The St Mary's blog is a mixture of news pieces and topical articles. Each month a number of these are collated into a printed magazine, Touchline. Blog items over three months old are moved to an archive, which is available when logged in. Views expressed here are those held by the individuals posting, and not necessarily representative of St Mary's Church.
Please log in to display a button below to enable notifications when a new blog entry is published.
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.
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?
A Turbulent Priest (Ian Miller)
850 years ago Thomas Becket was famously murdered by four knights in Canterbury Cathedral. Marking that anniversary James Cary, a script writer who has written for BBC’s Miranda, has written A Turbulent Priest. The title is allegedly the phrase used by King Henry II to describe his Archbishop. The play is a musical comedy with two professional actors – Johnny Fairclough and Freya Storch - playing a succession of parts. It is the extraordinary story of Thomas and King Henry II, their bromance, bust-up and betrayals.
Although a comedy, at heart the show asks questions about the place of the Church in our society. Does the State have final say over what’s right and wrong? Who rules? Should the Church make a stand and speak out? And are Christians prepared to face the consequences of that stand? If that makes it sound heavy, we are reassured that the play does not assume much preliminary knowledge and I have it on good authority that it is suitable for children aged 10/11 and upwards.
As I have not seen the play I called a church which had hosted a performance and was given a glowing endorsement: “Some people found out afterwards how good it had been and were sorry they hadn’t come…” The performance starts at 7:30pm on Saturday 16 November and lasts about 2 hours. There is an early bird discount until 31 October and tickets can be booked on St Mary’s website at www.stmarysmaidenhead.org/atp.
This would be a great event to invite friends to. There will not be an evangelistic talk but it will be in St Mary’s Church, there will be Christian literature available and it will hopefully be a conversation-starter…
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.
Questioning Evangelism (Ian Miller)
For those of us who find evangelism daunting, who better to listen to on the subject than someone who describes himself as a “reluctant” evangelist. I recently spent a day at the Evangelism Conference at All Souls Langham Place listening to Randy Newman on the subject. If you confuse Randy Newman the writer/speaker on evangelism with the eponymous singer you may find yourself unexpectedly on the receiving end of some thoughtful questions. Randy wants us to be able to talk about what other people want to talk about but to get to a place where we can relate it to the gospel. His approach is all about lovingly listening and asking questions. His observation is that we are often not good at listening – conversations can be two monologues with each person just vying for the opportunity to get their bit in and not engaging much with what the other person is saying. What he wants us to do is to engage in genuine dialogue which involves listening and asking questions.
Why are questions important? Randy pointed us to Jesus who was the master of the art of responding with a question which went to the real issues in someone’s life. For example, the rich young ruler asked “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answers with a question, “why do you call me good?” It turns out that the ruler thought he was good. Randy gave an example of someone close to him who would not talk about Christianity. During a long car journey and after a lot of listening, he opened up about the problems in his marriage. At that point Randy was able to say something briefly about human sinfulness and forgiveness in marriage – he was astonished when he was then given the opportunity to expand when asked, “what do you mean?” Someone who had shown no interest in Randy’s Christian faith was suddenly seeing that it might have some relevance to his situation.
Questions are also good because, as Randy observed, many people are either not thinking about God or are not thinking well about him. Perhaps God wants us initially to help people start thinking. Perhaps he also wants us to begin to expose the indefensible. I find people often boldly tell me their beliefs and the temptation is just to counter with a declaration of what I believe. Randy encouraged us to ask the question, “really?” I know I need to resist the temptation to say “a moment’s thought would tell you that is abject nonsense” and instead to ask, “that’s fascinating, why do you think that?” or “that’s interesting, do you think that helps us make sense of things we face in life such as….?” Or simply, “can you explain that to me?”
Randy’s talks were about ‘pre-evangelism’ – in other words, the ground which we cover before we get to a place where it is appropriate to introduce the gospel. He made a number of very helpful observations about the pre-evangelism stage - “stepping on the clutch before shifting gears.” Very briefly:
- we might ask someone permission to talk about our faith, “would you like to talk about this?”
- when engaged about gender and sexuality we might start by observing “is this all much more complicated than we think?” or “I wonder whether we both have a tolerance issue on this?”
- we might respond to bold propositions with a “maybe” (which doesn’t dismiss the other person out of hand) before engaging the gears
- we might clarify a question by asking a question. Randy gave an example of an atheist who said, “you don’t believe all non-believers go to hell do you?” His response was, “do you believe in hell?” The atheist’s response was “no” but another atheist who was present said, “yes” which led to a very fruitful line of conversation!
In an online talk which I have put together with Jason and Laura Swain (Making the Most of your Testimony), I look briefly at English culture and the boundaries we cross when talking about Jesus with people who are not believers. In that talk, I suggest that giving our testimony gives us the opportunity to talk about him in a way which crosses those boundaries in a culturally sensitive way. Perhaps lovingly listening to and sensitively questioning our unbelieving friends is another acceptable way of crossing our English cultural barrier to talking about Jesus. Why not listen to Randy’s talks which I understand will be posted on the Evangelism Conference website? Next year’s conference is on 6th October – why not diarise it and join me?
Toddler Mums' Summer Social (Suzie Eves)
As we enjoy the last days of summer sunshine, I felt it was probably about time I wrote up about the Toddler Mums' Summer Social held at St Mary's back in June.
Our Toddlers Ministry holds and pairs with various events over the course of the year - the Christmas Women's Social (look out for this in December), Nativity and Christingle services, cake sales, Easter specials, Teddy Bears' Picnic, courses (including Christianity Explored, Parenting, and conversational English). The Toddler Mums' Summer Social is actually for any woman associated with Toddlers - nannies, au pairs, childminders, grannies and mums. It's a time to get together and deepen relationships with a clear gospel message - that they can hear for themselves without distraction, the good news of Jesus and have time and opportunity to ask questions of their friends and the Toddler leaders.
There was a good crowd of us in the hall back in June, mingling over prosecco and delicious nibbles, and enjoying catching up without our gorgeous children pulling us away to demand more biscuits/dress up/intercept sharing struggles.
The theme of this year's social was flower arranging. A traditional and perhaps stereotypical or boring activity some might think but it's enjoying renewed popularity and we were very ably led by Naomi Khoo, one of our talented Flower Ministry team members, to try out unconventional means of displaying flowers. She shared tips and tricks and impressed us with her use of commonplace even roadside flowers dressed up beautifully in an assortment of containers - from nappy bin seals to stock pots!
While we decorated upcycled tin cans with various materials and gathered and twiddled with large amounts of flowers and foliage, Heidi Cooper winsomely shared her testimony and empathetic jokes about mum life. She highlighted an endless parenting question: "what is best for my children, what does my child need?!" And how a friend told her - God loves your children more - and how crazy that seemed to her at first, but then how wonderful. Heidi led us through the story of Jairus and his daughter, how it was a crisis point for him that led to faith, how gentle Jesus is and how powerful. How if he is God with power to raise from death then he is the most important thing we can teach our children about - he is the answer to the most important thing they need.
We had the passage to read in front of us and goodie bags with little leaflets to take away as well as gospels and books available for any interested to find out more! Heidi ended by saying: "Jesus loves me, he loves you and he loves our children, more than we will ever know. Do find out more about him. As we saw with Jairus's daughter, he knows what he's doing. We don't need to fear, we just need to believe."
We pray for our Toddler members, young and old, that they would come to belief and we are so thankful to have the opportunity to put these events on and to continue the conversations started at them.
Our Toddler groups meet on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9:45am-11:15am and are for children from birth to 4 years old. We also have a Baby Cafe from 11:30am on Wednesdays.
For more information about Toddlers or to find out how to be involved, please see the Toddlers page or speak to Rachel Meynell or any of the Toddler leaders.
Henley Update (Sam Brewster)
On Sunday 8th September, Trinity at Four celebrated our first birthday! It's been a wonderful first year for us, and we are hugely thankful to God. Thank you all for your continuing prayers and support.
Sunday meetings Our Sunday gatherings have been going well. We enjoyed our series of 'Summer Sundays', which included more time than usual for socialising over a series of different activities and events. With September, it's been great to see church family returning after the summer. We have loved seeing more of Jesus together in the opening chapters of Mark's gospel.
Children's and youth ministry We're blessed to have a good number of children every Sunday. Pray that we would teach them clearly, and model the Christian life to them faithfully. Pray also for Peter Greenman, who has started this term as our Ministry Trainee, with a focus on youth and children's ministry. We have also started a weekly youth group from year 7+ in conjunction with two of the other churches in town. This has started very well. Please pray that this would bear fruit in young lives, and for continuing unity in this gospel outreach.
Evangelism With our Sundays now becoming increasingly established, I would love us to develop a real 'evangelistic' DNA as a church family. It's easy for a new church's goal to be 'get established and viable!' But the goal must always be to be passionate ambassadors for Jesus, both collectively and individually. Please pray for us as we seek to grow in this as a church family. With this in mind, you might pray specifically for an evangelistic event we're running at a local coffee shop on Monday 7th October, and a Christianity Explored series following it.
The Brewster familyWe are all doing well! Lucy is expecting no. 3 at the start of April, so please pray for the various adjustments that will require. We always welcome visitors, so if you want to come and say hi, come along any Sunday at 4 pm! Love from us all, Sam, Lucy, Joanna and Amelie
Six months on (Bruce and Eunice Roberts)
So here we are, several months into our new adventure, having moved away in March after many years of living in Maidenhead and being part of the St Mary's Church community. We tried to say goodbye to as many friends as we could, but inevitably we missed a few folk on our last couple of Sundays.
It was a big decision for us to leave, but we had felt for some time that it was the right thing to do - we have always wanted to live nearer to the south coast. We are so grateful for all the good wishes from our friends in Maidenhead and we feel very blessed that we have been able to move to such a beautiful area, on the Dorset / Devon border, just outside Lyme Regis.We had visited several churches before we moved into the village where we are now, and it felt right that we should join the parish church of St Peter and St Paul, Uplyme. We were made to feel very welcome straight away, and we are already making new friends. The church has a good congregation, and a heart for the gospel and serving the local community. However, like many rural churches, it is not without its issues such as the loss of several younger families to more 'lively' places of worship. Also, for the first time in many generations, Uplyme Church which is currently in an 'interregnum', is not going to have a dedicated minister, and is now the Axe Valley Mission Community from September. This represents both a challenge and an opportunity, and we would value your prayers as our new church seeks to share the love of Jesus with everyone in the wider community. We are already getting involved in leading the music for the regular morning service, as well as singing in a 'festival choir' at Easter and Pentecost. We will be part of a new venture from September, when the church plans to introduce a more 'worship-band' style to the music. We have a lovely home and, partly thanks to gifts from friends at St Mary's, we have begun to transform the garden, especially a 'cottage' border on either side of the path to the house. We are reminded of our dear friends in several ways - the poppies from seeds given to us by Maureen Boyd, the rose from the growth group we served for many years, the wildflower seeds from Stepping Stones which have bloomed in profusion, and the wonderful 'cottage-garden' plants in the front beds from the gift from the musicians. Our new contact details are on the St Mary's website, and we are always pleased to see and hear from old friends.
Change at the 4pm (Will Stileman)
Almost exactly a year ago Dave Atallah became priest-in-charge of St Mary’s White Waltham, whilst continuing to lead the 4pm Congregation at St Mary’s Maidenhead. It has been wonderful to have this arrangement with St Mary’s White Waltham, with whom we have had a close gospel partnership for the last 9 years. And with Dave at the helm that partnership, we trust, will continue to develop and grow.
However, I always knew there would come a time when it would be right for Dave to focus all his energies on growing the work in White Waltham. That is where the Atallahs live. Melody, Katie and Jonny all attend local schools and Dave, wonderfully supported by Helen have thrown themselves wholeheartedly into that church and community.
So, I have been on the lookout for somebody who could in time lead the work at the 4pm Congregation. And with Ian Miller joining the staff team and supported by his lovely wife Tamsin and their four delightful daughters, God has provided us with someone who is qualified and competent to take on this role.
However, Ian is a training curate. That means for at least three years, he has a number of courses to attend and assignments to complete on top of the ministry he does here at St Mary’s. Ian is also already taking on responsibility for the Mission we are holding at the end of February next year. On top of that as many of you will know, I am away on sabbatical between Christmas and Easter and will not be in a position to give Ian hands on support.
So, what is going to happen is as follows: on 17th November Ian will visibly and officially take over leadership of and responsibility for the 4pm Congregation. However, wonderfully, Dave is not going to disappear to White Waltham. He will still be around to offer hands on support for Ian as he takes over the role. Dave will still be actively involved in things. For instance, he will preside at the Communion Services which Ian is not allowed to do until early July next year when he has his second ordination. He will also be a source of counsel and some administrative support.
This will remain the situation until just after Easter, at which point Dave will then cease his direct involvement with the 4pm Congregation and be full time at White Waltham.
So, on 17th November, we will commission Ian in his new role; but as I said, we are not saying goodbye to Dave until the Easter. And I want to take this opportunity to thank Ian and Dave for their help and wisdom in sorting out these arrangements. It seemed to the three of us that this was the best arrangement all round and I know that both Dave and Ian can count on the support of the whole of the St Mary’s church family as together, we work to know Jesus and make Jesus known.
Patient Perseverance in Making Friends (Louise Drake)
A couple of weeks ago, families at the 11am congregation joined together for another ‘Breakfast at the Bear’ as part of trying to get to know each other and build community. Around the table, we spoke a bit about the desire to build friendships and also acknowledged that this was often a slow, and sometimes daunting, process.
After that conversation, I reflected on my own experience of building friends in recent years. On moving to Maidenhead three years ago – from a town I’d spent all of my adult life and from a church community where I’d become a Christian – I found the transition harder than I thought I would... and I had expected it to be difficult.
This wasn’t a reflection on the church community at St Mary’s. Many dear people went out of their way to welcome us as a new couple and showed us great kindness. But the reality was, I missed having people around who knew me deeply, I struggled to know where to invest in friendship in such a large church, and I felt insecure and lonely.
From a few conversations that I’ve had with others, it strikes me that I might not be alone in feeling this. We might be new to church; we might have been coming for decades. We might be actively looking for friends; we might be carrying years of disappointment that those friends haven’t materialised; we might have lost good friends and are feeling rather weary at the thought of making new ones. I suspect that many of us hunger for the sort of friendship that the Bible encourages, and yet feel our experience falls somewhat sort.
I don’t have easy answers to this dilemma. The truth is, for many of us life is extremely busy, and we only have a limited amount of time to devote to friendship-building. Many of my dear friendships before moving to Maidenhead were formed when I was a student or sharing a house with people. On a purely practical level, we spent a lot of time together very quickly, hugely accelerating the process of getting to know each other. Now I am at a different stage of life, I realise that it is likely to take a very long time to build the same depth of friendship, and that is in itself a reminder to be patient and not lose heart.
But more significantly, at those times when I am tempted to lose heart (and they are more frequent than I would like to admit), it has been so helpful to remember that friendship is a gift from the Lord, and that has changed my perspective in a number of ways.
Firstly, I think we long for friendship because we long to be valued and loved. The wonderful thing is that we will never find anyone who has valued and loved us more than the Lord Jesus Christ 'who for the joy set before him endured the cross' (Hebrews 12:2). The joy spoken of in those verses is the joy of having people like us forgiven, restored and united with him in friendship eternally. 'Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends' (John 15:13). Even more than close community with each other, we need Jesus, and if we trust in him, he has given us the most precious gift of becoming his friend.
Secondly, I’ve found over the years that one of the great paradoxes of the Christian life is that if we pursue the gift rather than the giver, we end up being disappointed; yet if we pursue the giver – the generous Father who 'loves to give good things' (Matthew 7:11) – the gifts often follow. As Aaron Menikoff writes, "you don’t find community by looking for it”. Rather, it is when we seek to follow Jesus wholeheartedly, that community is created. So I joined a growth group and started serving with the children’s work, and I tried to set aside my worries about friendship, and ask myself instead, "how can I make a big deal of Jesus?" and "how can I be a blessing?", trusting that friendship will follow in time.
Finally, it has been helpful to remember that every friendship I have enjoyed now and in the past has been a gift from God. He has known what I’ve needed to keep going in the Christian life, and he has provided it. And I can trust him for the future as well. 'He who did not spare his own Son... how will he not also... graciously give us all things?' (Romans 8:32). God knows what I need and he is not ungenerous, so even when I’m in a season where it’s more challenging to build friendships, I can ask for his help, have confidence that he hears, and patiently persevere.
Looking Back (Celine Pham)
What an amazing year I’ve had with you here at St Mary’s, and I can’t believe that it’s almost the end… It’s my turn to take a look back and share with you my highlights and a glimpse of what I did here:
Work with amazing people... I thoroughly enjoyed working with you all for toddlers groups, Sunday School, 7Up, youth group... I enjoyed doing things that I never did before coming here, like dressing up for the 7Up parties, Bible story drama with Kate and the team for assemblies (what a privilege - we don’t have that in our public schools in France!), doing Bible teaching for children of different ages. I learned how God’s word can be taught and shared in so many different ways!
Many encouragements... One of the things I truly appreciated was hearing kids and teenagers pray with their own words and personal faith. It was amazing to see how God loves and takes care of every individual, no matter which stage of life they’re in. I’ve also been really encouraged by the staff team prayer times each morning, and their willingness to make St Mary’s a church family environment, with people taking care of and supporting one another.
Go deeper into areas that I am passionate about… I have been amazed to see how God prepared my time here and the many opportunities that I had to learn more about Biblical counselling. I learned a lot while the church was running the Real Change course with a group of us from all congregations, and during a biblical counselling conference that I went to with Rachel in May.
Looking back over the year, I’m really grateful for the staff team and the mentors that they have been for me. I learned a lot from the Ministry Training Course in Oxford and enjoyed spending one day a week with other ministry trainees. I had many great moments throughout the year working with Zach and in the office, in one-to-one Bible studies, at Christianity Explored, with my growth group, during summer camp at Sparkford 3 and with the young people…
And now… What am I about to do next? Many of you will already know that I got engaged last April to a Frenchman called Simon! Going back to France, I’ll happily continue to plan the wedding (that will take place next May). I will go back to my job as a nurse in a medical clinic in Strasbourg. Simon and I are looking to find a new church in the same area, and we will start a new biblical counselling training course together during weekends.
Please pray that I will fully trust the Lord for this next chapter in Strasbourg, that I will be able to get to know people and make friendships. Pray that as I get back into secular work, I will have opportunities to speak about Jesus and share my faith with colleagues and friends. And lastly, please pray for this engagement time until the wedding with Simon, that we will put God at the centre of all our plans for the future.
Mission Partner Paul Wheatley (Paul Wheatley)
Introducing .. James Howick (James Howick)
Though I started at St Mary’s on the 9th September I know that many of you will not know who I am, so let me put that right. My name is James Howick, I am 34 years old, I grew up in a Christian family and have three older sisters.
For the last four years I have worked in Haywards Heath where I was a ministry trainee at Christ Church. This was a wonderful time of growth as well as testing and discerning God’s gifting and calling on my life. This led me to work as the community youth-worker for a charity set up by Christ Church. During that time I had the joy to reach out to young people from the community, many of whom were from disadvantaged backgrounds and broken homes. That joy was mixed with sadness as I didn’t often have the opportunity to teach the Bible to young people.
This has led me, by God’s providence, to St Mary’s where I will not only have the opportunity to teach the Bible but also to study the Bible at Crosslands seminary, a training course based around independent study. I relish the opportunity to teach the Bible, whether that is at Pathfinders, X-Focus, Shift Focus or youth growth groups. I pray that young people may be confronted by a God who speaks and acts by his word and so see the work of the Spirit in their lives as they grow in maturity, becoming more like Christ.
Please do come and introduce yourselves to me - it will be a great help to me as I seek to get to know you all in the coming months! I am very much looking forward to meeting you.
Praying for ... Students (Heather Evans)
The exciting world of university outreach.
Last September marked the end of an era – for the first time in five years, no-one in our family was starting or returning to university. It felt strange not to be gearing up for a new student year, not to be heading off to Nottingham or Norwich with a car full of student clobber.
All of a sudden, I felt out of the loop. No more conversations about Christian Unions, hall-groups, dial-a-doughnut or lunch-bars. No more talk of carol services or mission weeks. A page had turned.
‘Christian Unions are mission teams that operate at the heart of university and college campuses. They are led by students, resourced by Christian Union staff workers and supported by the local church. Together, we are reaching students for Jesus’ Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF) website – www.uccf.org.ukSuddenly I knew what I needed to do. How about praying for those students who I knew were starting university for the first time? I pulled together a list of names and universities – a few from St Mary’s, the daughter of a friend, the granddaughter of a couple at the 11am service, the niece of someone at the 6.30 service. Soon I had a list. Time to start my research.
Let’s take a hypothetical student as an example. I’ll call him Ben. Ben is due to start at Cardiff shortly. He is likely to be feeling that heady mix of excitement, anticipation and uncertainty...
First step is to find out more about the specific university Christian Union (CU). The UCCF website is a good source of information, and most CUs have a website and/or Facebook page that you can access via a normal Google search (you don’t need to be on Facebook to do this). UCCF has printable, email, and PrayerMate (a free smartphone app that organises prayer points and sends notifications of who and what to pray for) prayer diaries that provide both general and specific information to pray for.
On the Cardiff CU Facebook page, I find that freshers’ events start on Monday 23rd September. Whether or not Ben is a Christian, I can pray that he will get involved with any or all of the CU freshers’ events: the hall groups pub quiz on Monday 23rd, bowling on 24th, ‘music and mocktails’ on 25th, the CU main meeting on 26th, ‘burger and story’ on 27th, a BBQ on 28th and ‘church search’ on Sunday 29th. I can pray that Ben will manage to get to these events and enjoy them, that he will be meeting other Christians, developing friendships, that his faith will remain strong, or that his interest in exploring Christianity will be kindled. That he will be settling into his accommodation, meeting others on his course and making friends. That he will find a church to settle at. Exploring the Cardiff CU website, I find that the main CU meeting of the week is on a Thursday and that there are regular hall groups and prayer triplets. More things to pray about as the weeks progress. Later on, there will be other events to pray for – a carol service, a mission week.
The student mission-field is huge; exciting things are happening in our universities. Over 29,000 students attended CU carol services nationwide last year, nearly 50,000 attended CU mission week events. There is so much to pray about and praise God for! Some of our St Mary's church family are heading off to the following universities this year - click on the university's name for a link to the university specific UCCF website: Durham, Newcastle, UCL, Exeter, Lincoln, and Southampton It would be great to extend our prayers to those brothers and sisters of ours taking their first steps of independence, that they would own and grow their faith and for the work of the CUs and churches they will be linked to.
Harvest Sunday (Jon Drake)
‘Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.’ (2 Corinthians 9:7)
This Sunday, 22nd September, is our Harvest Sunday. At this time of year we consciously give thanks to God for all he gives us: physically, in the world he made and the harvest he provides and, spiritually, in Jesus our Saviour. One way we express our gratitude to God as a church family is with two special Harvest collections.
On Sunday we will have a collection of non-perishable foodstuffs which will be given to those in need locally through Maidenhead Foodbank. They help individuals and families where one or more person in the home is not able to eat at least one day a week because they cannot afford it. We work with Maidenhead Foodbank through the year with our monthly Foodshare Sundays. Please do bring your packets, tins, jars and all non-perishable food for collection at the front of church this Sunday.
Our other Harvest collection is a financial collection for the Malawi Disaster Relief Project administered by SIM Malawi, a Christian mission organisation dedicated to sharing the love of Christ in Malawi in both word and deed. (See Malawi Amoto e-magazine / 2019 Floods Update 1 at www.simmalawi.org ).
In March of this year, the tropical cyclone Idai devastated large parts of southern Africa. Many tens of thousands have been affected in Malawi, losing their homes and crops. As people are now returning home, SIM Malawi seek to provide them with food, maize-seeds and tools for winter cropping and help rebuilding their homes; all in the name of Jesus. As Steven and Jo Wheatley from our church were, until recently, mission partners in Malawi with SIM, they know the team who are distributing the aid so it seems right that we are supporting the Malawi Disaster Relief Project for our Harvest giving this year. We are encouraging gifts to be made via bank transfer, to the usual PCC account (Sort Code: 60-13-35, Account No. 64261883). Please use as reference HARVEST19. Alternatively, gift envelopes will also be available in the welcome area for cheque or cash gifts and for making new Gift Aid declarations.
May the Lord Jesus’ name be honoured here in Maidenhead and Malawi as we give from what he has so generously provided for us.
Revisiting the Big Christian Read (Heather Evans)
Back in 2003, the BBC carried out The Big Read – a survey to find the nation’s best-loved novel of all time. If it was before your time, or you don’t remember, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings topped the list, followed by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. On the back of the BBC survey, we carried out the one and only St Mary’s Big Christian Read. Over two hundred different books were recommended, and it is interesting to look back to see what we were reading and recommending fifteen years ago.
It would be great to re-run this and discover the books we are currently benefiting from. Which new books or new authors would you recommend?
Christian basics / What is Christianity?
Winner: Mere Christianity – C S Lewis
- Basic Christianity – John Stott
- Evidence that demands a verdict – Josh McDowell
- The cross of Christ – John Stott
- Turning points – Vaughan Roberts
- Knowing God – J I Packer
- Beyond belief – Peter Meadows & Joseph Steinberg
- Questions of life – Nicky Gumbel
- My God is real – David Watson
- It makes sense – Stephen Gaukroger
- The God who is there – Francis Schaeffer
General Christian living
Winner: Purpose driven life – Rick Warren
- The fight – John White
- What’s so amazing about grace? – Philip Yancey
- Reaching for the invisible God – Philip Yancey
- Where is God when it hurts – Philip Yancey
- Distinctives – Vaughan Roberts
- If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat – John Ortberg
- Challenging lifestyle – Nicky Gumbel
Winner: Too busy not to pray – Bill Hybels
- Meditations and prayers books – Eddie Askew
- Don’t just stand there, pray something – R Dunn
- A call to spiritual reformation – Don Carson
- Screwtape letters – C S Lewis
- People in prayer – John White
- Listening to God – Joyce Huggett
Evangelism / telling others about God
Winner: Becoming a contagious Christian – B Hybels
- Out of the saltshaker – R Manley Pippert
- Thank God it’s Monday – Mark Green
Relationships / Marriage / Parenting
Winner: The 60 minute marriage – Rob Parsons
- Loving against the odds – Rob Parsons
- The 60 minute father – Rob Parsons
- The 60 minute mother – Rob Parsons
- The parenttalk guides – ed Steve Chalke
- How to succeed as a parent – Steve Chalke
- The power of a praying parent – Stormie Omartian
Winner: The hiding place – Corrie ten boom
- The heavenly man – Brother Yun
- Joni autobiographies
- Chasing the dragon – Jackie Pullinger
- The God-dependant life – Joanie Yoder
- Run baby run – Nicky Cruz
- Cross and the switchblade – David Wilkerson
- Child of the covenant – Michelle Guinness
- God’s smuggler – Brother Andrew
Holiday Club 2019 (Charlotte Faulkner)
It was that time again; Mars and the Planets had aligned in the Milky Way and loads of other Starbursts and Galaxies were getting ready. Asteroids, Meteorites and Comets flew into orbit as did the Red Giants and the Green Nebulas as quickly as Ultra Violet Rays, while the Black Holes weren’t far behind.
It was time to go to
This year was a busy one — 12 teams of over 100 kids came to St Mary’s each day, many of which were not from church backgrounds! This was an amazing encouragement to us all to see these children coming back each day to learn more and have lots of fun. Their parents were later invited to come back at 12.10pm where we recapped all the things we had done that day, and the church would quickly fill up with people.
The day would begin with Professor Kate, who enlisted the help of Mr Universe and his three eager “Space Cadets” to help all the kids to learn the amazing news about God and Jesus. On Wednesday, we learnt that God is a powerful creator, our loving heavenly Father and the King of the whole universe.On Thursday, Doctor Dave told us about the dangers of building a tower to heaven and trying to be better than God. Then on Friday, Tim brought us the amazing news that Jesus is our rescuer, coming down to earth from heaven to bear our punishment on the cross to make us right with God again. Later on, we had time each day in our groups to explore these ideas more and study the Bible together.
There was lots more fun to be had, with amazing crafts organised by the craft teams which included pom pom aliens, jet packs, constellation viewers and rockets. Over in the garden, we played loads of fun games with relays, skittles, 4-way football and much more. Everyone greatly enjoyed their sessions and the mornings flew by!On Sunday, we had our usual Holiday Club service at 11am, where Mr Universe and the Space Cadets recapped on everything we had learnt during the week. Professor Kate came and taught us about Jesus from the Bible, that everything we had learnt throughout the week was only possible because of Jesus. Afterwards, we went out to enjoy the sunshine and each other’s company at the BBQ, with burgers, hotdogs and ice-lollies! It was great to see so many people come and share in the fun we’d had all week whether they were regulars to the 11am or families from Holiday Club.
I’d like to take this opportunity to say a HUGE thank you to all those who volunteered their time and resources to make Holiday Club happen this year – group leaders and helpers, craft team, games team, musicians, AV, our speakers: Tim Adams and Dave Atallah, the drama team headed by Simon Eves, the people who organised the snacks and lunch for us all afterwards and of course to Kate Wheatley for taking lots of time to organise such an amazing week and for her teaching of the gospel on Wednesday and Sunday. Praise be to God for all these people and for another wonderful year of Holiday Club!
Looking Back (Zach Penman)
I must say how warmly welcomed I was, especially to things I had never done before. It was a joy for the whole year to be able to serve with lots of different people, doing lots of different things in lots of different ways all for the same cause. To the glory of our King Jesus.A highlight of mine is leading the Toddler Easter Service. For someone who their last time at a toddler group was when they were a toddler – I rather enjoyed it. In addition, being given responsibility for that short service at Easter-time for all the toddlers and their parents, grandparents and childminders was a real pleasure and I am thankful to the Toddler team for their encouraging prayers and practical advice that they gave to me.
Looking back over the year I am reminded of many fun and challenging times in small groups, bible study sessions and great times of growth in the Ministry Training Course where I got to practice my speaking skills a lot, throughout the year. But it wasn’t all ‘heads down, work hard’. I enjoyed many fun moments having fun and being silly. A few I shall briefly mention.With all that lovely snow we had in December Céline and I took the advantage of the tiny slope in the Church Garden and enjoyed sledging all of three metres down it.
I also enjoyed running around a field in the dark dressed as a zebra for the sake of a Junior Youth Weekend Away game…that wasn’t the only time I was dressed up. YES, I had the honour of dressing up in silly clothes every Wednesday for the whole year to ask questions from the bible talk at 7UP.
There were so many more fun times that there isn’t enough time to mention them all. I find myself being deeply encouraged each time I remember what Jesus did for me and for all people, when he died on the cross for us. And over this year as I have met with lots of different people from different age groups, backgrounds, needs and abilities. Working with all these people with all their different needs I was and still am reminded of the main need, the most important need that everyone faces: the need for Jesus. So my prayer from this year is the conversations I had, the conversations I will have as I move to Lincoln; let them point to Jesus and let Him be glorified through it.So my plans now for when I leave are to head to University to studying Biomedical Science. It is a fun and exciting opportunity to go towards.
- Please pray that as I look for a church I will be able to find Christian friends and get stuck in and gently find ways to serve
- Pray that as I get back into academia that I will be able to enjoy the subjects and make good friendships with people on my course
- Thank the Lord for the safety throughout the year doing many different activities and travelling to lots of different places
Staff Changes and a Sabbatical (Will Stileman)
As we start a new academic year, I thought I would outline a few significant events that will happen this year:
- Ministry Trainees. At the beginning of September we say goodbye to Zach Penman as he heads off to Lincoln University to start a degree in Bio-medical Science. We are so grateful to God for Zach’s servant-heartedness and maturity as he has thrown himself into many different areas of church life over the last year.
Celine Pham heads back to France at the end of September. She has also been a blessing to us, adapting so well to a different language, country and church culture. It has been a joy to see her flourish during the year. She has even managed, despite the distance, to get herself engaged to a delightful Frenchman called Simon. The wedding will take place in May next year.
Celine will spend September helping Charlotte Faulkner, our new Junior Ministry Trainee, settle into her new role (see the blog item, below, where she introduces herself).
One of our priorities as a church is to train up men and women who love the Lord Jesus and want to grow in Christ. Our apprenticeship scheme enables school leavers, whom we think are suitable, to spend a year as part of the staff team gaining experience of and skills in church-based Christian ministry. We trust this will hold Charlotte in good stead whatever she ends up doing.
We also run a similar scheme for recent graduates and other older adults which lasts for two years. Tim Adams and Simon Eves, along with a host of others, have been on this programme in the past. At the moment we have nobody taking up this opportunity. However, just this last week, we have had a few applications, so we will see how they pan out.
- Director of Music in training. We have been so blessed to have Matthew O’Donovan as our Director of Music for the last 13 years. Matthew has a full time, demanding job teaching music at Eton. Nevertheless, each week he chooses the music for the morning and 6:30pm congregations and most weeks will find him leading the music for at least one of the congregations (sometimes he does three!). Matthew has been ably supported by a host of other committed, competent, skilled musicians. However, this last year a number of our leading musicians have moved away or are serving in other churches. Bruce & Eunice Roberts have moved to Dorset. Vic Henshall with her husband Jamie and their two young girls have just moved to Henley to support Trinity@4. John & Katie Croft are supporting the work at White Waltham. Harry & Jess Stileman and Abbie Nimmo, who were all heavily involved with the music at the 6:30pm congregation, have also moved away from Maidenhead.
Making sure there is a good musical lead at our four main congregations every Sunday, ensuring that we have music for our midweek ministry, developing our music ministry and bringing on new musicians has become too much for anybody to do on a part-time, voluntary basis. To that end the PCC, after consultation with Matthew O’Donovan and James Ainscough, have decided that we should appoint a full time trainee Director of Music. This person will work under the supervision of Matthew and James to develop our music ministry at St Mary’s.
To that end I am pleased to announce that, in February, Tom Brewster will be starting this new role at St Mary’s. Tom is Sam Brewster’s younger brother. He studied music at Manchester University and is currently part of the staff team at St Giles Anglican Church in Derby doing youth work. He is married to Ruthie, a doctor, and they have a two year old daughter called Miriam. Tom has also been involved with the music at St Giles and moving to Maidenhead and taking up this role will enable him to develop his skills and gain further experience.
- Sabbatical. The nine years at St Mary’s since my last sabbatical have been full on and I am grateful to our Church Wardens and the Diocesan authorities that they recognise I could do with some time off. So, between Christmas and Easter I shall be having a rest.
I shall be visiting South Africa for the first time for six weeks just after Christmas and then, on my return to the UK, I intend to catch up on some reading, prepare a sermon series in the book of Esther, visit a number of old friends I rarely have the chance to catch up with and do some thinking and praying about next steps for the ministry at St Mary’s.
We have an excellent staff team, who can more than cope without me so I trust that this will be a good time for both me and the church. Remember that in the last week of February we will have Glen Scrivener with us for a week to lead a mission. You will hear much more about that in the coming months.
So, as we start a new term, “may our love abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that we may discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.” [cf Philippians 1:9-11]
Introducing Charlotte Faulkner (Charlotte Faulkner)
Hello! I am Charlotte Faulkner and I will be starting as Junior Ministry Trainee here at St Mary’s beginning 27th August, which means I will be helping out with a variety of things including Holiday Club, 7 Up, X-Focus, Explorers and Pathfinders, as well as going to the Ministry Training Course in Oxford on a Tuesday.
I am 18, fresh out of Sixth Form, where I studied Music, History and English A-Levels and will be going to study Classics at the University of Nottingham in 2020. My interests are in reading, art and playing music, namely the clarinet and saxophone.
I have lived in Maidenhead my whole life, but have come from a non-Christian family, so never grew up going to church. I am now a regular at the 6:30pm service and have been a Christian since I was 13, which was only possible because of encouragement from friends to go to X-Focus and later Shift-Focus, as well as summer camps, where I got to hear of God’s amazing love for us.
This is why I am so excited to be able to help others to have the opportunities to hear about Jesus that I had.
While I will mainly be focused on kids' work, I will be around the church so if we haven’t met please do introduce yourself and let’s have a chat!
The Library (Heather Evans)
Heather Evans, retiring St Mary's librarian, talks about the role and joys of the St Mary's library.
How long have you been at St Mary's?
I first came along to St Mary’s in around 1989. I had grown up in Cookham attending a couple of other Maidenhead churches in my childhood / youth. After three years studying at Newcastle University I returned to live with my parents and took on a job running the library at Berkshire College of Agriculture. A few years after returning home and joining St Mary's, Martin and I were married.
When did you start helping out with the St Mary's library?
Around 2003. I took the library over from Angela MacDonald, when it used to be in the lower lounge. I had two young children and wasn't working at that point. It seemed an area of service to which I could really contribute by using my work-skills.
Some people may not realise that St Mary's has a library, where is it?
In the hall - walk in through the sliding doors, follow the corridor past the kitchen, the library is in a small room on the right, nearly at the end.
What sort of books are there?
A whole range! Books on living the Christian life, prayer, evangelism, worship, mission, church; a full range of Bible commentaries for each book of the Bible, Bible study booklets; biographies. There are also books looking at personal issues – depression, bereavement, stress, self-esteem, counselling, family and parenting.
The books are for adults, including young adults. There used to be a children’s section at one time, but the books had become dated and weren’t being borrowed. But it might be worth trying again!
Is it only books?
Mostly. There are a few DVDs. There are also some sets of Good Book Company's Bible study booklets.
How do you borrow items?
There's a simple signing out procedure – simply enter your name and phone number in the purple ring-binder, together with titles of the books being borrowed. When returning books, just leave them in the grey box.
Is it only used as a library?
It is often used as a quiet / counselling / study room during the week.
What has your role been?
My initial task was to catalogue the library and draw up a spreadsheet of library stock – I was able to do this when we stored the library books in our garage during St Mary’s first building project. The library, with new bookshelves, was relaunched in its new location when the hall reopened.
I’ve occasionally written an article for Touchline, with details of new books added to the library and I’ve also spoken to Thursday Fellowship about the library and reviewed some books.
Back in 2003, I ran a survey at church called the “Big Christian Read”. This was at the same time as the national “Big Read” survey was being carried out. I have found the results of that 2003 - they are interesting to look at - and I think will be re-published on the blog and in Touchline soon.
You are 'retiring' as St Mary's' librarian, but what does the role involve?
Basically maintenance of the system: taking in and assigning donated books to the relevant sections (cataloging in library-speak) and adding them to the library spreadsheet. Promoting the library, keeping the shelves tidy, logging in and re-shelving returned books and finally, occasional stock checks.
How much time does it take?
How long is a piece of string?! It's one of those roles which can be adapted to suit circumstances. My family have grown up with me looking after the library, and over the years have happily stamped books, stuck coloured labels on spines, helped maintain the spreadsheet and re-shelved returned books. There are no hard and fast rules, no deadlines. Apart from keeping an eye on returned books or any donations left in the library and generally keeping the shelves in order, all other jobs can be done at home. It’s actually an ideal area of service to take on and involve children, or for two or more people to work together.
Is it technical or involve computer skills?
Only the maintenance of the spreadsheet. All other tasks are non-technical. One thing which has slipped over the years, and which would be great to improve is promotion and raising the profile of the library.
What was your most memorable moment?
When I originally took on the library, the bookshelves were in a very sorry state. St Mary’s had agreed to fund new bookcases (IKEA was the original plan.) But then I just happened to be in Marlow and spotted an independent bookshop which was closing down. I nearly missed the small card in the window advertising the shelving was for sale. I negotiated the purchase of three matching tall solid wood bookcases, all with display shelving, meaning books can be displayed “cover out” on any shelf – and all for a cheaper price than IKEA!
What would you say to someone thinking of helping out with the St Mary's library?
Go for it – it’s a wonderful niche area of service, and one that’s great for a family to do together, or for an individual or couple who have retired.
An enthusiasm for Christian books and an understanding of the importance of how they help us grow in our faith is an obvious advantage, together with ideas for promoting and raising the profile of the library.
It’s a very rewarding area of service, particularly for someone who loves books – I think the fact I’ve done it for over 15 years illustrates how I’ve enjoyed it. But I think the time has now come for me to stand aside for a new person with new enthusiasm and ideas to take it on and develop it further.
I’ll be handing over my library stamp and coloured labels, but I’ll still be around at St Mary’s, and can help with the change-over, if need be. Alternatively I’ll happily step aside straight away if someone would prefer to take it on without any interference from me.
You've stopped helping out with the St Mary's library, but you are serving elsewhere....
I’ve been compiling Touchline since the beginning of 2019 and am also a sidesman at the 11.00am service.
Please do feel free to contact me and ask any questions. And if you are interested in being the librarian, or helping out please do contact
Word Alive (Various Authors)
Word Alive - what is it?
Word Alive is a Christian conference held in Prestatyn, North Wales every Easter for six days. About 5,000 people attend from around the country and overseas. It's held on a Pontins site right on the beach and many families stay on site, but large numbers also book holiday cottages, B&B's and hotel bookings in the local area. A group from St Mary's go each year and we tend to all stay in the hotel next to the site, being together gives a great opportunity for fellowship as well as enjoying the conference itself.
How does it work?
Each day follows the same pattern. For adults there are two main morning meetings with a break in between and a main evening meeting. The main Bible talk, teaching from a book of the Bible, is repeated at both morning sessions so that you can go once to that and then choose a second series of talks to attend should you wish. The afternoon is filled with seminars on different topics which you can dip in and out of, or just enjoy some down time or family time. The main evening meeting is a get together for all adults and is very similar in style to a St Mary's evening service, just on a much bigger scale! Following on from this is the main student evening meeting (though non students are certainly welcome!) as the conference is well supported by UCCF and many university Christian Union groups attend.
Whilst adults are learning in their sessions there are sessions running for children of all ages. Pre-school children have groups for one of the two morning sessions. School aged children have groups for the entire morning and from year 3, an evening group also.
There is teaching for the mentally handicapped and for overseas students, teaching for church leaders and those doing voluntary ministries. Our own Sam Allberry was there this year talking on the issue on singleness.
There is a huge book stall run by 10ofthose and the week provides a great opportunity to just sit and read up on different topics. This year I read a book called "Gay Girl, Good God" and heard first hand how God had transformed the life of a girl trapped in the gay scene.
Why do we go?
Several of those who attended Word Alive 2019 write about why they went and their experiences of attending with young families, older families, without children or as a worker.
We first went to Word Alive in 2008 when our eldest daughter was 7 and in year 2 at school, despite the varying Welsh Easter weather we have not missed a year since. When our girls have reached GCSEs and A levels we have asked if they still want to go, knowing that Easter is a key time for revision. Despite their dedication to working hard and doing well, we are always met with a resounding "yes!".
Hannah, our eldest, said that she loves meeting with other Christians from around the country and it has strengthened her faith to know that it's not just our family or our small community at St Mary's that believes the Gospel. The friends she's made over the years keep in touch outside of Word Alive for prayer and encouragement as they live for Jesus in the world. The teenage work is excellent and the girls have loved going to their meetings.
For me, the excitement of another Word Alive begins early and we can't wait to get there each year. If you offered me an all expenses paid holiday in the sun (which I would dearly love) in place of Word Alive, I would turn you down. What makes it so special? The teaching is outstanding and I love the opportunity for fellowship with the church family. We learn more about God, go deeper into subjects of interest ranging from "can I lose my faith", to "where to do Christians stand on the issue of medical ethics". I love the atmosphere of being surrounded by other Christians, the worship and the fun. It's a little foretaste of heaven.
What struck me most this year were Tim Chester's talks on "Enjoying God". Stopping to think about our one-to-one relationship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in turn was really life changing and encouraging. It can be easy to get carried away with learning Bible knowledge or with serving or just the daily grind of life, but just to stop and enjoy God, knowing in return that He delights in us (Zeph 3:17) was just brilliant. You can download Word Alive talks from their website if you would like to hear more.
We never attempted Word Alive when our children were younger, but now we wish we had. It’s quickly become a big highlight of our family’s year - no exaggeration! Our two children (11 and 15) always ask us to book it again. The balance of Bible teaching and silly games is just right for them, and they also get to meet children from around the UK who share their experience of growing up in a Christian family. The kids and youth sessions each day look at the same Bible passages as the adults, which makes for some helpful conversations. And they always have plenty of spare time for the sandy beach next to the site or hanging out with their friends. It’s brilliant.
I have attended Word Alive several times in the past but this was my first trip for four years. It was a really encouraging time spiritually; singing God's praises with a couple of thousand people was really uplifting and hearing faithful and relevant teaching was challenging and thought-provoking. There were lots of different sessions to attend so there was almost always something of interest.
This year we stayed off-site, which meant the accommodation was nicer but less convenient for popping in and out or for attending the After Hours evening entertainment. It would be great to get a few on-site chalets as part of a group next year!
I don't know how you feel about toddler tantrums...? They're not usually my favourite parenting experience, but when your child has had "the best time ever" on their "Jesus Holiday" and throws one on the realisation that there won't be another of their groups to go to, my heart felt full. I had been slightly apprehensive before we arrived as Simon was serving (more on that below) so I knew I'd be doing bedtime with our two children (10 months and nearly 3) myself etc, and we were staying offsite, but once there and settled we had the best time and the days flew by!
There was so much on - both Pontins and the Word Alive organisers make a big effort to ensure the event is family-friendly: huge inflatables, face-painting, trampolines, swimming, go karts, and lots more are all available for free. There are age-appropriate Preschooler groups run in the mornings (I got to the main Bible meeting) - Tillie's group (our nearly 3 year old) was literally in a soft play centre and she hasn't stopped singing the songs she learnt there - and then, highlight of our day, the Families Together celebration at 5:30pm. This was a wonderful, faithful, accessible, encouraging, engaging and eccentric "Jesus show" (as ours put it) - songs, memory verse ("Preach the Good News, be ready at all times!"), silly yet theological sketches, jokes, dress up, games, craft, prayer - all centred around the book of 2 Timothy. Music and drama were led by Awesome Cutlery. The timing of this and the other sessions can be routine friendly for little ones - for example, we had a picnic during Families Together which was totally okay and a relief!
Staying onsite, or a bit closer than we were, would certainly be something we aim for next year as with young children, it's great to be able to use all of the facilities / nip back to avoid "adventure wees" in the park / for a nap. I loved being surrounded by fellow believers on such a huge scale every day, getting to the Bible talks and being challenged and encouraged anew, getting excited about Jesus with my family lots, and having some adult-only time at two of the late evening celebrations (note: thanks to the friend and babysitter we brought with us!).
I'm still not sure exactly how or why, but somehow I managed to find myself serving on the youth team leading Bible Studies for 14-18 year old lads (I really know how to let my hair down and enjoy my holidays!). But it was honestly brilliant. We had over 200, 14-18 year olds crammed into our meeting room and it was incredibly encouraging to be a part of that work as you saw so many young people genuinely eager to grow in their walk with Christ. From a personal perspective, Word Alive seemed to be really great at looking after the teams and because I was serving it made it possible for my family to come and enjoy a very reasonably priced holiday. One of the great joys is that as a family we were all studying the same stuff so in Tillie's group, Suzie in the main sessions, what I taught the teenagers and what we looked at in the family / all age meeting was all from 2 Timothy and so we were all able to have conversations about what we'd been learning together.
Word Alive takes place next year 4th-9th April 2020. And for more information see their website.