine or elderberry punch and an impressive selection of canapes made by Debra Jonckers. As many had arrived directly from work, these savoury goodies were gratefully received by many of the visitors.
Much of the credit for the success of the evening must be given to Emma Furley. At one point, Rachel Meynell and I had to persuade her that it was perfectly okay not to have matching spoons! Clearly blessed with an eye for detail, it won't surprise you to learn that she and John had spent a whole evening measuring and pre-cutting the cellophane which was eventually used for wrapping the completed houses.
I haven't been at this event for some while and I was delighted to take part this year. Without exception, the ladies had a great time. The atmosphere was light and collaborative, with friends helping one another out, pointing out when roof sections had been mistaken for side walls, and encouraging each other that the front door being on the top floor of the house was very - well - grand designs!
As an enthusiastic cake baker and amateur decorator myself, I was slightly shocked at the interpretation of Emma's instruction to "make your icing like toothpaste". Most of the ladies there must have much runnier toothpaste than any I have ever bought! If you learn nothing else about gingerbread house making from 2018, learn this: the icing is cement, the foundation for a successful build. Think bath sealant and then you will have a consistency right for construction, think anything runnier and there will be gingerbread collapse.
It was during Mina's amazing rendition of Who Would Have Dreamed, a contemporary Christmas song written by Bob Kauflin and Jason Hansen that I could be found up to my elbows in royal icing, holding onto the roof and gable end of a seriously compromised structure. "How long do we need to hold it?" I was asked. "For at least the whole song," I whispered back.
And it was a song worth listening to. Accompanied by James Ainscough on the piano, Mina's voice filled the room with the promise of the birth of Jesus Christ, the promise that we are all saved by His grace.
The song over, I dared to leave the sliding house in the supportive hands of the owner and sit on the stairs for Emma's talk. The whole room was quiet and attentive. Some were popping the odd roof tile on and nibbling a mince pie whilst she spoke, but all were listening to her message. Emma explained the joys and frustrations of a family Christmas and the fun of preparation - making gingerbread houses and buying presents for those we love. The centre of her short talk was Jesus. The saviour born for us all, for all of life and eternity.
She explained that the wonder of this Christmas gift lasts beyond the January sales. She explained that this Christmas gift was a promise that would take us through good times and tough times. Being honest about personal struggle, Emma touched the hearts of many present, showing a real, living, dependable faith in the God who came to earth as a baby. The God who serves us and whom we try to serve.
Spontaneous applause followed her presentation and the hum of conversation was once again heard rising to the rafters. People spoke of smarties and dolly mixtures, they exclaimed over the ladies who had brought their own food colouring and icing bags and another table who had curlywurlys as roof supports. Yet another table confessed to bringing mini tubes of writing icing for precise decoration and another had matchmakers for log piles and Tudor gables. But they also spoke of their Christmas traditions, and, as invited by Emma, about what gives them joy at Christmas time.
It was a brilliant evening. I went home fitter, (lifting 120 chairs onto trolleys is no easy task), fatter (yes, I sampled some of the leftover decorations and may have brought home a broken house or two) and encouraged in my faith.
I'm pretty certain that Jesus was made known in Maidenhead through the careful resurrection of many a gingerbread structure on 10th December.
Many thanks to Emma, Rachel, Mina, James and Debra, as well as the small army of volunteers who served, wiped, encouraged, mixed, rebuilt, washed up, wrapped and swept the evening to its conclusion.
Please pray for all who attended this year: that they may come to know and be dependent upon the saving grace of our saviour, Jesus Christ.
Junior Youth Weekend Away (Zach Penman)
Being a youth member only a year ago means that as a ministry trainee this year I get to do lots of the activities I enjoyed as a young person, but this time actually being in a leadership role!
Our annual Junior Youth Weekend Away happened a few weeks back where, with the maximum number of youth members we could fit (31), we travelled in convoy to the Tom Roberts Adventure Centre (TRAC) in Newent, Gloucestershire. From the point of arrival to the very last moment fun was had by all (Especially me!).
With 10 leaders from both X Focus (of a Friday evening) and Pathfinders (from all services), it was a time to unite as adults who work especially with these youth members to celebrate the joy of God's word. We also had Andy, our visiting speaker, who taught through the book of James, and with it several challenging topics which we dwelled together on in the newly built lecture theatre at the site. More of that later.
I think the most important part of the time away was the teaching, but some Junior Youth may say it was the delicious food made for us throughout the weekend, and some may say the best bit was all the games. The TRAC centre truly has it all! Go kart tracks, zip lines and even a rowing pond! To my joy the pond was closed, so I didn't get the opportunity to embarrass myself.
We played "Catch the leader" in total darkness with only a few glow sticks to light the way, and we enjoyed newly made friendships and older ones too whilst toasting marshmallows at the campfire.
James is really quite an amazing book! And working through it was a real joy, and I think the members saw great truths in it. The session which I thought was most challenging was from James 3 and on taming the tongue (the session came with many tongue-rolling youth members!). How astonishing is the idea that we can fill our time using our tongues for great things like encouraging other Christians in God's amazing word rather than using it for ungodly chatter or gossip? We got to the idea of prioritising your tongue! Make it too busy with praising God so sinful words and acts can't be done by it, or at least reduced.
- Praise God we all came home safely!
- Praise God his word was read and explained in a way that engaged all 31 members and the leaders
- Praise him who came to Earth and did no godless chatter or gossip; let him be an example to us
- Thank God for practicalities sorted: food, travel, games and fun
- Thank God for the energy both leaders and members had
- Pray for these fun and life changing holiday weekends to continue with Christ at the heart of it all!
Lunchtime Carols (Richard Crane)
Our first carol service of the season took place on Tuesday 11th December, with sandwiches and mince pies served to a good crowd of local workers and church family. The mayor joined us as we sang, heartily accompanied by the new organ, and Will spoke helpfully from 1 Timothy.
The next carol services are on Sunday 16th and Sunday 23rd at 7pm, so do plan to come along and invite your friends! Further information about dates and times of Christmas services can be found here. All are welcome. And if you or your neighbours work locally, why not think about joining us occasionally for our regular Tuesday lunches, which restart on 15th January?
iServe Africa (Sam Allberry)
At the beginning of November I had the privilege of visiting Nairobi to speak at a pastors' conference being run by our mission partner Harrison Mungai, whose ministry we have been supporting at St Mary's for a few years now. Harrison has been leading a ministry called iServe Africa, which trains people in local church ministry across Kenya.
One of the new initiatives for iServe is the new Institute for the Gospel and Emerging Issues on Africa, known as Injili Africa, and the conference I was speaking at - on the gospel and sexuality - was the Institute's inaugural event. They hope in future conferences to address issues such as corruption and tribalism.
While in Nairobi I had the opportunity of visiting iServe Africa's new building, which St Mary's has helped to fund. The first two floors of the building are now complete (they hope to add another two floors at a future date) and house offices, dormitories for male and female ministry apprentices, and space for conferences. The money given by St Mary's paid for the retaining wall (very important as the building is at the foot of a steep hillside), tiling and painting for the building. The land to the side of the building is also being well used, with crops planted to earn the ministry a little more revenue.
I was also able to visit Gracepoint Church in the Kikuyu suburb of Nairobi, which Harrison planted a year or so ago. The church is already a little too big for its building so Harrison is considering what the next steps might be for it.
It is exciting to see how the Lord is using Harrison and the team at iServe. Do continue to pray that these new facilities would enable the ministry to expand, and for many more to be trained up and deployed in gospel ministry across Kenya and the wider region. It is a remarkable ministry and we are very privileged as a church to be able to support it.
For more information do visit their website.
Christians in Sport Quiz Night (Chris Hutton)
Sue Barker or Virginia Wade... the difference between winning or losing!
On Friday 23rd November, just over 100 people representing all sorts of sporting interests in the local area competed to win the annual Maidenhead Sports Quiz run by Christians in Sport.
14 teams entered and the top five teams were only separated by two points. Which is, as I learnt at my cost, why convincing your team mates to choose one female tennis player over the other and then getting it wrong really matters... doh!
The Christians in Sport team, led by Ian Lancaster, put on a professional show and hosted the evening very well. There was good range of questions testing all sporting areas. The 'youth team' did well, proving many years of watching/playing sport doesn't always give you the advantage.
At half time, just before we tucked into a curry, Ian took 10 minutes to share the gospel to the crowd. He talked through Luke 2 and the Good News of the birth of Jesus. Asking what Christmas really means to each of us and explaining how Jesus, our saviour, is central to this celebration.
It was a great evening, spending time with friends, and hearing the gospel shared. At the end of the night, a particular highlight was seeing '2 ways to live' being written up on a scrap piece of paper and explained to a non-Christian guest.
For those interested, the question was who was the last British female tennis player to win a Grand Slam?
Giving to St Mary's (The Finance Committee)
The Giving-Receiving Balance with our church family
At this time of year, as we reflect on the birth of Jesus, God's ultimate gift to mankind, we are traditionally encouraged to celebrate by offering gifts to our family and friends and to receive gifts in return.
As we think through and balance our family Christmas giving, it's also an opportunity to think and pray through the balance of our giving and receiving with our Christian family, namely our fellow worshippers, ministers, operational staff and a small army of volunteers, that together form St Mary's.
So, what 'gifts' do we receive from St Mary's? No less than five services packed with Christ-centred teaching and associated children's activities each Sunday, a whole raft of mid-week outreach and pastoral events including those for babies, toddlers, children, teens, town-centre workers and seniors. All this delivered in accessible facilities in the heart of our town.
All this needs to be funded. St Mary's PCC has been planning its 2019 spending over the last few weeks and months. Each year, priorities are set and compromises made as St Mary's strives to deliver its God-given mission. There is always more St Mary's could do and it is sometimes funding that stops us doing it.
How is St Mary's Funded?
The Lord provides the finances for St Mary's mainly through the generous giving of our congregations. The Finance Committee on behalf of the PCC plans spending carefully in order to make the best use of the resources God gives us. In order to do this, it's a great help to know how much income to expect from those who call St Mary's their church family and belong to our congregations, so we can budget more accurately.
How can I give to St Mary's?
Here's a brief summary of the ways we are able to contribute to the work and witness of St Mary's Maidenhead.
Regular Giving Scheme
Best for members of our congregations with a regular income
The Regular Giving Scheme (RGS) is the name given to the St Mary's offering scheme and forms the foundation for the church's income. You tell us how much you plan to give on a regular basis (you choose how often), which in turn, helps us plan.
The RGS also makes it simple for St Mary's to reclaim Gift Aid from HM Revenue and Customs. Gift Aid will be explained in more detail in the February 2019 edition of Touchline.
The RGS will be covered in more detail in next month's Touchline, meanwhile, you can learn about and join the RGS at: www.stmarysmaidenhead.org/rgs.
One-off (or occasional) Gifts
Best for visitors, friends, relatives, colleagues or congregational members not on a regular income
Regular giving is not possible for everyone. Visitors, friends, relatives, colleagues or indeed congregational members not on a regular income may wish to give occasionally, ad hoc or just the once.
The various ways you can make one-off or occasional donations will be covered in the March 2019 edition of Touchline.
Best for anyone with an Amazon account who wishes to supplement their main giving
AmazonSmile is a website operated by Amazon with the same products, prices and shopping features as Amazon.co.uk. The difference is that when you shop on AmazonSmile, the AmazonSmile Foundation donates 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible products to the charitable organisation of your choice, at no cost to you.
St Mary's is a registered charity on AmazonSmile and you can find out how to link your existing Amazon account to AmazonSmile in the Giving to St Mary's/AmazonSmile section of the St Mary's website.
For those who wish to leave a gift in their will to St Mary's
St Mary's welcomes all gifts in wills, however large or small, and we commit to use your gift in accordance with your wishes.
Legacies will be explored in more detail in the April 2019 edition of Touchline.
St Mary's Finance Committee
Women's Breakfast (Rae Binning)
The recent women's breakfast was well attended with a large number of women from across the congregations gathering in the church. Delicious food (bacon butties, pastries, yoghurt, fruit...) was served which more than compensated for the early start.
Rachel Meynell challenged us to think clearly about our identity. Through our lives as women we often change where we base our identity - we are daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, workers, divorcees, planners, carers, etc etc. Yet there is danger in basing our identity, our sense of self worth and value on these roles. Feelings of pride or inadequacy can often result depending on how well or badly we think we are living out those roles.
We were encouraged to see where our true identity lies, to look at who we are in Jesus - beloved children of God, sisters with Christ, heirs in the kingdom. Nothing and no one is strong enough to bear the weight of our identity except God. There was plenty of time for us to discuss these issues around our tables:
- Where do we look for confidence and approval?
- If we put Jesus at the root of our identity how does that affect the way we respond to people and circumstances?
If you missed this breakfast and think it could have been helpful, don't worry, there will be a sequel in the new year on working out our identity in the every day.
Great News (Will Stileman)
"Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you: he is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10-11)
With all the busyness and familiarity that surrounds Christmas it is hard to be filled with wonder over all that the birth of the Lord Jesus signifies, and to truly celebrate it. So let us ponder again what the angels said to the shepherds.
First, it is good news of great joy. For those of us who have been believers for a while, this is not new news as it was for those shepherds; nevertheless, it remains good news of great joy. It is not something to simply acknowledge and not get too excited about. There we were, ignorant of God and lost in our sin. Without Christ we are alienated from God and objects of his righteous anger. But because God sent his eternal Son to be our Saviour, we can become God's child rather than remaining his enemy. We can face the prospect of life with him in the new creation instead of eternal separation from him in hell. As Jesus once said: it is those who have been forgiven much who love much. It is when we appreciate how pitiful and hopeless our natural state before God, that we can truly appreciate the good news of great joy that is Jesus.
But not only is it good news of great joy it is for all the people. It is for everyone. It is for members of our family. It is for those who live in our street. It is for all our colleagues at work. It is for all our old school friends and team mates. It is for everybody in Maidenhead whatever their background and worldview. Whether people recognise it or not, this good news of great joy concerning Jesus is for them.
So our great prayer this Christmas is that none of us take the great miracle of Jesus' birth for granted; and that there will be many who join us at St Mary's over Christmas who recognise for the first time their need of a Saviour and understand that Jesus is exactly the Saviour that they need.
Three hours a month (Viv Lee)
I've finally got around to reading the letter to the churches from the GAFCOM Assembly, 2018, in an abridged form, which quite excited me. The letter states that "faithful proclamation of this Gospel is under attack from within and without, as it has been since Apostolic times. External attacks often deny the suffering of Christ's sacrifice. Secularism seeks to exclude God from all public discourse and to dismantle the Christian heritage of society. Tragically there has been a failure of leadership in our churches to address these threats to the Gospel of God."
The GAFCON conference theme was 'Proclaiming Christ faithfully to the Nations', we have received the gospel, this is the faithful witness of previous generations, yet there are still billions who are without Christ and without hope. 'We repent for the times and seasons when we have only preached to ourselves and not embraced the difficult task of reaching beyond our own cultural group in obedience to God's call to be a light to the nations (Acts 13.47)', ending with, 'we invite all faithful Anglicans to join us in this great enterprise of proclaiming Christ to the Nations.'
As a result of the GAFCON Assembly, where Will Stileman was present, you have to ask yourself, what type of cross-cultural mission do YOU have in mind? Do you fancy learning a new language and leaving your extended family for years at a time to go Asia or Africa, for example?
Or do you want to do it right here, in Maidenhead, on our streets once a month as a Street Angel?
I praise God that we have a faithful leader in Will who encourages us to 'get stuck in', to live the Gospel and share it with others; giving us the opportunities to invite 'seekers' to events and courses as well as the Bible knowledge to be confident in doing this. But first we have to know people to invite.
The news is full of disasters, poverty and refugees, so have you noticed that it can seem that our compassion has reached its limit. There is so much hurt around, so much need in our world, that we can begin to dissociate ourselves from it. But our calling is to remain open to God's word and all God's people, even those who don't know him yet, and to be tender and compassionate!
In our attempts to participate in gospel mission we cannot do everything. But we can do something! And perhaps that begins with a commitment not to look away.
Street Angels talk to everyone, the drunk, the homeless, the doormen, the taxi drivers and the vulnerable. We are THERE! We listen to sad life stories, we make the homeless feel human by talking to them as equals. We hear sad stories of lives wasted, lost and hurting and we celebrate with the hen dos and birthday parties. We pray for people on the streets and also when we get home.
After seven years on the streets of Maidenhead we are well known, we never have to appeal for money as there are grants we can apply for because we make a difference bringing the peace of God to a hurting world. (We were asked to start by the christian Chief Constable because of evidence from other town centres of the dramatic fall in recorded crime on the nights Angels are out.)
We follow in great footsteps as Jesus-enthusiastic amateurs. None of the early Christians had any formal training, just fellowship and listening to Jesus: we can all do this because of our christian fellowship and gospel teaching. We just have to have the conviction of the Spirit that we will be given the words to speak when needed. 'Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks the reason for the hope that you have.'
Come and join our inter-Church group, which is so encouraging. Learn, as one of a team, how to talk naturally of Jesus and your faith, how to counter the challenging conversations in a team of both young and mature Christians. To be salt and light in our town, bringing people in to be discipled by the properly trained to pass on this wonderful message and heritage to the next generation. We have lost five Angels this term through illness, work pressure or moving and without more volunteers we will not be the reliable presence that people look for on their evenings out.
'It is better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil' and losing three hours sleep for Jesus once a month isn't really suffering is it?
For more information about Street Angels, contact the Church Office.
Inaugural Organ Recital (Matthew O'Donovan)
On 27th October we were delighted to welcome just short of 200 people into the refurbished church, of whom perhaps as many as a quarter were not regular members of the St Mary's congregation, for the opening recital on the new organ. It was wonderful that David Goode was able to give the concert. He is a member of St Mary's, and - when not busy as college organist and a house master at Eton - is an internationally acclaimed recitalist. David has previously been organist at First Congregational Church LA (home to the world's largest church organ) and, before that, at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford, and King's Cambridge (search for 'Carols from King's 1992' on YouTube and you'll catch a few glimpses of him on the organ there).
David certainly put the instrument through its paces with a varied and entertaining programme which displayed the organ's wide range of tone colours to vivid effect, in spite of the somewhat acoustically deadening effect of a fairly full house. After William Walton's Orb and Sceptre - a march written for the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953 - we heard three Chorale Preludes by Bach. These were pieces nominally written to be played as a kind of 'playover' for the hymn - but in some cases they are rather elaborate pieces in their own right, and one of them was - appropriately enough - written in order to show off a new organ. Nonetheless, Bach was always very responsive to the theological content of the hymn, and David introduced these themes to us as he spoke about the pieces. The epic and unabashedly 'gothic' Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue by the English-Canadian organist Healy Willan finished the first half.
The second half of the programme began in light-hearted style with a concert medley of Gershwin themes, before we turned our ears to the sounds of Paris with the virtuosic Scherzo by Maurice Duruflé and the last two movements of Charles-Marie Widor's Fifth Symphony - an expressive Adagio and the famous Toccata. The organ sounded excellent - notwithstanding one pipe slipping rather out of tune in the heat of a packed church, and we had many very complementary comments from visitors. It was particularly pleasing to hear that the organ - which sounds rather loud in an empty building but conversely felt somewhat lacklustre at the opening event in June when we had several hundred people on their feet crammed into the building - seemed just right with that size of gathering in the room. It is my hope that, as we anticipate filling the church several times over for carol services in the coming weeks, it will greatly encourage us in our praise of our Lord and Saviour.
I would like to extend my particular thanks to David for his generosity of time and talents in giving the concert, but also to Jonathan Wallace and his colleagues from Henry Groves & Son, and our consultant Paul Hale, who have built us a fine instrument indeed, and whose considerable flexibility in accommodating the vagaries of the completion schedule for the building works was much appreciated. I'm also grateful to a number of members of the St Mary's music team who generously gave of their time to enable things to run smoothly on the night. If anyone was unable to attend the concert but would like a copy of the programme, I have a couple of dozen spares and am more than willing to distribute them to any who are interested, on a first come, first served basis.
Should we seek to be effective? (Jon Harris)
Is it a priority for God that we, as a St Mary's family, are effective?
'Effective' may convey an air of efficiency, of obligation sufficiently met, or in some circumstances may indicate a measure of success. This sounds positive but we need to strike a note of caution: people don't talk about 'effective' families, they talk about loving or healthy families. Is effective a commercial accolade that a church family should resist seeking after? The answer is no and yes.
The purpose of each of us is to bring glory to God (Isaiah 43:6-7) and the way to do this is to follow his commands (John 14:23). This is not, however (as the tone of that sentence might be construed), something that is formulaic, jingoistic or bombastic. Quite the contrary, as we see in a snapshot from Paul's life in 1 Corinthians 16:6-9. A Godly effectiveness demands we live with uncertainty, that we submit to God's unrevealed plans and that we deal with opposition.
"Perhaps I will stay with you for a while, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go. For I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me."
- Uncertainty: Paul, the 'super apostle', couches his plans in very uncertain terms, "Perhaps ...even ... wherever I go ... I hope." Paul has no fixed plan that he is resolute on pushing through. Nor must we.
- God's plans: Paul, expert in the law and diligent student of Jesus teachings, still submits his plans and desires to The Lord's blessing, or overruling, with his words, "if the Lord permits". Paul is humble and wise in 'pushing doors' to see which ones God will open.
- Opposition: Paul, God's chosen means of taking Jesus to the gentile world, did not fear 'getting bogged down' by opposition and did not plot a careful path around it. Neither must we.
Paul might easily have founded his outlook on the wisdom his forefathers passed on from God to us in Proverbs 21: 29-31:
"The wicked put up a bold front, but the upright give thought to their ways.
There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord.
The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord."
'Effective' would be a good compliment to give a church family that follows God's commands and works to bring him glory. But such a church family will have created for itself the goal of following God's commands and bringing him glory - not have built itself the goal of striving to be 'effective'.
The Charles Davis Trust Service (Jenny Taylor)
Charitable grants, which have been given out each year for more than two centuries, benefit senior citizens in the Old Borough of Maidenhead each November. Historically, each year approximately 150-200 pensioners of 70 years of age and above have received a bag of coal to help them keep warm throughout the winter. They now receive food vouchers from a local supermarket! This is all due to a very generous merchant called Charles Davis who owned properties in Maidenhead High Street 300 years ago.
When Mr Davis, of St James, Westminster, made his will, he stipulated that after his death the rents of the two buildings at 79 and 81 High Street - close to the entrance of today's Nicholson's Centre - should be used to provide poor people in the town with coal and firewood. The Charles Davis Trust was founded and Mr Davis' wish is still respected each year. Mr Davis also asked that recipients of the money should attend a service at St Mary's Church on the anniversary of his death, which was 11 November 1716. This has been held each year ever since.
This year the annual Charles Davis Service was held on Thursday 8 November in St Mary's when we welcomed 71 people who had applied to receive a Sainsbury's voucher - this year amounting to £35. There were 154 applicants and vouchers have been sent out to all those who, for different reasons, were unable to attend the service. It was great to be able to hold it in the newly refurbished church and for everyone to be seated around tables, café style. Refreshments were served after the service as vouchers were distributed.
Thanks are due to the willing team of volunteers who assisted the Trustees on this occasion to ensure that everyone was made welcome. This was made so much easier this year due to the improved access into the church building.