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 Saturday: Olympic rower Debbie Flood

On the last night of Real Lives, we were joined by rower Debbie Flood, winner of two Olympic silver medals (and a few World Championships gold medals besides), who spoke with Glen about her life as a Christian in sport. Renée Schalks reflects:

Glen had it easy last night - he hardly needed to ask a question as Yorkshire lass Debbie talked about her 15 years in the sport of rowing. These years saw her go from being a judoka who spent her first rowing session IN the water rather than ON the water, to a winner of two Olympic silver medals (although she's lost the Beijing 2008 one...).

It was great to hear Debbie talk about God's work in her life, and her trust in him through the daily grind of training and the ups (carrying the Olympic torch on its way to London 2012 which has since been shut in her car door twice, Olympic and Worlds medals) as well as the many downs (missing out on selection, injuries, disappointing results) of her rowing career. She described the abilities and opportunities she was given as blessings from God to make the most of. She also talked about discovering that God's good plan for her life turned out to be very different to her own plan, and about knowing that her identity was not in her rowing achievements, but in Jesus. She finished by saying that to her, Jesus is life, both in the present and in the future.

Glen went on to contrast Debbie seeing Jesus as life, to athletes seeing their sport as life. He drew on John 17:24 to say that actually, Jesus can give us so much more, and bring us so much more glory, than sport and our achievements in it ever can - through him we can experience God's amazing love and the eternal glory it brings.

Recordings of the Real Lives events are available here.

Real Lives Friday: Comedy writer James Cary

Real Lives continued on Friday with comedy writer James Cary reflecting on life as a sit-com writer and Christian believer. Heather Fielding reflects on on the lunchtime event:

What makes you laugh? Why are some jokes funny and others just bomb? Can it be argued that the life of Jesus was a comedy? On Friday, TV comedy writer James Cary brought a unique perspective to these questions. He gave an insight into the world of sitcoms and how hard it is to write gags that will make people laugh. Comedy, he said, is "the subversion of normality; turning the expected on its head". The story of the Bible is therefore also rather comic, he argued. How God coming to earth in human form turned the idea of a God on its head, and is one that other religions still can't fathom. How Jesus did the unexpected and subverted normality, turning the world's view upside down. Glen picked up some of these themes and asked if we are rejecting the light, life and love of Jesus by living our lives as a tragedy, (ending in death). He offered the alternative of life as a comedy, going against the norms and expectations of society with Jesus by our side and a 'happy ending' of eternal life with him.

Real Lives Thursday: Physical suffering and faith

Our third day of Real Lives saw Glen Scrivener interviewing James Shone to a good crowd over lunch and a packed Town Hall in the evening. Jon Harris reflects:

I made it along to Real Lives last night, after Vic, my wife, described the lunchtime session she went along to with her friend. Despite all the progress of modern medicine and growth of international aid agencies suffering is as prevalent as ever: and as the guest James Shone made clear often tragically personal. Aussie evangelist Glen Scrivener chatted with James who described how he has lived through the shock discovery of a brain tumour, life-saving surgery and the lasting physical disabilities it has left him with. But James spoke energetically, excitedly evenly, about how through this and because of this he has known the purpose his loving God has for him through it all. It was humbling and encouraging to hear how God has given him the power to look UP to him more and be sustained by him; to look FORWARD to the purpose God has for him; and to look OUT with love for others God loves too. Glen then spoke directly to us about our human instinct to ask the "why" of suffering and the world's contrasting non-answers of "it's bad luck" or "it's bad karma". Glen showed us one of Jesus Christ's direct responses to suffering from the shortest verse in the bible, "Jesus wept". That is not all Jesus does though - he is more than empathetic, he proclaims, "I am the resurrection and the life". Glen explained: Jesus is in the business of restoring us for eternity, not patching us up til we're just 30, 60, 90 or 120 years old! Jesus does care for each of us, he is heartbroken by our suffering; and he offers us real answers in real suffering. My wife's friend was so grateful for the event, and so grateful for being invited!

Do join us for the remaining Real Lives events!

Real Lives Wednesday: Science and faith

Our Real Lives week continued yesterday as Jamie Henshall, a drug discovery scientist, spoke with Glen about science and faith. Lots of people at both events, and lots of conversations going on afterwards. Emma Furley reflects:

Is there truth? What would make you sure that there is a God?  And can you be a scientist and have faith in God?  Just some of the questions that Jamie Henshall and Glen Scrivener unpacked in the second of this week's Real Lives events.  In an evening that was thought-provoking, challenging and at times amusing (Would you consider yourself nothing more than a moist robot?  Do you get excited by graphs?) Jamie spoke of how the clash between science and religion is actually a clash between two world views. Viewing the world through the lens of Christianity not only makes sense, but brings a truth and a value to life that science alone cannot supply. Glen, speaking from John's gospel, showed how in the miracle of the universe and the person of Jesus, God has given us all that we need to know him.  Faith is not, said Jamie, believing in something in an absence of evidence.  We have all the evidence we need in the universe, in history and in the person of Jesus to come to a faith in a loving, powerful creator God. The question is, what will we do with that evidence?

Do join us for the remaining Real Lives events this week!

Real Lives Tuesday: Abuse, depression and forgiveness

We had a really encouraging start to Real Lives on Tuesday, with 80 people attending the lunchtime event at the church hall, and 130 in the evening at the Town Hall. Andy Jennings reflects:

Just got back from the opening night of Real Lives, which proved to be a thoroughly absorbing event. With abuse and mental health headlines so prevalent in recent times, it was riveting to hear first hand someone's personal story laid bare so powerfully. Aussie evangelist Glen Scrivener skilfully put the questions to Katherine, who courageously told us the deeply moving story of her life: of the abuse she suffered from her own father growing up, and the terrible depression that followed. As a Christian, Katherine clung on to the knowledge that God was still with her, even throughout the darkest of times. Glen then picked up on the theme from John's gospel that 'the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it', and explained clearly how if you want to know what God is like, look at the person and life of Jesus. Tonight, the light of the saving power of Jesus Christ was evident for all to see. An amazing way to kick-off what promises to be a week of compelling stories of real lives.

Do come and join us for the remaining Real Lives events this week!

Real Lives speaker on the BBC (John Furley)

James Cary, one of those being interviewed at Real Lives in the week after Easter, was quoted in a BBC news item yesterday (Thursday 6 April). The article was asking if there are any pro-Brexit comedians and looking at the impact that politics has had on comedy in the last 12 months.

Read about what James said here and book tickets to see him here.

6:30pm Men's Weekend Away (Oliver Watson)

I was fortunate enough to be one of thirteen men from the 6:30pm congregation escaping to the countryside of the South Downs for a men's weekend at the Pines, and I loved every bit of it.

We left Maidenhead at various points on the Friday and started the weekend with a lovely meal from Jake Wiltshire.

After a good night's sleep and a hearty breakfast from Brian Kershaw and Tony Fry we got stuck into the Bible together. Sam Brewster led us in working through different prayers in the Bible, starting with the Lord's Prayer. As someone who finds prayer a struggle, it was great to be reminded of what a privilege it is, and what can happen when we make it a priority.

The rest of Saturday was filled with very manly activity; a game of football with a super strike from Paul Carter, a long walk on the South Downs and watching England beat Scotland to win the Six Nations.

On Saturday evening some of us played Perudo where Tim Adams was victorious.  A special mention should go to Ian Roxburgh however for introducing us to a tactic now known as "The Roxburgh".

On the Sunday after a great session going through a New Testament prayer we had a game of Crocker and then we closed the weekend with a time of feedback and reflection.

I have returned encouraged to think about prayer differently and to love my brothers at the 6:30pm more deeply. It was fantastic to meet Jon Cox as well as to get to know David Singeisen, Mike Walker, Harry Stileman and Toby Martin better.

It was a brilliant weekend... sign up for next year!