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.
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
The 9:15am Interviews (Gemma Stephenson)
As part of a series of Sunday morning interviews to get to know congregation members and cover some topics of interest, Rob Wingfield interviewed Gemma Stephenson.
Rob: Tell us a bit about your family.
I'm Gemma Stephenson and my husband Ben, daughter Molly and I, attend the 9:15am service.
What brought you to St Mary's?
Ben and I went to antenatal classes in 2011 ran by Debra Jonckers and we made great friends with the other eight expectant couples. We first came to St Mary's to attend the baptism of one of the babies, the daughter of a lady called Janet.
So you had Molly. How were those early days?
The early days of parenthood were pretty horrendous. Molly couldn't feed when she was born due to having an infection. She had a lumbar puncture at one day old and thankfully didn't have meningitis. She did however, have to stay in special care for a week to receive antibiotics to rid her of the infection.
Due to the stress of the situation and lack of skin to skin contact with Molly, I couldn't breastfeed. Once home, I became increasingly anxious, obsessing over what happened and blaming myself. I felt I was a complete failure because I wasn't able to give my baby breast milk which I was told numerous times "was best". My spiralling thoughts led me to complete insomnia for three solid weeks. When I began to have suicidal thoughts I called the Samaritans and eventually referred myself to the Community Mental Health Team. With the help of their psychiatrist and my GP I was admitted to a psychiatric Mother and Baby Unit in Winchester. As the name implies, Molly stayed with me at the unit.
While in hospital I would sit on my bed and cry out to God to help me. I wasn't a Christian but I didn't know what else to do. During my 10 week stay, other than immediate family, the only people to visit us were two women from our antenatal group. One of those women was Janet. She visited numerous times and would call me on the payphone. The only reason I could see for her visiting was her Christian faith. None of my friends who had known me for over 10 years were brave enough to visit us, but Janet did.
Upon discharge I received lots of different help and treatment. Janet invited me and Molly to Baby Cafe at St Mary's and a group of us from antenatal classes came every week. I started to come to the 9:15am with Ben and Molly in November 2011. Fred and Aileen Watts welcomed us the first week and everyone was so friendly and welcoming that we kept coming back. Ben and I attended Christianity Explored, Molly was baptised and I was confirmed five years ago.
I do still take medication and I do suffer with anxiety which causes me to worry and catastrophise on a regular basis. Following a shock at work at the end of last year I suffered with some insomnia again. I now have the skills to recognise what's happening in my head but it's still really hard to cope with at times.
My faith helps massively. When I am struggling I pray more and mine and Ben's growth groups pray for me too. It can be impossible to share what's going on in my mind but the Lord already knows. He saved me eight years ago and will always be there loving me forever.
SAT-7 Live TV Broadcast (Alison Bird)
On Thursday 11th July five of us from St Mary’s (Ann Casey, Ali Peck, Jo Jobson, Sara Hewins and myself) went to London to visit the offices of SAT-7 to watch their Iranian team put out a youth programme live on air. It was so exciting to go into the studio and meet the two presenters before the show began. They were both young and enthusiastic about their work, reaching out across the world to young people, sharing the Good News of Christ and helping them with their day to day problems.
As the show prepared to air at tea time in Iran and elsewhere the five of us ladies gathered in the operations room next to the studio and watched the technical team running the countdown of “10, 9, 8, 7, 6 … We are live….”. Then the screens in front of us came alive with the two presenters chatting happily in Farsi to the camera and to each other. On this day they were to interview a successful Iranian singer who seemed to be a big star in Germany. Of course we couldn’t understand a word they were saying so I might be wrong about this!
What struck me was that hardly was the programme up and running than viewers began to contact the studio with their comments and questions. A man at a screen behind us was collating all the messages coming in and SAT-7 would be personally responding to all of these. This gave the programme a whole extra dimension of excitement as those hearing the Gospel message could communicate directly with SAT-7 to ask questions and find out more. They could also ask for help and advice as they sent in their problems and other questions.
SAT-7 Pars broadcasts to Persian speakers in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Europe. They can watch via satellite television and the internet. Support and prayer is offered via phone and messaging apps. There are a wide range of programmes featuring Bible teaching, Women’s, Children’s and Youth programmes, documentaries, worship and praise and also feature films.
It was such a privilege to be able to go behind the scenes to see SAT-7 Pars operating. We were greeted very warmly on arrival by Dave Mann, the Support Development Executive at SAT-7 UK. He spent a long time showing us round and answering our many questions. Then we were served delicious Persian tea and biscuits by the very friendly team.
We came away even more convinced than we already were that SAT-7 is one of the most exciting things happening in the Christian world today. It is watched by 25 million people across the Middle East and North Africa. It brings a message of faith, hope, love and peace to people watching from the safety of their homes. This way it can bypass strict Government censorship and reach people who might otherwise never hear the Gospel as Christianity is banned in their country or has been driven underground. SAT-7 broadcasts not just in Persian but also in Arabic and Turkish.
Here at St Mary’s we support the work of SAT-7. If after reading this you would like to know more or to give directly to SAT-7 please do speak to Ann Casey, our SAT-7 rep, or to any of us who visited the studio. We’d love to hear from you.
Can Science Explain Everything? (Book Review)
Roger Battye reviews the book 'Can Science Explain Everything?' by John Lennox after buying it at the Book Sunday in June.
This is a slim book introducing a large subject. I chose to read it as I thought that I knew the answer and hoped to find confirmation. I did, but more than that I found reasons both to support and challenge my views.
John C Lennox is a formidable writer, and debater. He is also a pragmatic Christian, who acknowledges that the Bible includes metaphors as well as incontrovertible truths. I found that reassuring, but some might find it controversial.
The book does not claim to be more than a summary of the issues. Here are some of the main points as I saw them.
Science and God are not alternatives. Science seeks to find rules governing how things occur and to quantify them. Put simply, this means establishing rules. As new discoveries are made, the rules may be modified, sometimes radically. Most people now accept that the earth moves around the sun.
But who made the rules? Whoever that was must have a complete understanding of science. It is not unreasonable to deduce that the rule maker has the power to decide if and when a rule may be broken. Miracles are examples of rules being broken. While it is appropriate that scientists seek a logical explanation for all unexplained events, they will not find one if the rule maker has made an exception.
Theists recognise God as the creator of everything. For Christians Jesus is a miracle. Neither of these statements should be seen as a threat to science.
It was interesting to see how many famous scientists were committed Christians.
Science may tell us, with increasing accuracy, 'how', 'when' and 'where', but only God knows 'why'.
My favourite quote from the book was the author’s response to Dawkin’s taunt that 'Christians were afraid of the dark'. 'No', he said, 'Atheists are afraid of the Light!'.
Anyone who has read Dawkins 'The God Delusion' should read this book and consider the other books listed at the end.
Jo Clifford (Brian Jones)
Jo has spent the last 10 years working in Tanzania helping to provide scripture in aural and visual formats for various local languages. Recently, many expatriates have been either refused work permit renewals or issued with a final two year permit. Jo had to leave the country last summer while appealing a refusal and has only recently been able to return.
It's been a time of huge uncertainty for her and her colleagues and she will now spend the next six months handing over her work to two nationals. It's also possible that she will be able to continue to provide assistance remotely from next year when she takes up a new role as International Coordinator for Media Services with SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics) International.
What has Jo's work involved recently?
- Overseeing the recording of two New Testament translations one in the Vwanji language and one in the Malila language
- Hosting a Jesus Film team as they came to record the script of the film in two languages – Bungu and Malila
- Recording the first parts of Bungu Mark
- Training some Kinga pastors how to use the Jesus Film projection backpack
- Taking part in planning meetings for the next financial year
And how best to pray for Jo?
- Pray that she is able to continue to make the most of her time here in the UK
- Pray for clear guidance for her future and wisdom to know where to relocate in Europe and for financial provision to meet increased living costs
- Pray for her new role with SIL
- Pray for peace in this time of transition and good relations with work colleagues as Jo passes on her work to national staff
The British Museum's Bible-related Artefacts (Becca Stileman)
A few of us had a real treat in early July when we went round the British Museum with Mark Meynell, who helped us to focus on a few key artefacts which are particularly linked to the bible. He also recommended a book which is available at the British Museum called – ‘Through the British Museum with the Bible’ by Brian Edwards and Clive Anderson. Here are my very brief notes of what we saw:
Room 4: The Rosetta Stone is a broken part of a bigger stone slab containing a decree about the king (Ptolemy V, r. 204–181 BC). When it was discovered, nobody knew how to read ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Because the inscriptions say the same thing in three different scripts and scholars could read Ancient Greek, the Rosetta Stone became a valuable key to deciphering the hieroglyphs.
Room 6: The Assyrian Empire – The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III - glorifies the achievements of the king and shows tributes coming from all directions. The second panel down shows a man described as Jehu offering a tribute to Shalmaneser III. In 2 Kings 9, God speaks to Jehu, one of King Ahab’s generals who became the next king.
Rooms 10a and 10b: The sculpted reliefs in Room 10a show the sporting exploits of the last great Assyrian king, Ashurbanipal (668-631 BC) and were created for his palace at Nineveh (in modern-day northern Iraq).
In Room 10b, you see panels depicting the Siege of Lachish (710 – 692 BC). Lachish was one of the chief cities of the kingdom of Judah and in 701 BC it was captured by the Assyrian King Sennacherib (704-681 BC). The siege followed the refusal of King Hezekiah of Judah to pay tribute to the Assyrian Empire and is mentioned in the Bible (2 Kings 18). Sennacherib’s army moved on to Jerusalem and besieged it but Jerusalem was not captured at that stage (2 Kings 19). Room 8: King Pul (Tiglath-Pileser III) was a well-known king of Assyria who was mentioned in the books of Kings and Chronicles (2 Kings 15 and 16, 1 Chronicles 5).
Upstairs to Level 3:
Room 57: Lachish, about 25 miles from Jerusalem and at one stage Judah’s second city, had fallen to the Assyrians in 701BC in the time of Hezekiah, king of Judah (see Room 10b). In Room 57 are the Lachish letters – pieces of pottery used as writing tablets. The letters were probably written shortly before Lachish fell to the Babylonian army of King Nebuchadnezzar in 588/6 BC during the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah (Jeremiah 34:7).
Room 55: The Taylor Prism is a six-sided clay document which contains the annals of Sennacherib, written down in cuneiform script in 691 BC. It provides an account of the besieging of Jerusalem in 701 BC, an event described in the Bible in 2 Kings 18-19 and Isaiah 36-37.
Room 52: The Cyrus cylinder contains the policy of Cyrus that exiles should be allowed to return home which is also recorded in 2 Chronicles 36:22-23.
What a day – what a lot of history! The history at the time of the artefact’s creation and the history of how the artefact was found, researched and translated. A huge thank you to Mark and, I hope, an encouragement for us to visit the British Museum, whether for the first time or as a follow-up and to do a bible overview when next on offer at St Mary’s.
Juan Carlos and Penny Marces (Emma Spear)
Juan Carlos and Penny Marces are our CMS Mission Partners in Lima, Peru and from June 13th to 16th they visited St Mary's, joining in with a great many of the services and activities in the daily life of our church.
Penny is responsible for children's ministry in Peru, in fact for the whole of the Anglican Church of Peru, and was keen to see how our Pathfinders learn - attending a lively 9.15am session!
Juan Carlos, the Vicar General of Peru whose Diocese is - yes, you guessed it - the whole Anglican church in Peru, was keen to learn from Will, Jon and Dave about modern Evangelical Preaching in UK. His Bishop is a bright new figure in the Anglican church of Peru and he and Juan Carlos are breaking new ground in Bible-based, people-centred Evangelical teaching.
They both attended St Mary's Evening and told us about efforts to encourage environmental awareness, children's Bible teaching, youth work and marriage guidance through Bible study.
The visit was concluded with a wonderful church BBQ on Sunday 16th June and the Lord smiled on us with blessings of good weather, plentiful food and happy company. We send prayers of a safe onward journey to Ireland and homeward to Lima.
To find out more about Juan Carlos and Penny Marces, or to receive their prayer updates please do contact [hidden] (9.15 service), Mission Link to Juan Carlos and Penny Marces.
The 9:15am Interviews (The Whitecrosses)
As part of a series of Sunday morning interviews to get to know congregation members and cover some topics of interest, Jon Drake interviewed David and Trish Whitecross their time in mission.Jon: David and Trish, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
We have been married for 52 years, have three children, four grandchildren, and have attended St Mary's for four years.
Before arriving at St Mary's, what you were working in mission. Tell us about that.
The Lord called us to missions in 1991 when David went on a short-term outreach to Brazil with Youth With a Mission (YWAM).
Then, in 1995, after both of us had been made redundant with three children in secondary education, we stepped out in faith and joined YWAM full time... not that we were with the youth as David was already well into his 50's. We joined to study and become support staff: Trish in hospitality at their Cape Town base and David as handy-man.
At that point, having completed our basic training, David’s health broke down resulting in a pacemaker and also a broken vertebra which meant he could hardly walk.
Why these boring medical facts?
Well, it was at this time in weakness that God gave us a passion and a love for Egypt and the Coptic Orthodox Church... a country we had never thought about even as a holiday destination and a church that we had definitely never even heard of. It was very exciting learning that God had a plan for us, especially as David was barely mobile, but we knew that if God wanted us in Egypt then that was where we were going.
From 1998, we served the Coptic Orthodox Church in various ways. The church was founded by Mark the Evangelist who had been with Jesus. We were introduced to Bishop Thomas and initially served in Upper Egypt in his diocese.
Bishop Thomas bought a farm some 60 miles north of Cairo to serve as a retreat and place for foreign guests. There, David taught English and welding while Trish taught hospitality and cooking and opened a little clinic. All of these practical works gave us the opportunity to share the love of Jesus and our relationship with him not only to the youngsters on the farm, but also to visitors to the farm.
We became like parents to many young people who came from abusive and traumatic backgrounds. We were blessed to see many of them healed, change and grow as they learned about Jesus' love for them and accepted him as their Saviour.
While we were in Egypt, there were many instances of persecution against Christians from all denominations and, sadly, it continues to this day but what man does for evil, God uses for good. Christians number about 15 million out of a population of about 80 million. Persecution is a fact of life as a religious minority. During 2012-13, under a Muslim Brotherhood president, persecution became intense. Many churches that were destroyed painted Scripture verses on the walls declaring, as Christians, that they forgave and loved their attackers. This was amazing in a culture which values vengeance. This witness has brought many people to faith in Christ. The faith of all denominations in Egypt is humbling and inspiring; we need to pray for them that they will stand firm in their faith and take the Word of God to their nation and beyond.
We would never have had the privilege of seeing God's amazing love in action if we had ignored his call on our lives.
Our lives were enriched and blessed by our time in Egypt, and we saw the Lord move in amazing ways in our lives and the lives of many others. Don’t ignore God’s call on your life.
Why on earth do they think that? (Callum Patterson)
The Magna Carta. Umberto Eco. Joseph Wright of Derby’s painting An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump. Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon. Star Trek’s Counsellor Troi. U2’s Zooropa album.
No, these are not the specialist subjects of this year’s Mastermind finalists, but waypoints on the whistle-stop tour that Mark Meynell led from the Middle Ages (because the Dark Ages is propaganda) to the present day. For those who attended the 'Why on Earth do They Think That?' day, they were thoughtfully linked together as we learned how the European worldview has evolved over the last 800 or so years.
If the timespan was large, the aim of the day was equally bold – to try to explain why today’s society, our society, thinks the way it does. And to suggest how the lens of that worldview sees us as Christians when we try to share the gospel.
Split into three sessions, the day’s teaching centred around the concept of a worldview. Like a pair of glasses, our worldview helps us to see the world but also to interpret what it is that we are seeing. First, we looked at the mediaeval worldview with its rigid, divinely instituted hierarchy of church and state and how this was challenged by the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Then came the ‘modern’ worldview where theism became deism and then atheism and where Darwin, Freud and Marx enabled God to be side-lined. It too was challenged: by Romanticism, by quantum theory, by the return of totalitarianism and the rise of counterculture.
After lunch, the focus was on our own society, the postmodern worldview since 1989 (since the fall of the Berlin Wall, not apparently my own birth…). And we are familiar with its tenets:
- Who am I? Whoever I want to be, and I can change it.
- Where am I from? Where am I going? I don’t know, so live in the present.
- What is wrong with the world? Whatever oppresses, whatever prevents me from being my authentic self.
- What is the solution? Break the chains.
Having lived in this generation and felt the confusion of the transition from modernism, I can understand, perhaps even feel something of the bewilderedness of questioning everything, even your own ability to understand. I found it interesting and helpful to see how postmodernism is more nuanced than perhaps it is thought of - the assertion that there is not rejection of truth so much as the ability to know the truth. And I also found that the common ground, the parallels that Mark drew between Christianity and this seemingly so far-removed mindset, to be most important. We were reminded that both worldviews teach that we have our own limits, that we are not gods and that we cannot know anything. Both command us to be open and loving to people who are very different to us, for the postmodernist it is through a fear of being an oppressor and for the Christian it is encapsulated in the Good Samaritan. And of course, both speak about the very heart of human experience – the postmodernist struggles to remain authentic to themselves whilst creating personae on social media and in real life; the Christian struggles to live in the world but not of it.
Ultimately, we were shown that we have an opportunity. People are more open to religious experience than they have been for some time. But they have many centuries of preconceptions of what we are going to say and what we will sound like, that we often succumb to. Yet Christ’s gospel as well as our stories, our testimonies can be powerfully effective when up against an expectation of doctrine and dogma. Perhaps we just need to push a little, be prepared to ask: “So why do you think that?”
For anyone who missed the day, you can listen to the talks on this website here.
Also, Mark gave a reading list with the following books highlighted:
- The Universe Next Door by James Sire (1998, IVP)
- Meltdown by Marcus Honeysett (2002, IVP)
- Creation, Power and Truth by NT Wright (2013, SPCK)
- Postmodernity by David Lyon (1994, Open U.P.)
Giving to St Mary's - Legacies (The Finance Committee)
This is the fifth and final article in a short series on the funding of, and giving to, St Mary’s Maidenhead. In previous articles, we provided an overview of the ways we are able to contribute to the work and witness of St Mary’s, then looked in detail at the Regular Giving Scheme, Gift Aid, and One-off Giving. This month’s focus is on legacies.
What is a ‘legacy’?
In law, a ‘legacy’ is a gift made under a person’s Last Will and Testament, especially of money or personal property. Traditionally, this referred to money or property handed down or received from an ancestor or predecessor, however such a gift made from someone’s estate to an organisation, such as a charity or church is also referred to as a ‘legacy’.
Do many people leave a legacy to their church?
Each year about 5,000 people leave a gift in their will to a church or parish. In total, parishes receive around £50 million in legacy gifts each year.
For many people, leaving a gift in their will to their church is a final opportunity to make a lasting gift to God. It is also a way to make a lasting difference to the future of their church and community.
Do I need a Will to leave a legacy?
As with all matters relating to someone’s estate, it is much easier to have your intentions documented in a will.
As Christians, we are God’s stewards, entrusted to use his gifts for the good of our family and to prosper the work of his kingdom. In thanksgiving, we should also take will writing seriously - setting our affairs in order and stewarding them wisely to the end of our time on earth and beyond. For nearly 500 years, the Church of England has encouraged its members to write a will and keep it up to date.
Once you have made provision for your loved ones, you have the opportunity to make a lasting gift to God, by leaving a legacy to his church. A gift in your will to your church is one of the most valuable and lasting ways you can continue to support its mission and ministry.
What would St Mary’s do with a legacy?
Most people would only consider leaving a gift in their will if they think their church will use it for worthwhile projects, not simply to fund operating costs. In order to reassure those considering leaving a legacy to St Mary’s, the PCC has published a policy set out below (and found on the ‘Giving to St Mary’s’ section of this website).
St Mary’s has benefitted from a small number of legacies over the years, the latest being in 2018, enabling us to grow additional ministry leaders, support other churches and boost our missionary support, as reported at the 2019 AGM.
St Mary’s Legacy Policy
St Mary’s welcomes all gifts in wills, however large or small, and we promise to use your gift to make a difference in our church. Our PCC Legacy Policy is to use gifts to help fund significant development projects, whether buildings, equipment, mission, or staff.
Since the needs of the church change over the years, we encourage you to leave the gift in your will for the general purpose of the church rather than for a restricted purpose.
We will discuss possible uses of your gift with your executors when the time comes, bearing in mind your known areas of interest in the church.
You can be confident that your gift will be used to make a real difference to our future mission and ministry.
What are the tax implications of leaving a legacy?
Charitable legacies are exempt from inheritance tax and so a legacy will reduce the value of your estate before inheritance tax at 40% is calculated, giving an inheritance tax saving where the estate is over the inheritance tax threshold.
By way of example, if 10% of an estate is left to charity, the rate of Inheritance Tax charged on the remaining estate is reduced from 40% to 36%.
It is not possible to claim Gift Aid on legacies.
Where might I go for further information?
If you wish to discuss leaving a legacy to St Mary’s, please contact a member of the Finance Committee, via the church office.
For additional information on legacies and wills, including advice for executors and solicitors, please visit www.churchlegacy.org.uk.
Book Sundays (June 2019)
Sundays 23rd and 30th June were Book Sundays at St Mary's, where a selection of books were available for sale before or after the services. Jon Drake spent two minutes reviewing 20 books (full list at the end of this blog item). Watch Jon's 120 second review by clicking the video below:
If you missed the book sale, don't worry. The books are available at Quench, the Christian bookshop in Queen Street, Maidenhead, or through its online site or online through 10ofthose or The Good Book Company..
The list of books reviewed are below.
- Pray Big - Alistair Begg
- Enjoying God - Tim Chester
- Extravagant Grace - Barbara Duguid
- Equipping For Life - Andreas and Margaret Kostenberger
- Can Science Explain Everything? - John Lennox
- Have No Fear - John Lennox
- A Fistful Of Heroes - John Pollock
- True Friendship - Vaughan Roberts
- Before You Open Your Bible - Matt Smedhurst
- The Message Of Thessalonians - John Stott
- Side By Side - Ed Welch
- Children of the Storm - Natacha Vins
- Crazy Lazy - Alistair Begg.
- Hanging In There - John Dickson.
- Long Story Short - Marty Machowski (Family Devotional)
- The Radical Book For Kids - Champ Thornton.
- 50 Craziest Bible Stories - Andy Robb.
- The Friend Who Forgives - DeWitt and Echeverri.
- Stories Jesus Told - Nick Butterworth.
- Beginning With God Book 2
Do not put your trust in princes (Will Stileman)
“Do not put your trust in princes in mortal men who cannot save.” (Psalm 146:3) I was reminded of this verse this last week. A clergyman who has been hugely significant in my growth in faith and who was a family friend has recently been the subject of a number of significant and credible safe-guarding concerns.
Because of his skill as a preacher, his dedication to personal work, his strong personality and the longevity of his ministry, his influence on the evangelical wing of the Church of England has been marked. Consequently these revelations are even more disturbing and damaging. However, it is absolutely right that these matters have been brought into the public realm as only this way can evil be addressed and those who are victims of abusive behaviour be supported and helped.
Let me say at the outset that I never experienced any inappropriate behaviour myself from this man; in fact the opposite - until recently, as far as I was concerned, he was a committed, concerned pastor to whom, under God, I owed a huge amount.
So what are we to make of this and how are we to respond when such things come to light? Below are my musings:
First and foremost we are to: “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) For those who knew the man concerned well, trusted him and, like me, benefitted from his ministry such revelations are disorientating and bewildering. But “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and for ever” [Hebrews 13:8]. Jesus is utterly dependable. He is always loving, always faithful. He will never let us down. Our faith and hope is in Jesus. We fix our eyes on the God who has revealed himself to us in Jesus and not on the deeply flawed disciples of Jesus.
Second, we are to tremble with a righteous fear, knowing that ‘but for the grace of God go I’. When we hear of someone falling into sin, it should be a wakeup call to our own sinfulness and folly. I too have the capacity to sink low into sin. I can be self-deceptive about my behaviour and blind to my hard-heartedness. We need only to think of great king David. He had a wonderful, personal walk with God as evidenced by the Psalms he wrote; yet he committed both murder and adultery.
Third, in view of the first two points, do not put pastors on pedestals. They will let you down. Oh yes, God in his grace does use his flawed, under-shepherds to point people to Jesus as they preach and teach Christ from the Bible; but any spiritual blessings and lasting benefit comes from God, not from those whom he uses.
Fourth, as 4pm & 6:30pm congregations have been reminded in their current sermon series in Revelation: Christ is king and God is in control. The devil may be rubbing his hands in glee at this mess and the discrediting of the gospel through this clergyman’s actions; nevertheless, the devil is a defeated enemy. There have been many scandals in the history of God’s church. Many of them have done great damage. But none has been able to stop the progress of the gospel. Jesus has promised to “build his church and the gates of hell will not over overcome it.”
Finally, pray. Pray for all those adversely affected by this clergyman’s behaviour, that they may know God’s healing touch in their lives. Pray for the truth to come to light and for recognition before God of what has happened. Pray for true repentance and faith: repentance from the clergyman concerned, repentance from a culture that allowed such abuse to exist. Pray for good to come out of this ghastly mess. Finally, pray for Christ to overcome and advance the good news of his kingdom despite the severe failings of his people.
I am still coming to terms with it all. There are important lessons to be learnt which I am trying to digest. I have been trying to support those I know who will have been badly affected by these revelations. I will, within the next few weeks, reach out to the clergyman involved. But, above all, I want to encourage myself and all who read this article to put their hope and trust in Jesus and to demonstrate that hope and trust in prayer.
What happened on PCC Away Day? (Rae Binning)
One of the essentials for St Mary’s from our Vision Statement is ‘Dependent Prayer.’ The Parochial Church Council (PCC) met on Saturday 15th June to spend some extended time thinking about prayer.
We had been given bible passages on the topic of prayer to study beforehand. Our first passage was Luke 18: 1-8, where Jesus tells a parable ‘to show them that they should always pray and not give up (or lose heart)’. Jesus finishes this parable by asking ‘when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’ For those of us who were wondering why this was there and what it has to do with prayer, it is that praying is a mark of our faith. If we are not praying, we are not living by faith, trusting in Jesus, depending on Him.
This is what we need to be doing, both individually, and corporately as a church family – demonstrating to ourselves and each other that we are depending on Him for absolutely everything. Another hard-hitting passage was from John 15 where Jesus describes himself as the Vine. Jesus says ‘apart from me, you can do nothing’. If we let that sink in and believe it, we would not attempt anything without praying.
We discovered that we all find praying difficult: we get easily distracted, other things take precedence, our minds wander, our motives may not be right, we are not necessarily submitting to Jesus’ rule in our lives. But we don’t have to lose heart – we can encourage one another to keep going.
We found the day challenging and did not cover everything we wanted to. The staff team and the PCC will come back to the topic over the next few months, and keep on trying to find ways to encourage each of us to live our lives with a deep dependence on Jesus, which is shown in praying, on our own and with each other as a church.
Don’t be surprised if in the future we are trying things in church to encourage prayerfulness and you may be asked for feedback, as we want everyone engaged with this. We will also be using the results of the recent prayer survey to see what we can change to encourage us all to do better in this vital area of our lives.
Explorers Abroad (Zach Penman)
As Kate said in the family focus a few Sundays back, "What do you get when you take 23 year 5 and 6’s to the Isle of Wight with 7 leaders for a week? Lots of fun and not a lot of sleep!"
Explorers Abroad takes place every May half term and this year, I had the joy of being one of the leaders. I went when I was a child, so it brought back many memories of fun and laughter, and a great time to be challenged about who Jesus is and if I wanted to make him number one in my life.
Day 1 - The journeyWe travelled the great distance of Maidenhead to Portsmouth to enjoy our 45-minute ferry trip across the great ocean to the Isle of Wight; this was a first for me and was ever so exciting! We then arrived at the wonderful Urban Saints centre ‘Westbrook’ which was our home for the next 5 days. We spent the rest of the day swimming in the pool and settling in. A highlight was watching some of the boys try to make their beds!
Day 2 - A day of team challenges
On the first morning of the holiday, some woke up to the sound of pheasants, some by crows cawing, and some by children who had woken up very early…
We kicked off with a hearty breakfast followed by a Bible study looking at the passage from the previous night. This was what we did every day with time to reflect on the passage, ask questions, and for leaders to challenge individuals more personally in smaller groups.After this, we ventured outside to the woodland for a big game of laser tag. This involved all of us wearing large helmets with sensors and holding big laser guns. For two hours, we ran through the woodland shooting at each other; a great deal of fun was had and one team even got a team member dedicated to reloading the guns with ‘laser shots’. It was an exciting game and a first for me - the kids who went last year were very excited to be doing the activity again - and now I can see why! In the afternoon, we went down to the beach where we enjoyed a brief swim and then the team sandcastle building competition; Battenbergs, Macaroons and Fruit Cakes battled it out to build the best sand sculpture. My team, Battenbergs, constructed the most "delicious" (and largest) slice of Battenberg cake out of shells and seaweed, I am sure it tasted the worst though!
We climbed the hill back to Urban Saints and enjoyed a posh supper evening, complete with all the children wearing their own newspaper suits, ties, necklaces, bangles and even shoes! In our meeting, we saw how the second meal was to lead on to our Bible story of Jesus being anointed by a sinful woman during a posh dinner at a Pharisee’s house. We learnt the meaning of forgiveness and why Jesus is the only one who can forgive us. They saw that the only right response to Jesus’ love for us is to love him back.
Day 3 - A day outWe had a day out! In the morning, we visited St Catherine’s Lighthouse at the south of the island and then enjoyed a picnic there with the wind blowing through and the cows mooing. The lighthouse was “pretty cool” as one child said. We then went on a photo treasure hunt, with ten titles to stage photos for. Titles included; strong team, do what the sign says, call the doctor, and POSH!
In the evening, we learnt about the last supper where Jesus told his friends that he would die and WHY it would be so important.
Day 4 - A day out (again!)We went out again, this time to Bembridge lifeboat station where we got a marvellous tour and, through circumstances not caused by us, we got to see both the large Tamar lifeboat and the smaller inflatablelifeboat both out on the sea. They even did some great manoeuvres to show us how fast and powerful these great lifeboats are.
We then went further along the coast to Culver Down where we played hide and seek games as well as crocker within the old war battery. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day.
In the evening, we thought about another meal Jesus had. This time it was a breakfast instead of a dinner and it was after he rose again, we thought about how when we trust in Jesus our sins are forgiven. We had time to think about it for ourselves, if we wanted to accept that offer Jesus gives to have eternal life with him.
Day 5 - The last day
We ate our breakfasts, had our Bible studies and then got in the minibuses to head home - some itching to get home to see missed family and pets, some not wanting to leave! As we drove home, I enjoyed hearing each of the kids’ best bits. Some said the photo treasure hunt, lots said the lifeboat station and seeing the boats in action, and some liked the studies the most and learning about the meals Jesus had.
I think the best bit for me was having a group of kids who, at the beginning were shy and didn’t know each other, and who, by the end of the week, were one big group - all with new friends, new memories and with new knowledge of Jesus and all that he came to do.
Let’s pray that each and every child that went would have the chance to decide for themselves and make the best choice - to follow Jesus. We should pray that they are supported at home and at church by their peers, family and leaders to keep following Jesus.
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.