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 the archive pages, which are 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.
Ministry Training Course (Angela McDonald)
Today was my last day. For the past year I have been attending the Ministry Training Course (MTC) run by the South Central Gospel Partnership along with a number of others from St Mary’s, for the first six months this took place in Oxford, then virtually on Zoom. I have always loved the Bible, God’s word, since the vicar in my church did a foundation course and I have been passionate with engaging in Scripture. However, as someone who became a Christian at twenty-one, I didn’t have a doctrinal basis for my faith.
Much of my engagement with sharing the gospel was through experiential eyes which has resulted in a limited vocabulary when engaging with others particularly on issues such as God’s goodness, and other people’s world views.
This past year we have been shown the provision of the Father, the heart of the Saviour and the searching light of the Holy Spirit. We’ve heard from speakers from all walks of the Christian life including church leaders, Oxford University lecturers, famous authors, with various life experiences. They have all focused on drawing us into a closer relationship with our Lord Jesus and growing in our desire to make him known.
This course is for you if you are someone who has little biblical knowledge through to the most learned of us. The course gives you the opportunity to uncover the treasure of God’s word as if it is a cloth cleaning away the dust to show you the gleaming light, depth and colour of the gem within. It will give you a new vocabulary that will impact on how you live, how you pray and how you share Jesus.
Below is a video explaining a little more. Matt Searles who runs MTC is the most approachable person, with him ‘no question is a bad question’. He would be very pleased to hear from you if you would like more information. https://www.scgp.org.uk/training/mtc/
Sunday In Person (David Singeisen)
I was a little trepidatious standing there outside the actual church building, face mask on, clothes carefully chosen from M&S’s ‘Comforting and Reassuring’ range, with the list of booked attendees in my hand, trying to look calmer than I was actually feeling. I was a sidesman for the first in-person service back at St Mary’s.
'So, what happens now, Lord?':
- What if someone turns up not realising you had to book?
- What if someone coughs?
- Does St Mary’s even have a ‘what to do in case of alien invasion’ policy?
The answers in order:
- I take them to a staff member and leave it to them to explain why it is not possible for people who have not booked to attend.
- I’m hoping no one does that, because then we’ll be in trouble!
- No. It does not.
And then people started to arrive. This was like a bright ray of sunshine after a rainy afternoon. A sudden goal after frustrated eons of build-up play. As folk strolled down the driveway, the overwhelming feeling was just one of cheerful, cathartic relief that we could go back to meeting at our church family home.
The service was a little different certainly. We did the actions to the song rather than sing it. But there were prayers, and readings, and a cracking sermon from the Millers. (I confess it took me a little while to see Jesus there, as Tamsin and Becca made his name from shapes on a board. I must get used to these earlier starts on a Sunday again!).
If you’re thinking of booking to attend an in-person service one Sunday, my advice would be: Do. There’s nothing wrong with meeting online - I’ll be off to the 7:45pm Zoom next Sunday! It’s a real blessing though to meet together in person. I know that as I walked up to St Mary’s on that cool summer morning, that trepidation was nestling on top of a strong sense of peace.
Anxiety, Intrusive Thoughts and Obsessive, Compulsive Disorder (Becca Stileman)
The recent Covid-19 lockdown has affected many things – we are all aware of its impact and that this has been greater on some groups of people than on others. One thing it may have done is to exacerbate existing tendencies – in isolation we have had less ability to ‘dilute’ these by mixing with others. As somebody who has experienced anxiety and OCD for many years at varying levels, I have been wondering whether there are some of us whose tendency towards having intrusive and obsessive thoughts has been running riot. We might be able to protect ourselves from a virus by shutting ourselves away, but we cannot escape our own thought processes. You alone will be aware of the sort of mental gymnastics your brain is capable of – it may be self-blame or guilt, it may be anxious thoughts that come from nowhere and turn themselves into what seems to be reality. When my anxiety levels have been particularly bad and when Anna went through a severe phase of OCD in her teens (which required therapy), I did some reading and thinking about this. We have no expertise, but we have learnt more about ourselves.
Sometimes fearful thoughts are rational in origin but become irrational. For example, we are hearing so much about infection currently that it would be rational to have a heightened fear of getting ill. We are being directed to wash our hands so it would be rational to feel that we must be doing this. But these helpful and protective thoughts may begin to impact our lives to the extent that we can no longer ‘function’. All enjoyment is gone – we are ruled by our anxiety – afraid to step outside, washing our hands until they are red and sore.
Sometimes our thoughts are so unexplained and personal to us that we feel we are going crazy, or at least would sound that way to a ‘normal’ human being. Christians are not exempt from unhelpful thought patterns that make us less able to enjoy life and to function the way we want to. These thoughts are often the product of a sensitive conscience. Recognise your tendency to have intrusive, fearful thoughts and talk to God about them. We often try fixing ourselves before we turn to God. A feeling of helplessness can be a blessing in reminding us to depend on God.
Anxiety may impact us for a distinct period, many children experience a phase of obsessive thoughts, with or without accompanying compulsive behaviour; or it may be a longer-term battle. Like other health problems that come with an imperfect world, it is important to identify it, talk about it, and seek help.
We are loved as we are by our God. He knows us completely and loves us completely and sent us his Son who really can understand us and really does step between us and God to make us perfect in a way that we can never do.
Feel free to talk about this with me and/or others. You are not alone!
Lockdown Reflections (Karen Martin)
We are now inhabiting some strange almost-post-lockdown world where no-one is quite able to keep up with current advice on how to co-exist safely with Covid-19. Whilst battling to remember how many people are allowed in our gardens, in our homes and in our churches, it felt like a good point to press pause and reflect on some of our varied experiences of recent weeks. I took on the role of amateur roving reporter and was privileged to chat with several members of St Mary’s.
Starting at the heart of the NHS seemed like a good place to begin. Liz Kershaw is an ODP (Operating Department Practitioner) – this means that she is trained to work in operating theatres assisting in anaesthetics, surgery and recovery. It would perhaps be easy to assume that she had an easy ride in the first weeks of the pandemic – weren’t all non-urgent operations postponed? Indeed they were, but her skills in airway management meant she was rapidly redeployed to the Intensive Care Unit.
Never having worked in ICU before, Liz experienced anxiety, feeling both unprepared and overwhelmed. She described the first day as being ‘the worst in her career,’ surrounded by very sick patients in an unfamiliar environment, with procedures and practices that were different from those she knew from her ODP position.
Here her faith really helped. Knowing the pandemic was going to throw challenges at her, she learnt Psalm 91:1-2. “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” She read this psalm each day during the crisis and sought his comfort in song on the way to and from work. “I played Ancient of Days on repeat,” she said, with these words speaking directly to her, especially as she prepared for a night shift:
Though the dread of night overwhelms my soul
He is here with me, I am not alone
O His love is sure, and He knows my name
For my God is, the Ancient of Days.
Reflecting on the intensity of the peak of Covid-19 admissions and gravely ill cases, Liz can see that she learnt quickly and gained skills and confidence that will help her in her normal job. She spoke with humility, but it is clear that she was one of those frontline workers we were clapping for each Thursday. She was in the thick of it, making a difference to the life and death outcomes of the seriously ill.
The fact that she knew friends were praying for her made a huge difference and she acknowledges that the experience has made her faith even stronger. “I learnt to rely on God much more each day. It reaffirmed for me that God is real, present and active. In moments where I couldn’t cope, he gave me strength.”
Renewed reality of God’s provision is a common strand through many of the stories I gathered. Viv Lee explained that the lockdown came at a very serendipitous time for her and Peter. “Lockdown brought immense relief. It gave us time to process the news that Peter was likely to face a future of significant disability.”
Speaking with characteristic realism, Viv told me that it was immediately apparent that Covid-19 was a potential threat to Peter. Reduced mobility after surgery in 2019 had affected his fitness. It was clear that they should shield from all contact with the outside world. This lack of interruption felt God-given, providing respite from the stresses and strains of everyday life. “He’s my best friend,” she said, “spending time together is not a chore.”
But with Peter experiencing pain that was becoming increasingly difficult to tolerate, Viv felt desperate. She spent sleepless nights wrestling with God, finally crying out to the Lord for mercy.
Her prayers were answered. A second opinion was given, and the bleak news of a few weeks before tentatively reversed. “He needs another operation to repair the damage,” Viv explained, “but being forced to sit tight during lockdown meant irreparable damage hasn’t occurred.”
“How did faith help you through this?” I asked.
Viv looked a little perplexed as she replied, “What do people do without God? I lean on him constantly. Even when he feels far off or unreliable, he is there. I shout at him sometimes, ‘Let us know your plan,’ but like the persistent widow, you cannot let go.”
Such dependence on Christ was cited by two mums who have had to learn to become teacher to children of various ages, abilities and concentration spans. “When I hear people say how much time they had to themselves during lockdown, I cannot help but give a little chuckle,” said Ester Schoeman.
She and her husband worked out a schedule. “Johan worked from 6am-12noon while I manned the kids, and then we swapped, so that I could work the afternoon shift. But even though it was tough, it was a gift - a gift of time with my children that I don’t usually have because I work full-time. It was also a blessed time where we bonded as a family and drew closer to our Maker. I was strangely conflicted when the announcement came that schools and nurseries were to reopen – on the one hand we had become used to having them close by, but on the other hand we were exhausted and knew we couldn’t sustain the intense routine.”
Whilst Ester could see the blessings of lockdown, she also acknowledged the burdens. Both she and Johan were time and energy depleted. This is an experience shared by Penny McCrabbe. A community physiotherapist in charge of a team, she continued home visits to vulnerable patients who needed ongoing care in lockdown. With her husband working in IT, they were denoted as keyworkers which meant their three children were still able to go to school.
The irony was that keyworker children, though safely provided for in school, were not really taught. Work other parents were doing at the kitchen table during the day, Penny felt compelled to take on in the evenings and at weekends. “There was never a break,” she explained.
Like Viv, Penny found relief in the absence of social pressures. “I coped by running early each morning before the rest of my household got up. I found space to enjoy God’s creation and just be a part of the beautiful scenery.”
Mutual support has been vital through this period, and many have found Zoom meetings helpful. Ester said that she depended on weekly spiritual support and prayer through virtual growth group meetings and was grateful for spontaneous gifts dropped through the letterbox by friends helping to keep the kids entertained.
I met Heidi Yoder through online Sunday coffee mornings and was privileged to listen to some of her very difficult experiences of lockdown.
Like many people, Heidi found the initial stages a relief. As cabin crew, she is more accustomed to being away from her home, and she really enjoyed the enforced time to step away from the demands of everyday life. “The early days were heart-warming,” she said, “neighbourliness existed in a way not felt before.”
At the point some of us began struggling with the monotony of continued lockdown, Heidi found herself in the centre of a drama when one of her closest friends was taken ill with Covid-19 and transferred quickly to Royal Berkshire’s ICU. Named as his first point of contact whilst he was in hospital, she was faced with anxiety and responsibility. Living alone, there was no-one close by to share the burden of the daily phone calls with the doctors, the rollercoaster ride of hope and fear.
When he died after three weeks in hospital Heidi clung to the knowledge that as a fellow believer in Christ, her friend was with Jesus. In her own sadness she depended on the truth that “ultimately, even in the terrible things that happen, God is in control.”
Grief is never an easy path to negotiate, but with all the restrictions in place, lockdown made it even harder. She is grateful to the friend from St Mary’s who came to her garden before the rules were relaxed, purely so that Heidi would have someone real to talk to and weep with. Support has been ongoing from growth group friends, the leadership team and other family in Christ, “it is wonderful to be part of this church,” she said.
Looking to the future, Heidi is cautious. “We are all going to return to our freedoms at different speeds,” she said, “I hope we all have the grace to allow each other to do that.” She acknowledges change has already happened – at first friends brought their own chairs and mugs of coffee when they visited her garden, now she asks their preference and is happy to comply.
Kat Adams explained that though it was sad not to meet up with other new mums, there was relief in being compelled to stay in while her son, Josh, was so young. Like Heidi, she identifies her character as introvert, and she was happy to be at home. She valued Zoom contact with her ante-natal group and explained that worries about Covid receded as they discussed normal things like teething, nappies and sleep patterns.
The online services have also been a bonus for Kat, enabling her to focus on God, trusting that he is sovereign over everything. “Having a baby makes a difference to church – you spend much of your time in creche and don’t worship or listen as you did before.”
As lockdown progressed Kat felt the absence of grandparents and church family. “It’s hard not being able to share Josh with others. It feels unnatural not to pass your baby around for cuddles.”
Though recognising it depends very much on how and when rules are relaxed, Kat expressed some concerns at whether lockdown might have long-term impact on Josh. Unused to being with other people, how will he cope when socialising is possible again? How will she feel about handing him over when she and Tim have had sole care? In keeping him away from Covid-19, Kat is also aware that Josh has not been exposed to other everyday bugs and bacteria – could this compromise his immunity?
Questions about the future are common to all of us. Some carry anxieties about what lies ahead whilst others seek to jettison some of the busyness of life before lockdown. Liz said her frenetic working life during the peak of the pandemic was a strange contrast with quiet days off, when there was little traffic or noise, “It made me long for a quieter, calmer, less manic life post-lockdown.” Heidi is beginning to enjoy her pretend retirement, and Penny has found relief in fewer social gatherings.
If lockdown has taught us anything, perhaps it is that we need to slow down and do a little less, take some conscious rest as advocated in Genesis 2:2-3. The pandemic has taught us to depend on God, whatever our circumstances, secure in this knowledge:
“He will cover us with his feathers, and under his wings we will find refuge; his faithfulness will be our shield and rampart.” Psalm 91:4
4pm Escape Lockdown - Legally (Brian Jones)
First stop was at a pub enjoying their last weekend of peace before restrictions end, so no refreshment there! Then it was a picnic rudely curtailed by a short sharp shower. Finally, just short of Lechlade an impromptu game of cricket and a deliberate swim for one brave crew. Another crew had capsized earlier trying to avoid being spiked by some bushes (dry clothes being provided by the surviving fleet).Thanks to Chris for organizing an adventure which lifted us all out of the “sameness” of lockdown and particularly gave the children some contact with their peers. It was very telling when our Growth Group leader said “Hi, nice to meet you in the flesh,” and we then realized that although we had had weekly contact it had all been on Zoom. Another bonus of technology was the ability to log on to the 4pm congregation get together as we stopped in a lay-by on the way home. Thank you, St Mary’s staff team, for the effort you have put in to keep us all in contact.
Five Habits of Deeply Contented People (Simeon Human)
On the last Saturday in June around twenty of us had the opportunity to meet on Zoom. It was good to see familiar faces of our church family. Those still in and around Maidenhead but also our friends currently living further away, ranging from 15 to 1500 miles! Our subject: the five habits of deeply contented people, plus one extra secret habit. Our guest speaker Callom Harkrader, referred to principles written in Andrew Page’s book (resource 1 below) but based our discussion on Genesis 2.
The habits that enable us to experience a deeper level of contentment are:
1. Enjoy beauty: ‘The Lord God made trees that were pleasing to the eye’ Genesis 2:9.
2. Tend your garden: as Admiral McRaven said, ‘If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed’ (resource 2 below).
3. Practice self-control.
4. Be creative: and if you feel this isn’t possible, ask your close ones where they see your creativity, you might be surprised.
5. Embrace others: difficult to apply during lockdown, but see 3 John 1:13-14, ‘I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.’
And last but not least:
6. Spend time with God: which can be as simple as training your spiritual discipline bit by bit. For example, it can help to tell others not just that you’re praying for them but what it is you’re praying for on their behalf.
We found that it can be difficult for us in our 20s and 30s to reach a sense of contentment. One factor that trends as a source of this difficulty is moving home more. We also identified some of the other things that can make it difficult to find contentment, including pornography, alcohol abuse, unexplained depression, the morning alarm, pulling out weeds only to find several more metaphorically and literally sprouting, and so on. It was encouraging to be able to speak up about the little details that pull us down. Especially during this lockdown era, an event like Saturday’s has helped us to at least survive relationally.
Some practical tips we shared in our breakout rooms and main room: when chores feel like they never end, try to pause briefly after finishing a task, and just enjoy that accomplishment for a moment. If you wonder if there is such a thing as too much contentment, consider complacency, and where you see yourself on that particular spectrum. In order to reduce the pain of that morning alarm, try expending yourself during the day so that you can fall asleep earlier and have a chance to wake up naturally.
Aside from hearing heartfelt musings, there was some light-hearted drama, including a game of wink assassin, and some play deaths on camera!
Thank you to our hosts, speaker and contributors for a worthwhile time together. Thank you, Jesus, for being there too.
Gospel Poverty (Will Stileman)
During my sabbatical earlier this year, I had the privilege of staying at George Whitefield College in Cape Town. During my time there I was able to meet a number of the faculty and students. I was hugely impressed by what I saw. There was a great ethnic mix amongst the students who came from all over sub-Saharan Africa. It was also a joy to witness faculty members leading a church in Khayelitsha, a large black township on the outskirts of Cape Town.
The strategic importance of this college, not only for South Africa, but the whole African continent was clear. George Whitefield College has a large vision and is having a significant impact.
This coming Friday at 7:30pm, I am hosting a webinar in which there will be a chance to hear first-hand from the Principal of the College Mark Dickson and his colleague Phumezo Masango about the challenges and opportunities that face Christians in Africa. The webinar is entitled “Crossing the gospel poverty line in Africa.” It will be interesting. There will be opportunity to ask questions and meet the staff in breakout groups. We expect that the webinar will last just over an hour.
Do join us on Zoom through this link.
Details will also be sent out on this week’s email update.
When Inner Strength Isn't Enough (John Furley)
When inner strength isn’t enough: lifting the lid on the real causes of anxiety.
The annual all-congregations men’s summer event, normally a barbecue, moved online for the first time this year. Ste Casey spoke on anxiety – a topical subject, as we are living in challenging times.
Ste described anxiety as the radio noise, the buzzing in the background, or a sense of dread that sometimes we can’t put our finger on or identify its source. Anxiety is the gap between the position in life that we think we have, compared to the position we put our high-achieving friends on.
And anxiety affects us all, at different times and in different ways. Ste asked us to think about what pressures and anxieties we face and what are the causes. Discussing in smaller groups showed a variety of causes – reassuringly mundane in many instances, but all having the ability to cause acute anxiety and all are genuine threats to those suffering at the time.
But in taking us to Matthew 6:25-34, Ste showed how the Bible is clear: ‘Do not worry’ about life, food, clothes or image. In looking at the passage Ste encouraged us, challenged us and reassured us that anxiety affects us all. The Bible’s King David, a superman of the Bible in many ways, suffered from anxiety and wrote about this in Psalm 62.
For us today, anxiety can reveal four things:
- It reveals our reality – our uncertainties and threats, and our concerns about personal failure
- It reveals our lives – our fear of missing out, or what we think we have to have
- It reveals our faith – in what or whom do we trust to provide for our needs?
- It reveals our Father – showing that he is present and active, his character giving us confidence when we lean on and trust in him
So, do we trust and turn to the Lord, or do we as Matthew 6:32-33 says act like the world instead of first seeking God’s kingdom?
A Vital Witness (Ian Miller)
In the midst of the Watergate scandal, one of President Nixon’s closest confidants, Charles Coulson went to visit a friend, Tom Phillips. Phillips was the president of New England’s biggest company. Coulson was struck by a change in Phillips and so he asked him, “You’ve changed, and I’d like to know what happened.” Phillips described how he had risen to his position by the age of forty by working night and day, but that something had been missing. There had been a big hole in his life and so he started to read the Bible to look for answers. As he did so, he began to realise that he needed a personal relationship with God. What Phillips did not know was that Coulson had been experiencing a similar feeling of emptiness but, as he describes in his autobiography, “…I had not sought spiritual answers. I had not even been aware that finding a personal relationship with God was possible.” Phillips went on to explain to Coulson how he had attended a Billy Graham meeting and how “what Graham said that night put it all in place for me… I asked Christ to come into my life and I could feel His presence with me, His peace within me. I could sense His Spirit there with me…” Coulson responded, “That’s what you mean by accepting Christ – you just ask?” Phillips explained, but then turned the conversation to Coulson himself, read him a chapter of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, a few of his favourite Psalms and then offered to pray for him. Cutting a moving and powerful story short, Coulson came to put his trust in Jesus, he astonished people by confessing his role in the Watergate Scandal and went to prison. After his release he bore great fruit becoming a great Christian speaker and leading an organisation Prison Fellowship International. In human terms, fewer people would have seemed less likely to have become a Christian than Coulson. Time magazine wrote “of all the Watergate cast, few had a reputation for being tougher, wilier, nastier or more tenaciously loyal to Richard Nixon…”
Phillips and Coulson both presented as tough men who had everything whilst they were experiencing deep emptiness. What if one of your friends or family is in that place at the moment? What if they don’t even realise that there is a spiritual answer to their problem? What if you were to show them the love that Phillips showed to Coulson, if you were to tell them your story and to invite them to join you on the Christianity Explored course starting on Zoom at 8pm on Monday 6th July? What if they were to come, to discover who Jesus is and why he came, and to accept him in faith?
Many of us feel burdened by the prospect of telling other people about Jesus or inviting them to something – it gives rise to feelings of fear and often guilt. If that is you, why not start by bringing those feelings to God and ask for his help and for opportunities? Converting people is, after all, his work and not yours. Our role is to live out the gospel and to share the good news when he provides us with the opportunities. Phillips took the opportunity God gave him and he not only brought glory to God but gained the eternal gratitude of a friend.
We have put together a one minute film which you might send to a friend, perhaps with a simple question “What do you make of this?” or as an invitation to Christianity Explored.
For more details about Christianity Explored contact email@example.com.
Explorers At Home (Kate Wheatley / James Howick)
The end of May marks my favourite week of the year when many of the Explorers (children in year 5 and 6 at school) come with me to the Isle of Wight on Explorers Abroad. For obvious reasons this wasn’t able to happen this year so a few of them have written to tell me what they were doing instead and what they missed about not going back this year.
''I really miss Explorers Abroad, I miss all the excellent activities and the bright sunshine!'' Lucas
"I have missed the campfire and the swimming pool this week. Also spending time with my group and having all of the challenges." Hannah
Lockdown really has meant that some of the children have been climbing the walls - thanks Tom!
This time last year I was on the Isle of Wight in warm sunshine at the beach building a sandcastle in the shape of a battenburg cake. I was on Explorers Abroad with my friends. Explorers Abroad is when children from Years 5 and 6 go away to the Isle of Wight with Kate and other helpers for 5 days of fun, games and learning about Jesus. Some days we went to the beach, other days we spent playing laser tag, jumping in the swimming pool or doing a photo challenge around the town. We visited the lifeboat station and saw the lifeboat go out - it was amazing, and I'd never expected to see that! We learnt all about Jesus based on meals he'd had with his disciples and friends. I really loved the challenges each night (making a team banner, learning to wiggle my ears) and the before-bed watching 'Mr Bean' with cake and hot chocolate - that was so good!
This half term, I was meant to be going again but I've been staying home, staying alert and protecting the NHS! It's been hard not being able to be with my friends more than one at a time and not being able to be together. I'm sad that we couldn't go to the Isle of Wight and visit the Needles by boat which I was really looking forward to. But I have been doing fun stuff at home instead. I went to London and saw one of my best friends (from a distance of 2 metres) and did a treasure trail round Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park (15,027 steps!) We've been exploring the countryside round Maidenhead. Today, for the first ever time I swam in the Thames at Shiplake - it was freezing! I'm reading lots and we've had BBQs and played games.
I hope that the lockdown lifts in time for the summer holidays. If you are in Year 5 or Year 6 next year - I would really recommend going on Explorers Abroad. It's so much fun! - Cecilia
Emily - practising her archery skills ready for next year.
Henri getting ready for all the woodland activities next year.
Explorers Abroad 2019 is now history but an experience I was hoping to repeat this week! Totally gutted that it had to be cancelled! I am missing singing silly songs and rhymes on the minibus and eating a delicious lunch (my mum gave me loads of extra treats!) on the ferry. Instead of playing water polo, hanging out with friends, making new friends, chatting in my room, watching and performing in the talent show, playing laser tag, competing with my team in the challenges, climbing up inside the lighthouse, eating lots of cake in the evenings while watching Mr Bean, I am in lockdown at home! I was looking forward to hopefully doing another scavenger hunt, going to the beach, learning about God and doing bible studies and all the other fun things, I know, would have been in store for us all this week. It’s such a shame we couldn’t go this year. I have just been playing ‘Pie Face’ with my family! - Thea.
Ellie did a 22 mile cycle ride to Maidenhead and back and saw Cecilia, as well as other cycle rides and long walks.
Elizabeth misses the Isle of Wight swimming pool and the laser tag. But she has learnt to boat build over the week instead.
Singing Together 'In Christ Alone' (Tom Brewster)
For our service on Sunday 28th June we would love to have as many members of the congregation as possible take part in the singing of the final hymn, ’In Christ Alone’.
In order to do this, you need to record yourself singing to a pre-recorded piano accompaniment. I will mix together all these recordings to produce the final soundtrack to be used on the 28th June, to which you may again sing along!
There are many ways to do this, but this instruction video from our Easter recording demonstrates a few easy methods which do not require any special software beyond what is installed on an iPhone/iPad, Mac or PC desktop or laptop computer. The instructions below may also help.
- Ensure you listen to the accompaniment with headphones so only your voice is recorded.
- If you have an external microphone for your computer or phone, please use it.
- If you happen to have the specialist software/equipment/expertise to do this more professionally, please use it. (Lossless audio formats of at least 44.1kHz/16bit are preferred, but don’t worry if not.)
- Individual voices can be more successfully mixed than group recordings, but if you prefer to sing together with other members of your family you may do so as long as you can all hear the accompaniment, and you are all near the microphone.
- Sing with joy to the Lord and don’t be coy! The more entries the better it will sound.
Instructions for macOS:
- Download the accompaniment from Soundcloud here and open it in QuickTime player.
- In QuickTime, start a new audio recording (File > New Audio Recording) to record yourself singing, then sing along as you play back the accompaniment video.
- At the end, stop the recording, save it, and share it with me via WhatsApp (if you have the desktop app), a link to OneDrive/Dropbox or use a transfer service like wetransfer.com to send it.
Instructions for Windows 10 (earlier versions may require some modification):
- Download the accompaniment from Soundcloud here and open it.
- Open the Voice Recorder app (search for it in the search bar if you can’t find it) and use that to record yourself singing as you play back the accompaniment video.
- At the end, stop the recording, and you’ll find the file saved in Documents > Sound Recordings.
- At the end, stop the recording, save it, and share it with me via WhatsApp (if you have the desktop app), a link to OneDrive/Dropbox or use a transfer service like wetransfer.com to send it.
Instructions for recording on a phone:
- You can use the Voice Memos app on an iPhone/iPad to record your voice. (A number of different apps are available on Android phones which do the same thing.) You may need to use a different device to play the accompaniment video as many phones will not simultaneously play a video and record a voice memo.
- Please avoid using WhatsApp’s built in voice recorder. It is very low quality and won’t deliver the goods.
- Use WhatsApp or email to share the recording with me.
My contact details for sharing can be found from the church website people search, and please do not hesitate to email or message me on WhatsApp with any questions.
Please send all entries no later than noon on Thursday 25th June.
Thank you. I look forward to hearing you all sing!
Sunday School Online (Kate Wheatley)
We are thrilled to be able to offer Sunday School Online each week as a resource for the children to continue to learn about Jesus during this time of lockdown.
Each week we produce a 20-minute session, where we look at the theme “We need Jesus because..” This is a little like the sessions the children would have had at church, with a game, teaching, song, and craft.
We are so grateful to our friends at Faith in Kids for their provision of a video telling the Bible passage each week.
Here are some examples of the crafts that we have made at home during the sessions. Can you work out which story we were teaching about Jesus?
What you have said about Sunday School Online:
“I just wanted to feedback how brilliant the Sunday school online broadcasts have been! They’re really engaging. Thanks to everyone involved for making such an effort to keep going in these strange times.”
“We thought it was great! We all enjoyed the story about the wise man building his house on the rocks. It flowed well and was just long enough. It also added some valuable structure to the day as we then went on a rock hunt walk afterwards to find and paint our rocks with houses.”
“Children’s online service was really, really good. For the first time, other than in songs, our son engaged actively in the online service – answering questions as if he were in the room with Kate.”
Why not give it a try if you haven’t yet! We would love to have you join with us as each week we learn more about why we need Jesus in our lives.
Sunday School Online is available on the church website under Resources for Families from 8am every Sunday.
Teenagers and Lockdown (Melinda Stylo)
Teenagers are fascinating. As a secondary school teacher, I loved watching them change from being big kids in year 7 to adults in year 13. To see them begin to think for themselves, challenge ideas and boundaries, and to observe how friends become stronger influences with regards to confidence, opinions, identity and even beliefs, has always been exciting to me. I have lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had with concerned parents, assuring them that it is normal that their teenagers want to spend so much time with their friends and so little time with their families.
Well, life is not normal right now. I live with an easy-going, quietly self-confident teen, and yet this lockdown seems to have affected her more than the rest of us. Physical contact with her friends is restricted and she is confined to spending an unnatural amount of time at home with her boring old family. In conversations with other parents, a common comment has been that their teenagers have struggled the most. I asked a few teens what their main frustrations were and was touched and humbled by some of their answers:
‘I’m worried that my friends will be different when I see them again.’
‘I hesitate when my mum asks me to go to the corner shop. I’m worried I’m going to make an old person ill.’
‘Will little kids think it is normal not to visit their grandparents?’ (The context of this one was a concern that young children won’t think it’s important to regularly visit grandparents.)
There was even a discussion about how the popular kids are coping, especially those whose self-confidence is based on the attention they get from being cool.
And they are missing their friends. We’re all missing our friends, but they are really missing their friends. In our house this has resulted in stroppiness, sulking and hibernation (not exclusive to the teenager, let me add). As parents, it’s not our job to try to replace their friends or remove all their frustrations, but there are things we can do. Genesis 3 is a tough read, but I have verse 9 highlighted in yellow in my bible (yellow is my favourite colour). Adam and Eve have just eaten from the only tree they were not allowed to eat from. Then they hear God walking in the garden and they hide from him. Verse 9 reads: ‘But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” ’ God the Father was looking for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He wanted to spend time with them. Maybe we should follow his example and seek to spend deliberate time with our teens, even when they try to avoid us. They’re not going far for a little while yet.
Also in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 6:5-7 says: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.’ In the New Testament, Jesus makes it clear that this is the most important command and right now we have so many opportunities to impress this on the teenagers in our families – while we are sitting at home with them, taking our daily exercise with them, hugging them goodnight and dragging them out of bed in the morning. The way you impress this on your teens will depend on your family situation and where your teenagers are in relation to their faith. If they are resistant it may simply be a case of you doing your Bible reading in the same room as them, modelling how you are trying to love God. Talking to other Christian parents of teens can help with ideas and encouragement.
In the New Testament, the author of Hebrews encourages his readers with this: ‘And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.’ This is true for teenagers too, but as parents we may need to take the initiative in helping them keep this up. It is so important that some of those friends that become ever more influential are Christians too. For those in years 7-9, there is a regular Zoom meeting at 4pm on Fridays with a quick Bible study and a game, and the various Growth Groups for years 10-13 are continuing on Zoom too. Contact for more information.
Finally, pray. Pray for them, pray for their friends, pray for your relationship with them and pray for their relationship with Jesus. And know that we are praying for you too.
George Floyd and Racism (Will Stileman)
I will proclaim the name of the LORD.
Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
upright and just is he. (Deuteronomy 32:3-4)
The horrific murder of George Floyd whilst in police custody has sparked not only days of protests and rioting in the US, it has also led to protests in the UK.
Having watched the New York Times report of George Floyd’s death on YouTube and having followed some of the media reports in recent days, I thought it would be good to share some thoughts I have had with my brothers and sisters at St Mary’s.
My good friend and fellow pastor, Richard Coekin, has written a brilliant and helpful blog in response to the death of George Floyd. Do please read it here, I totally share Richard’s sentiments, and I don’t intend to regurgitate them.
The issue of racism that George Floyd’s murder has brought to the surface needs addressing because it is alive and kicking in Maidenhead, and affects all of us.
Just this morning I was speaking to a member of St Mary’s about his reaction to George Floyd’s death. He himself has suffered racism growing up in the UK and one of his children experienced overt racism whilst at school earlier this year. We cannot bury our heads in the sand, thinking “this isn’t a problem with which I need to engage.”
Racism is a great evil because it is a pernicious lie fuelled by fear and self-interest. How can any of us treat other people whom God made in his image and for whom Christ died as somehow inferior? When God is committed to having a multinational, multiracial community living with him in the New Creation, how can we be content to have only friends from the same ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds as ourselves?
I am thrilled that over the last eighteen years St Mary’s has become more racially diverse, yet I am also acutely aware that our staff team is currently exclusively white.
In light of all this can I urge us all to reflect on the evils of racism and to question whether we carry any unconscious, racial biases. One of the ways to do this is to talk to our brothers and sisters at St Mary’s from a BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) background about any experiences they have had of racism and how they cope with it. Can I also suggest that those of us with children talk about what happened to George Floyd. I am sure that many of them have heard about it and it is good for them to see how the Christian message directly challenges the evil of racism. Above all let us be praying that the God of justice will give us all a greater love for his justice and truth.
Taking Stock and Planning Ahead (Will Stileman)
It has been over two months since we have been doing church in lockdown. It has involved a huge amount of adjustment from all of us. A few of us may be thriving in this situation but many of us, including the vicar, have been finding it hard.
However, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we keep pointing each other to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is in sovereign control of this universe and history. In Jesus, God has demonstrated his incomparable love for us, and he has proved his faithfulness to his promises. Because of Jesus, God will never leave us or forsake us.
As a staff team, we have been reviewing our church’s ministry since lockdown and we would love constructive criticism and feedback on what is being provided. Some of the questions we have been reflecting on are as follows:
- How can we make our online services more relational?
- How engaged are people with what we are currently doing?
- How can we better support those who are struggling?
- How can we better support those who seem to be drifting away from church?
To help answer these and other questions we will be sending out a questionnaire with the weekly email in the next couple of weeks. It will help us enormously if you could spare 10 minutes to fill it in.
Another matter we are giving thought to is what we will be able to provide when lockdown measures begin to ease. All the evidence shows that lockdown measures will be in place for many months and that there will only be a gradual easing of them. Please pray that the staff team and the PCC would have wisdom on this.
Every summer there are changes to the staff team and this year is no exception. Charlotte Faulkner, who has been a junior ministry trainee this past year, will be heading off to university at the end of August. James Howick, who joined our youth minister in training scheme last September has decided not to continue for a second year and will return to his roots in West Sussex. We are so grateful for all that Charlotte and James have been contributing to the life of St Mary’s these last 9 months. We are grateful that we will enjoy their continued support for a further two months in James’ case and three in Charlotte’s.
They will leave quite a gap, but at the end of August Nick McDonald will be joining us as a children’s minister in training working alongside Kate Wheatley.
Nick is a qualified primary school teacher. He is also Angie and Neil McDonald’s eldest son, so he knows St Mary’s quite well!
These last few weeks I have been reading and meditating on Psalm 90. It is worthy of careful study. I have been making the final verses into a personal prayer for the staff team and for the whole church family:
Relent, O LORD! How long will it be?
Have compassion on your servants.
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
for as many years as we have seen trouble.
May your deeds be shown to your servants,
your splendour to their children.
May the favour of the Lord our God rest on us;
establish the work of our hands for us –
yes, establish the work of our hands.
With love and best wishes,
Parenting Matters 2 (Sally Jennings)
Over 60 St Mary’s members met on Monday evening via Zoom (with the added bonus that nobody needed a babysitter) for the second instalment of “Parenting Matters” led by Mel Lacy, and this time the topic was: How do we raise our children for Christ in a confusing age?
Mel works for the charity Growing Young Disciples, whose aim is to train, equip and resource those working with children in churches. For the past 11 years she has also been Director of Youth and Children’s Training at Oak Hill College in London.
Her previous session back in January explored how we can help our children develop robust identities, through recognising that they are made in the image and likeness of God. This session considered how we can help our children relate to others and relate to a world that is becoming increasingly confusing and hostile to the gospel.
Mel made the point that our children are growing up within a postmodern worldview that teaches that there is no over-arching truth, but instead allows people to create their own truth systems: ‘my truth is what I say’. It is hard therefore for children to engage evangelistically if they feel they cannot question anyone else’s beliefs. Breakout groups enabled deeper discussion of these issues and we explored the pressures that our children may face as they grow up as Christians.
We were challenged, whatever the age of the children in our care, to model right attitudes and behaviour to them – they copy our good habits as well as our bad ones! She used Jesus’ example in Matthew 9:35 to encourage us, and our children, to have a heart of compassion for the lost, and for those who are different from us. She spoke of the importance of balancing a robust belief with a compassionate heart for others. Practical suggestions included praying with our children for our neighbours, for their school friends and for others we meet. We were asked to consider how, as a family, we interact and spend time with people who are different from us - do we have a heart of criticism and complaint, or a heart of compassion like Jesus?
Finally, our prayer for our children should be that they grow up compassionate rather than judgmental, gracious rather than critical, and other-centred rather than self-centred.
The talk was recorded and is available to listen to. Please sign in to the website to listen here.
Save the date - the third session of Parenting Matters with Mel Lacy on raising kids to be discerning will be on 28th September 2020.
Mel Lacy’s book recommendations:
- The Gospel Comes With A House Key by Rosaria Butterfield
- Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman
Update from David and Naomi Lower
Dear Maidenhead friends,
Warm greetings to you from the sunshine coast of Essex!
Maidenhead was our first home as a married couple from 2003 to 2008, and St Mary’s was our church for that time. It was Will who helped to persuade David to explore becoming a vicar and after jumping through the Church of England hoops we changed career and moved to Oxford for two years at theological college.
From Oxford we moved to Leicestershire for David to complete his curacy in the United Benefice of Sileby, Cossington and Seagrave, three villages between Leicester and Loughborough. It was a happy time and good to be doing gospel ministry. We were trained by a great incumbent, supported by a kind church family and had opportunities to learn and experience all aspects of ordinary parish ministry. Kezia (now 13) was able to attend the village primary school across the road and two years later Anna (11) followed on. It was in Leicester that Jonathan (9) was born and we grew to enjoy watching the Leicester Tigers.
In 2014 we moved from Leicestershire - nearly the furthest place from the sea - to the road parallel to the coast in the lovely and highly underrated seaside town of Clacton-on-Sea. We have been here for coming up to six years running a small church of about 80 adults and 15 children.
When we arrived our three children, then four when Zachary (5) was born, were the only young people in the church. There was no children’s work on a Sunday or midweek, no outreach, little contact with the local schools, a messy service pattern and many other issues to resolve... there was however, a lot of potential. Six years on, despite discouragements along the way, we now have a weekly toddler group, an after school club, youth group and Sunday club, lunch club and monthly all-age services with food prepared in our new kitchen. The service pattern has changed, the website relaunched, the schools now visit at Easter, Christmas, Harvest and for their annual leavers’ assembly. Most importantly the word of God has been preached. We now employ a part time youth and children’s worker. It has been hard work and lonely at times, but the sun shines a lot, the beach is on the door step and God has provided all we have needed, especially strength and patience. Whilst our Sunday attendance is smaller than we would like, we do have connections in the community and many opportunities to share the gospel.
Since March we have adapted our services. Each week an audio service is produced for the website and we burn 20 CDs for people who have no internet access. Our youth and children’s work has gone online in the form of weekly videos. Our greatest lockdown encouragement has been using Zoom for a new weekly Bible study group and virtual coffee after church at home on a Sunday. We have been building up a large fringe of people over the years – please pray that they all bounce back when normal life resumes.
Grace in hard places (Will Stileman)
As the misery caused by this Coronavirus pandemic increases and we get more and more fed up and more and more desperate, we may find ourselves complaining to God and asking why he is allowing all this. And that is a good thing to do. As we have been seeing in Psalms 13, 42 and 43, God wants us to take our misery and complaints to him as we cry out to him in faith.
But not only does God encourage us to cry out “Why?” he also gives us some answers. For instance, when we looked at Genesis 3, we saw that all the sufferings and hardships we experience in this present age are ultimately a consequence of humanity’s sinful rebellion against God. This is a fallen, broken world under the judgement of God. This world with all its evil and suffering is not as God created it; nor is it as it will be when Christ returns to usher in the new creation.
But even in his judgments God acts out of love and grace. There is a section in the Old Testament book of Amos, where God declares to wayward Israel how he sent them calamity after calamity and after each section he declares, “…yet you have not returned to me.” God’s purpose in his judgements is never just to punish, he also longs to save. We see this supremely in the cross of Jesus, where God in his righteous and holy justice punishes sin; but Jesus bears it in our place so that we can enjoy God’s salvation.
So, this Coronavirus pandemic is one of the consequences of humanity’s sinfulness, but God in his sovereignty and love has allowed it to take place to awaken many people from their complacency so that they might seek his face in repentance and faith.
God is also using the pandemic to refine and purify his people. The apostles Peter, Paul and James all make that point in their letters. Hardship is never wasted in God’s economy. Trials expose our sins and weaknesses, they also grow our reliance on God and provide a rich training ground for us to develop the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit. God longs for us discover in our trials how he can change us and bless us.
‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.’ (James 1:2-4)
May God’s grace be at work in all of us in this crisis to make us more like Jesus.
St Mary's White Waltham Update (Dave Atallah)
Like all churches, adapting to life in lockdown has been complex, and with a small team, the workload in getting things together is high.
We give thanks to God for the people here, including the Crofts, who have made it possible to get content for services online, to have the right licences in place and from Easter we have had recorded services going public. We have also produced amazing sessions for children every week - if you have a look you might recognise some of the Maidenhead church family helping out. For a small church, we continue to punch way above our weight, and we pray that God will bring fruit and growth from this season.
At Easter, the heads of our two local schools gave the Bible readings at our All Age service and the service went out in both those schools’ communications. The result was that many more people heard the good news of Easter (and saw an egg land on my head) than would have done otherwise.
We have also produced a couple of assemblies, which have been picked up by the linked schools and we pray may be seen wider.
We give thanks that our congregation has adapted to new technology pretty quickly, we were able to hold a PCC meeting very early on, and parish business and other meetings have been able to continue. We work at keeping in touch with those for whom the technology is too difficult through a weekly delivery of hardcopies of church news.
We are currently running three courses. The “Identity Course” is an introduction course based in John’s gospel with other questions in parallel; in two sessions we have looked at the trinity, science and religion, other religions and God's rescue in Jesus. The “Bible Course” helps people to get to grips with the whole Bible story. We also have midweek discussions in the Romans passages from our current sermon series. Several people who have never done so before have been able to take part in these, which is very exciting.
Please pray for us as we seek to grow our connection to the parish. We have lost our distribution of the parish magazine, so we are thinking of how to connect with local people through Facebook and other means. It is exciting that twice as many people 'follow' our Facebook page as ever come to church, and we pray that it may become a hub of community news, and so an effective way of continuing to be salt and light in our parish.
Please pray for the heating project, which continues in planning. We nearly have the quotes we need to decide on a plan and go to tender and apply for the diocesan legalities. We will then need to raise the money. I am still hopeful we may not freeze this coming winter and also be able to open up the entrance area a bit to be more welcoming.
Please pray for continued understanding of others. We have been struck by how different people's experiences are right now. Some are lonely and struggle to find structure and connections in the day. Some, like my own family, are trying to cope with the work commitments of two parents, home schooling, and somehow staying sane. Our video group meetings include a regular slot ‘after church’ on Sundays which has been a vital lifeline in sharing some of the successes and challenges. We pray we continue to share the responsibility for each other in the strength that Jesus gives.
Update from Daniel and Camille Bauhahn
Dear St Mary’s,
It has been about a decade since we moved away from St Mary’s, venturing tentatively towards adulthood and away from the sunny south. Both Camille and I, accompanied by our respective families (or was it the other way around?) had arrived at St Mary’s a little over a decade earlier in the pre-Stileman era. Through those intervening years we experienced the highs and lows of integrating back into British culture, school, adolescence, friendships, family and all the other drama that accompanies life; all the while being loved and nourished by the Lord at St Mary’s.
Looking back, we can see how formative our time at St Mary’s was. We can see the ways in which the Lord used so many at St Mary’s through loving friendship and service, often in very ordinary ways, and through faithful Bible teaching, to bring us to where we are today as adults who love Jesus and enjoy him. It wasn’t always in the moment that the fruit of those conversations or observations or time in the Bible came to be, in fact it was often a number of years later. But it has been a joy to see the seeds that were planted during those years sprouting and bearing fruit.
Having left our families in Maidenhead, both Camille and I found ourselves in Manchester. There we pursued our studies with varying degrees of vigour and enthusiasm, coming out the other end with degrees. But the fruit of those years was not just the customary picture on the wall wearing a fancy hat and robes whilst holding a rolled-up certificate, (I seem to remember it was actually a plastic pipe because it was deemed more photogenic). We also grew in our faith and maturity as Christians, with our church family in Manchester at Holy Trinity Platt, building further on the foundations that had been set in the years before. I also managed somehow to convince Camille that marrying me, the kid from her childhood, was an entirely reasonable proposition. I needed a couple of pitches to get it started, but as they say, “if at first you don’t succeed,” anyway I digress.
Five years ago we moved to Nottingham, where I took up a job in an engineering consultancy firm for power stations and Camille continued her nursing practice.
Two kids later we find ourselves back in the south at Oak Hill College under lockdown, preparing for what the Lord has in store for us in the years to come. Recent weeks have looked somewhat different from when we started the academic year – all of my lectures are online and like much of the world “Zoom” has entered into my most-used words of the day vocabulary. It’s a strange season. For us each day seems to feel the same, and even though we’re at home most of the time – it’s tiring. It took me the whole of April to realise that an email I received on 1st April was actually an April Fool’s Day joke (turns out the onsite gym hasn’t been packed up into a van to make house calls … I did think that was a bit weird)! Camille is working a couple of days a week in the local ICU and during those days I step away from the screen and spend my time with Elsa (3) and Titus (1). However, it’s hard – sometimes it feels like preparing for the years ahead seems untenable – keeping on top of today is work enough. We would love to have greater freedom and be able to set our own agenda, yet it seems that the Lord wants to teach us patience, to be content in the present, to live within our means as they are right now (not what they might be relaxed to in the future) and to press on with the mundane and ordinary.
I’m sure for each of us, the Lord is planting seeds, aspects of that can sometimes hurt or be frustrating, but in their season the fruit of the harvest is a joy to behold and a cause for delight in the Lord. So entrusting ourselves and our circumstances to the Lord let’s keep going and ‘be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer’ (Romans 12:12).
Daniel, Camille, Elsa and Titus Bauhahn.
Relationships in Lockdown (Rachel Meynell)
This is an unprecedented time, with literally half the world’s population sharing the experience of virus-caused restrictions. Some of us are completely isolated, battling loneliness and its many resulting stresses. Others are confined with family or friends, with no possibility of having a break from one another.
It is with them in mind that I reread a favourite book, ‘Relationships: A Mess Worth Making’ by Lane and Tripp, and from which I was reminded of some especially helpful truths. (I have one caveat: I am not talking about abusive relationships, they require a very different approach, so if you find yourself in one, please do get help from church or another organisation).
The Bible assumes that relationships will be messy. Why else would it be full of commands for us to be patient and kind, and to love one another? All of these are vital when two or more sinners are seeking to get on together. We will all be sinned against and we will all sin against others. So the question is, as lockdown heightens tensions, how will we respond?
Here are some pointers to help us:
- The Lord makes no mistakes
He has good reasons for giving us those we live and work with. This is true both in the closest relationships we have as well as with those we know less well, colleagues or people from our growth groups for example. God’s agenda in each one of us is to make us more like him, and relationships are a very effective school of holiness. The fact that God is doing a work in me is a huge encouragement when relationships are hard. Because in the midst of messy relationships, as our heart’s desires are exposed, we come to the end of ourselves and we reach out to God for help.
- The Lord provides his resources
In his Word and by his Spirit, we have God’s resources for coping and growing. We are not alone as we seek to be godly when it is hard. He is with us and is helping us through. He sees when we bite back an angry word and show patience with our children. We are changed, and in God’s economy that is never wasted.
- The Lord has forgiven us
As we all know, forgiveness is costly. It involves cancelling a debt and absorbing the cost of that debt ourselves - showing mercy, in other words. But in the gospel, as we remember all that Jesus has forgiven us for and the vastness of his mercy to us, he makes it possible for us to be merciful to others too. We are free to serve because he served us, free to love because he loved us first. What a wonderful Saviour we have.
- The Lord understands our pain
Our God knows all about difficult and trying relationships. Just take one example: one of Jesus’s closest friends couldn’t stop himself sleeping and then pretended never to have met him, right at his moment of greatest need. He gets it. Jesus was utterly alone as he died on the cross. He knows first hand the loneliness of messy relationships, and he recognises our struggles.
It probably takes an act of the imagination to believe that things could be different in some of our relationships. Things might be very hard, but knowing that God is at work in us gives us hope. When enabled by his grace we respond with love to an angry loved one, we are working from the same script as our loving creator. He knows what is best and is indeed working for our good in all things, especially in those tricky relationships. Whatever is going on around us, and however others respond to us, God is at work in us and he is honoured when we seek to put him first, especially when it is humanly impossible.