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.
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St Mary's Buddy System (Jon Drake)
Have you ever been scuba diving? I have only done it once, on holiday, and it was amazing! The instructor taught my fellow divers and me to use a buddy system. We formed pairs and each pair stayed together to support one another while we were under the sea.
This winter, with its Covid restrictions, will be a challenging time for us all practically, relationally and spiritually. To help us through this time we are introducing a St Mary’s Buddy System. The idea is for individuals or households to pair up to support each other spiritually, in other words to help each other in our relationship with God. To start with the buddy link would be for six months.
Every buddy relationship will be different depending on the size of your household, your time and your wishes. We can support each other either with in-person meetings or phone calls depending on Covid regulations and our own preferences. A buddy relationship could include any of the following:
- Dads and kids or mums and kids meeting up in the park for fellowship and fun.
- Supporting each other in life’s challenges with sympathetic listening and prayer either on the phone or face to face.
- Meeting up for a coffee or a drink (either as whole households or just the mums or just the dads).
- Praying together once a month, or more often if you like, either face to face or on the phone.
- Getting together to read the Bible, perhaps using some simple Psalms studies we can provide.
- Watching the service online or at church and then chatting on the phone about what God has said to you in his word.
Some of these things may be very new to you, in which case we would aim to pair you with someone more experienced.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have someone looking out for your relationship with God? And to have someone you are looking out for in this way?
We would like as many people as possible to be involved in the buddy system, and we are keen that no-one who would like to be part of it is missed out. If you would like to be involved, either as an individual or as a household, please tell your congregation leader. We will then suggest a buddy for you and will try to pair up people who already have some connection with each other.
8am Congregation – email@example.com
9.15am and 11am Congregation – firstname.lastname@example.org
4pm Congregation – email@example.com
6.30pm Congregation - firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday School Restart (Kate Wheatley and Friends)
We are very excited that Sunday School can restart this Sunday the 25th.
Some of our leaders have put together a short video which we hope will encourage your children to come along. Do click on the link below to watch.
Hoping to see you very soon,
Kate and the team.
Encouraging One Another (Heidi Cooper)
It’s hard to keep going on our own during hard times. God knows this, which is why we are spurred on to keep meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). But during these past few months, and even now when we have restrictions on our ability to meet up with people, how can we be supporting and encouraging one another?
For Eileen Grant, receiving a card with a Bible verse from a young person she knew in the 20s to 30s age group, was a simple act that lifted her spirits in tough times. It was delivered during lockdown, when she was unable to go anywhere or meet anyone. Knowing that someone was caring and thinking about her, reminded her that God is always thinking about her. Receiving that card was as powerful as if someone had come to share a sermon with her on her doorstep. She was very touched by the card, still keeps it by her bedside and often looks at it. Another lady from church received a card with a Bible verse from a friend. She’s battling at the moment, and unable to concentrate enough to read her Bible each day, but each morning she starts her day, reading that verse.
If you’d like to encourage our church family, please use these verses on a card to send to someone, or a verse that’s encouraged you. We’d love to be growing as a body of Christ. If you have any experiences of how someone has encouraged you over the past few months, or if you have any suggestions about small things that can transform someone’s day, please do share your story with .
Do print out the verses and stick them on card:
Outreach Through Gospel Organisations (Melinda Stylo)
At St Mary’s, our vision is To know Jesus and to make Jesus known. As part of this we support various missionaries both here in the UK and abroad. To find out more about our Mission Partners, log in to the website and look under the resources tab. There you will find some information and the latest prayer points.
There are also several Gospel Organisations based in the UK that seek to reach the nation and the world with the message about Jesus. Here is some information about the ones that St Mary’s is supporting:
- We run Christianity Explored courses at St Mary’s every term (contact if interested), but as an organisation they have three core resources: Christianity Explored, Life Explored and Discipleship Explored. They also work with overseas partners to deliver their resources in different languages. In fact, 90% of the Christianity Explored series is run outside of the UK.
- Church Pastoral Aid Society Ventures is an organisation that runs camps for young people aged 8-18. They are led by committed Christian leaders who have a passion for sharing the good news of Jesus with young people through the environment of a fun activity holiday. Ventures have been running for over 50 years and St Mary’s has been supporting them for 22 years.
- 9:38. This organisation takes its name from Matthew 9:38, ‘Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.’ 9:38’s main work is running conferences for Christians which give them the opportunity to consider full-time gospel ministry. They also support apprentices and churches by offering advice and resources for apprentice schemes and supporting church-based events that give people an opportunity to move a step forward in exploring how they might maximise their gospel ministry.
- Anglican Mission in England is an Anglican mission society that seeks to spread the gospel of the Lord Jesus through church planting. They are committed to supporting Anglican churches and individuals, both outside and within the structures of the Church of England. AMiE came into being as a result of GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference) and is one of a number of agencies connected to GAFCON UK.
- Global Anglican Future Conference is a global organisation representing Anglicans throughout the world, with the aim of restoring the Bible to the heart of the Anglican Communion. It works to guard and proclaim the unchanging, transforming Gospel through biblically faithful preaching and teaching, and to provide an effective voice against moral compromise, doctrinal error and the collapse of biblical witness in parts of the Anglican communion.
- South Central Gospel Partnership. The SCGP is a group of evangelical churches in the south-central region of England working together to promote the gospel of Christ. Building on relationships that have grown through the South Central Ministry Training Course (MTC), this gospel partnership initiative formalises the friendship between like-minded churches in the region. As well as running the MTC course, SCGP provides occasional events to strengthen church leaders and members.
- Oak Hill College serves the church of Jesus Christ by preparing men and women for a lifetime of Christian ministry and mission leadership in Britain and around the world. Oak Hill students specialise in pastoral ministry, cross-cultural ministry, or ministry to children and young people. Oak Hill provides full-time and part-time training to almost equal numbers of independent and Anglican students. The training includes theological study, church placements, and an emphasis on formation for ministry and personal growth in spiritual maturity.
Let us be praying for these organisations as they seek to spread the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Update from Trinity@4 Henley (Sam Brewster)
Dear St Mary's friends,
We are always so grateful for your prayers and support. It's been a stretching few months for us, as I'm sure it has been for everyone, and we remain very aware of our weakness and of our need for the Lord's protection and provision. I have no doubt that your prayers play a significant role in that.
So, a brief update, followed by a few points for prayer.
We are doing ok! The major news is the addition of Barnabas Brewster, who arrived more or less at the same time as national lockdown, on 1st April (no joke). He has been a true son of consolation over these past months, even amidst all the normal pressures a new baby brings. Amelie has now started Year 1, and Joanna it seems is happily taking charge of things in her final year of pre-school. Whilst Barney's arrival coincided with navigating church into lockdown, a house move in July coincided with navigating church back into physical services! All of this, it must be said, has left us all pretty exhausted, and we were very pleased for a full month off in August to recover.
We're very happy in our much more permanent home, and it's quite wonderful how in such a short time, the Lord has provided so wonderfully in so many ways. It feels like two years of solid foundations have been laid, and we are now well established, by his grace, to keep building.
We continue to give thanks for a happy, united, and growing church family. There have been some significant challenges over the past months, but generally we look back with thanks. Our Ministry Trainee for children's ministry, Peter Greenman, has been a huge blessing and begins his second year with us. Vic Henshall continues to serve in our music ministry with great energy and passion. (Vic is unlikely to let something as minor as a pandemic and the banning of congregational singing to get in the way too much.)
On Sunday 25th October, we are moving venue, from Holy Trinity to Christ Church Henley. We still remain closely affiliated with Holy Trinity, but we pray the facilities at Christ Church will be much more suitable for our work with the growing number of children and young people who come along with their families. Long term our hope is to work in partnership with Holy Trinity towards a revitalisation of the pre-existing ministry at Holy Trinity. This is an exciting opportunity and one that requires much wisdom and provision from the Lord.
Please pray for us
- Pray for us all personally after a full-on 6 months
- Pray for the logistical issues associated with moving venue, and the simultaneous re-starting of our Sunday children's groups
- Pray that God would continue to use Trinity at Four to build his kingdom of life and grace in Henley
- Pray for wisdom as we plan towards a revitalisation of Holy Trinity; pray this would be a big gain for the kingdom here for many years to come
We always love hearing from you, and if you want more specific updates on any of the above, I would be delighted to hear from you.
Much love from us all,
Update from St Mary's White Waltham (Dave Atallah)
Life for everyone has been a bit strange recently. And no less in church life. At White Waltham Church we were online with recorded video content until September. This included children’s work videos, all age services, and even some assemblies for the local schools and other contacts – have a look at the Families page on our website under Stories and Assemblies.
In September we ventured back into church, and despite masks, social distancing, one-way systems and lack of singing (apart from when I forgot), things seem to have gone well and people seem to be happy and encouraged to be back together. As are those who need to stay away but watch on the livestream. We are following the same theme (Kingdom Parables of Jesus) in our sermons as the Discoverers Sunday School group is doing so we can introduce or recap together as one church family. The Discoverers group (one bubble of 15) takes children from school year 1 to year 6, and we are prevented from running a creche. It is difficult for those with younger children, even with shorter services, but we provide ‘happy bags’ of toys, they can watch the pre-recorded Sunday school session on screens they bring with them, they are encouraged to have snacks, and sometimes have craft materials. The service has included some sign language to songs, and scripture read to each other to enable us all to take part as much as possible. It also includes our secondary school age kids, so we have aimed to be a bit more interactive and to make good use of the screen.
It looks a bit like this:
Do continue to pray for us. It was a huge effort by the group involved in getting our new processes up and running. It feels like the dust is finally settling, and that things are working so we begin to look ahead, please pray for the energy to do more than just manage, and more than just look after ourselves. There are new restrictions and opportunities in this season, please pray that we would discern what is good and what is best. Please pray that we would continue to look after our small team bringing glory in how we rest in Him and His plans and don’t seek to do too much. Pray for wisdom and communication as we review the first month and look to the term ahead. Please pray that our online ‘Community News’ reaches as many people as possible in the absence of our delivered Parish Magazine. May we be a hub of community, and so reach many people with the gospel invitation and with practical help and care at this time.
By the time you read this we will have had our all age Harvest celebration service on Sunday 27th September, which hopefully started outside enjoying God’s creation, before moving inside for talks and crafts. We have a Vision Sunday and APCM on 11th October with the themes of prayer and care from the end of Galatians. We have another all age service on 25th October. As yet we are unsure how we will do the morning Remembrance Sunday service, but we aim to repeat this on the evening of Sunday 8th November, a reflective service remembering and giving thanks for those we have lost and the encouragement of the hope that is only found in Jesus.
I still aim to take opportunities in schools, whether through video assemblies, or in-person visits where possible. Most other things such as groups, courses and meetings need to continue on Zoom. We may run a Marriage Course on Thursday evenings as a way to try and bring God’s blessing to our community, alongside our bible study groups in the Lord’s Prayer which will also be the focus of our sermons in November and December.
Update from Windsor Fellowship Church (Paul Williams )
We have been through an uncertain period over the last six months, but we are encouraged by some recent events. We moved to the Windsor United Reformed Church at the end of August, after our regular venue remained shut because of Covid-19. This has been a great blessing as we are right in the heart of Windsor. We do pray that we would be able to continue there for the next six months, though we are waiting on confirmation of that. We had 50 people at a recent service which filled the church under social distancing measures, and we have been particularly encouraged to have welcomed two new couples in recent weeks as well as a homeless man who came along having been invited by one of our regulars.
We have established an Electoral Roll, have had feedback from the church on our ‘parish profile’ for the new minister and are getting set to advertise. We are liaising with the bishop about how we should proceed with this.
We very much value your prayers for the coming period and for your support of us. We have been hugely grateful to St Mary’s for providing us with our weekly preachers and we rejoice in our partnership in the gospel with you all.
Looking Back (Charlotte Faulkner)
It’s safe to say that this year has not gone as any of us imagined. As I look back it feels almost like it’s been two years not one, because things changed so much.
As I began working for St Mary’s in September last year, I was looking forward to trying new things and learning more about God and Jesus. I thought I had a good idea of what I would be doing each week: helping at Stepping Stones, Baby café, 7 up, X Focus, Pathfinders and Explorers. I would be going to Oxford to do the Ministry Training Course and writing/delivering my own talks and bible studies. I would be doing things around the church site like setting the hall up for the next group. All the things that I had seen Zach and Celine do before me.
And for just over six months, September to March, that’s what it was like and it was great! I loved the range of things I was involved in. But what I loved the most was the people I met, grew closer to and worked with. So many people with a genuine love for Jesus and for each other, all who are completely different and yet are all united as brothers and sisters. While I’m looking forward to meeting a new church family in Nottingham, I’m definitely going to miss this one.
Some particular highlights from this time include:
- Holiday Club, always just so much fun!
- Junior Youth Weekend Away
- Christmas services
- Real Lives
The main thing I’ve learnt over the past few years is that God has a plan for you that is probably quite different from the one you have for yourself. At the end of March as we went into lockdown, the routine I had made and was quite happy with was gone and I had no idea what the next weeks and months would look like, but God did.
Of all the skills I would have put on my CV back in 2019, video production wouldn’t have been one. And so, my week changed to look more like this: Bible studies, Zoom Growth Group, write an update letter for people not connected to the internet, film the craft for Sunday school, edit the video and send it off. Once a month I would write family focus, film family focus, edit it and send it off. Sometimes I did filming for Toddlers too. It was different and new, but as I did it I grew to enjoy this work as much as doing these things in person.
Lockdown also meant that I was able to take more time for myself and grow in my personal relationship with God. He challenged me and made me face things I didn’t want to, but he was there with me through it to the other side. He used this time to strengthen me in my faith.
As I remember this experience, I go to university knowing that things most certainly won’t go as I expect but that God has planned it for good. It’s weird to have finished working for St Mary’s but I’m so thankful for all that the staff team and the church family have done for me. And I’ll still be back in the holidays, so I look forward to seeing you all then!
Christianity Explored (Jo Jobson)
When I heard that St Mary's was running a summer Christianity Explored course on Zoom, I was excited by the prospect - what a great opportunity to invite others who might not normally be able to come in person. There was someone overseas who I was hoping to ask. However, as I prayed for the Lord to give me the opportunity (& the courage) to invite, it became clear that this was not the right time for this person.
I have a close friend with whom I have spoken about Christianity and about her own different faith over the years and she has come to various events at St Mary's. I have prayed for some time that the Holy Spirit might touch her heart. We met up for a socially distanced lunch and in the course of this I just told her very matter-of-factly about the course - and she, equally matter-of-factly, said yes she'd like to come. I was quite surprised!
I have been on Christianity Explored courses before and doing one on Zoom is quite different, but after so many months of Zoom meetings, everyone is used to this ‘new normal'. There were a lot of us on the course, including several from overseas or from elsewhere in the UK, which is a huge advantage of this format. We met altogether on screen at the beginning of each session then we were split into three breakout rooms led by Ian, Tim and Helen for our discussions, coming back again briefly in the middle of the session to watch the video. We stayed in the same groups throughout the course and it was good to get to know the others in the group. It is quite hard to run the course on Zoom - all attendees can be confident that they will not be 'put on the spot' but this does mean that there can be silences after questions are asked, and it's much harder to gauge body language as to whether people are comfortable. However, God can work through this.
My friend really enjoyed the course, and it was a joy for me to be there with her. She is continuing with her exploration of the Christian faith. If you feel the Holy Spirit prompting you to ask someone - go ahead and do it! It is such good news that the work of opening people's hearts and eyes to Jesus, is up to Jesus himself and not up to us - but it's a great blessing for us when we can share in his work.
The next Christianity Explored course starts on Zoom at 8pm on Monday 5th October. Why not send this short film a friend with in an invitation? Contact email@example.com for more details.
Mission Hardship Fund (Will Stileman)
On Sunday 27th September we are having our annual Harvest celebration. Although most of us are not farmers and there is always food in the supermarkets, it is good and right that we take time to give thanks to God for the provision of our daily needs. God is the creator and sustainer of everything. It is ultimately down to him and not us that we have a roof over our head, food on the table and money in the bank.
And as God is generous and gives freely, so Christian people should be generous to those in need. As the Bible reminds us “God loves a cheerful giver.”
The Covid-19 crisis has caused widespread disruption, and a number of mission organisations are facing great hardships. So this year for our Harvest collection we are establishing a Mission Hardship Fund so that we can support any of our mission partners and gospel organisations with whom we have had contact which are facing financial difficulties.
If we are in the blessed situation of having a stable income it is likely that over the last six months we have become better off. Our expenditure will most probably have gone down whilst our income has remained the same. Praise God for that and prayerfully consider what you can give as ‘a thank offering’ at this time.
To make a Harvest gift via bank transfer, please transfer to the PCC account (Sort Code: 60-13-35, Account No: 64261883). Please use the reference HARVEST20.
May God be at work in us as a church so that we excel in this grace of giving.
Manuel Reynaga Obituary
It is with great sadness that we report the death in Peru of Manuel Reynaga from the Covid-19 virus. Manuel had links with St Mary’s for many years, due to the long friendship between his English wife Gay and Jill Coe (who moved from Maidenhead to Bridport a few years ago). They attended St Mary’s on many occasions and Manuel spoke several times about the work in Peru.
Manuel and Gay worked in the Peruvian evangelical church in Huancayo, a large city high in the Andes. In the mid 1980s the family spent three years in Ware in Hertfordshire, where Manuel studied at All Nations Christian College. On their return to Peru they found that the terrorist movement Shining Path, had murdered so many men from the surrounding villages that their widows and children were flocking to Huancayo for safety and were living in poverty in shanty towns. They felt strongly that God was calling them to help these people. After an unsuccessful attempt at starting an orphanage they realised that extended families wanted to care for the orphaned children themselves. So they set up the Peru Children’s Trust in 1992, calling on Gay’s many friends in the UK and elsewhere to sponsor children. The aims of the Peru Children’s Trust were, and still are, to give children an education, free access to medical care, and Christian teaching and counselling.
As time went by Manuel recognised the need for the children to have some vocational training in order to procure jobs when they left school. Initially he did this himself in his workshop in the garden. He soon developed the idea of building a training centre in the town and bought a plot of land towards the end of 2001. With the generous financial help from UK supporters and much prayer, the building work began. Manuel planned for workshops in carpentry, cookery, metal work, sewing and baking. Besides helping the children this provided work for many people at a time of great unemployment and at the opening ceremony Manuel was commended by the mayor of Huancayo for his contribution to the community.
Manuel and Gay continued to run the Peru Children’s Trust and the training centre for several more years. Sadly Gay died in 2007 but Manuel carried on the work with the help of the Peruvian trustees until he retired in 2011. Since then he had been working closely in an advisory capacity with the team, for whom his experience and knowledge has been invaluable.
Manuel was a true visionary, led by the Holy Spirit, with a generous nature which enabled him to fund some of the work himself. He was highly regarded in Huancayo as he touched and improved the lives of thousands of young people. He will be missed by many and long remembered.
Annual Parochial Church Meeting (Melinda Stylo)
It was lovely to see so many of the St Mary’s church family joining the Zoom Annual Parochial Church Meeting (APCM) on 3rd September to praise God for his goodness to us and listen to the ideas and plans for the next few months. At the Annual Vestry Meeting our two churchwardens were elected: Rae Binning and Damian Eustace. Scott Bedford, Karnie Sharp and Elna Strydom were voted onto the Parochial Church Council (PCC). We also elected two new Deanery Synod representatives: Daniel Matovu and Neil McDonald. Melinda Stylo is our new PCC secretary.
We are aware that some people were not able to join the meeting as our Zoom plan is limited to 100 participants. Others may not have been able to make the evening so we have put a recording of the whole meeting here (APCM 2020 - please log into the website to view) which will be available until 25th September. All the documents needed to follow the meeting, and the results of the elections, can be found here (log into the website to view).
Racial injustice Prayer Meeting (Heidi Cooper)
What does racism look like in the UK? For many, the UK may have looked like a well-adapted multi-cultural society without major prejudices, but there are members of our church family who have been subjected to racial discrimination in this country and have been praying for unity long before George Floyd’s death catapulted Black Lives Matter into the public domain. When I heard of a new initiative, to hold a church wide prayer meeting on the topic, I wanted to support this. But it’s also something I find very uncomfortable (Greg and I grew up in South Africa under the deeply unjust Apartheid regime). I confess that I was hoping I could find an excuse not to make it.
But wow! The meeting was one of the most powerful meetings I’ve attended at St Mary’s, and I wish we could all have been part of it.
Rachel Meynell led the evening in August. It was the first of six planned meetings, and they will be focussed on 5 Ls - Love, Listen, Learn, Lament and Leverage, from Mark Vroegop’s book Weep with Me. We started with Love; studying, thinking through and praying on Ephesians 2:14-22. We discussed Christ’s amazing role of unifying a divided society, preaching peace and building us up together, so that through our unity in a divided world, we may bring glory to him. It is always encouraging and humbling to see what Christ is achieving in us. Not a finished work yet, but building, changing and drawing us together powerfully through his Spirit. What a joy to marvel at this and listen to the prayers of our church family delighting in Jesus’ promises.
Moving on to Listen, we heard from Gracy Crane and Daniel Matovu. Gracy spoke about her personal experience of racism in her life and in her workplace, suggesting topics we could pray through. It was inspiring to hear her personal testimony. Faced with disappointments due to racist attitudes, she is choosing to serve Jesus rather than herself, longing for him to be made known rather than fighting for her own wounded pride. It’s a battle many of us will have wrestled with, in various areas of our lives, and was comforting to hear how the Lord is giving her the power to endure and serve him.
Daniel spoke of the systemic racism evident in the legal profession, and the challenges faced by differing cultures. He was the only black barrister in chambers with 59 other barristers. One example he shared was that at the start of a trial he would sometimes be tested by a judge on a point of law or other that would not need to be discussed, displaying the judge’s curiosity as to whether he was fit for his job. He was treated as an outsider because he looks different.
The evening was encouraging because of what Jesus is doing, and it was thought provoking. Greg and I had a long discussion afterwards, and we’ve had a few dinner table conversations with our children and their friends following on from it. Are we treating people as Jesus asks, with love, compassion and respect? Are we digging deeper to actively get rid of unconscious bias? And are we encouraging our children to do the same? Please do join us at the next meeting on 29th October. We will be hearing more testimonies, and as with all prayer evenings you will not be expected to pray out loud. You are most welcome to participate simply by listening.
Vicar's Annual Address (Will Stileman)
On Tuesday 17th March lockdown was announced and since then we have been constantly adapting as we do church in a Covid-affected world. We immediately moved to doing the whole of church online and as a result a huge amount of regular ministry has continued. Sunday services have been broadcast, Growth Groups have continued to meet, as have our courses, Christianity Explored, Christian Foundations, Life Matters events and much, much more. Since 19th July, as lockdown has been partially eased, we have been able to re-introduce some in-person services on Sundays while still maintaining the online provision.
It has been a huge team effort, involving many people putting in numerous hours of hard work. As a church we have continued to preach Christ and sought to look out for one another and care for those who are vulnerable. I want to pay particular tribute to our Growth Group leaders and members of the Congregation Oversight teams for their faithful labour in the Lord. I also want to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues on the staff team for their persevering service these past five and a half months. It hasn’t been easy; we have had moments of pressure and tension, but we have remained united in Christ and the Lord has brought us safely to this point.
However, one aspect of our church’s ministry has been particularly badly hit by Covid and that is our children’s and youth work. In recent years about 100 folk connected with St Mary’s would head off each summer to either attend or lead on Christian holiday parties for teenagers. For many this has been a highlight during which they have made great advances in their walk with the Lord Jesus. But this year all those summer camps have had to be cancelled. Similarly, we haven’t been able to hold Explorers Abroad or Holiday Club for our primary school aged children. Likewise, all our regular weekly children’s and youth clubs have had to stop. Zoom meetings may work quite well for adults but they are not good for children’s and youth ministry.
Initially, loads of people engaged with our online services but, as many other churches have experienced, there has been a gradual reduction in those numbers. I am greatly encouraged by those who are still actively engaging with church online and we have had a good start during the summer holidays getting to grips with the in-person services. But sadly, I am also only too aware of those who were more on the fringe of things with whom we have had no contact for weeks despite our best efforts to follow them up. I also suspect that a number of folk who would describe themselves as committed Christians are similarly in danger of drifting spiritually as they struggle with the restrictions on our worship. I don’t enjoy wearing a mask in church and if you have been on a screen all week in your work, I can see how tempting it is to give online church a miss. I fear that doing church online has caused a number of us to adopt a consumer mindset when it comes to church. Certainly, when you cannot meet in person, it makes it harder to recognise the body of Christ.
However, despite these challenges I am not discouraged. Jesus declared to the crowds: ‘All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day’ (John 6:37-39). Jesus is still building his church and neither Coronavirus nor the gates of hell will prevail against it. And just as I am conscious of some professing believers in danger of drifting, I am equally conscious of a number who have come to put their trust in Christ for the first time in the last five months.
How long we are going to remain in this semi-lockdown period only God knows, but even if an effective vaccine is approved by the end of this year, I suspect we will still have restrictions until next summer. Scientists have long predicted a rise in the number of Covid cases during the winter and so we need to set up a pattern of worship and activity which we can maintain for the duration of the crisis and which is also adaptable.
So let me outline what we are planning on doing. We will maintain our current pattern up until 18th October, although if demand for in-person services increases markedly we will seek to add another morning “Worship Together” service. But from 25th October we plan to go to our pre-Covid pattern of five Sunday services and restart in a limited way children’s groups during the Sunday services. The children’s groups will operate within government guidelines and will observe the hygiene and social distancing protocols. We will be aiming for the services to last about 50 mins and the format will be like our current online services, with music, family focus and an adult sermon.
It is our hope, if we can recruit enough AV operators, to live stream all these services so that those who have to continue to self-isolate can participate in real time online. And whatever happens, some of the services will be recorded and made available both on YouTube and our website so that they can be easily accessed by both St Mary’s members and others. At this point our pre-recorded online service will cease. However, the pre-recorded online Sunday School will continue each week, so that whether children join us in-person or worship at home with their parents, provision is made for them.
In short, we want to encourage everybody to be active in Sunday fellowship. We have established good hygiene and social distancing protocols at church and I am glad to report that they are being observed. Thank you so much to everyone for co-operating. This means that our church gatherings are as safe as they can be. So, the advice I am giving everyone is this - if you are willing and able to attend a supermarket for your shopping, you should be willing and able to attend church on Sunday. I think that is a useful guideline to help people decide whether or not they should start coming back to church.
We want you to give the staff team a problem. Some have told us that they are not booking to attend church on a Sunday as they don’t want to take the place of others. Please don’t do that. If you are willing and able to attend church in-person, book in. That is the only way we will know what we need to be providing. There are those in our church family who rightly need to self-isolate, but otherwise we should be seeking to meet together for mutual encouragement and to express our calling as part of Christ’s body.
The other thing we are hoping to establish in the next couple of months is a buddy system in which we link two households together. So that if things do deteriorate with Covid and there is another lockdown, we have an additional support mechanism in place. We all need the encouragement of Christian brothers and sisters so that we keep going with Christ and with his people at St Mary’s and do not drift.
With these new arrangements in place we will be providing a pattern of Sunday worship that is both flexible and sustainable. It encourages us all to engage with the body of Christ and yet it also provides for those who have to continue to self-isolate.
However, if we are going to achieve all this, we do need help. We need more people to act as stewards on Sundays, we need help leading our children’s groups and in particular we need to recruit a further ten people to help with AV. We want to make the experience of those worshipping online as engaging as possible and for that we do need people to operate our web cameras. Full training will be given, so please do volunteer for this if you can, and please make suggestions of who else you think would be able to help out with this ministry.
Finally, as a church, we continue to actively support other local churches: St Mary’s White Waltham, Windsor Fellowship Church, Trinity at Four in Henley and Blenheim Free Church. The Windsor Fellowship Church are needing a lot of support at the moment as their pastor, Pete Matthew, has just left to take up a new post in another church.
It is a huge privilege to the vicar of St Mary’s. Thank you for your partnership in the gospel.
Introducing ... Nick McDonald
My name is Nick McDonald, many of you will already know who I am as I grew up at St Mary's. Over the years, you may have seen me attending and then later helping out at Holiday Club, 7UP, and Explorers. In 2015, I moved to Canterbury to study Primary Education at university. I have since graduated and have been working for the past two years as a Year 5 teacher at a school in Gillingham in Kent. I am now moving back to Maidenhead to undertake an exciting new role. Starting in September, I will be training to be a Children's Worker at St Mary's.
Having grown up at St Mary's, I am hugely thankful to God for everyone who was involved in teaching me the amazing news about Jesus Christ over the years. I am blessed to have been brought up in a Christian home and to have a faith in Jesus from a young age. Having seen the value in teaching children about Jesus and helping them to discover him for themselves, I am incredibly excited to have the opportunity to do this.
I look forward to using and developing the gifts that God has given me to work with the children at St Mary’s and to teach them about him. Please pray that I will do this well and to the glory of God.
I am also really excited about the Cornhill Training Course in London that I will be attending (on Zoom for now). This will better equip me to understand and teach the Bible to others in different ways. I can't wait to develop my teaching skills and to practice giving talks to large groups, all for the glory of God. Please pray for me that I will learn well and become more confident in teaching the Bible to people.
I am really looking forward to seeing you all again, and to meeting some of you for the first time. Please feel free to say hi to me, or to introduce yourself to me. I can't wait to get to know more of you!
Update from Nicholas and Becca Edwards
Dear St Mary’s,
Becca moved to Maidenhead in 1989, aged four, and grew up in the church. I arrived after graduation in 2005 as an apprentice and left in 2007 just after we were engaged, to train as a primary school teacher.
After being married at St Mary’s in 2008 we spent three years living in Hertfordshire while Becca completed her training and internships with the Farm Team at the Royal Veterinary College, and I began a career in teaching. During our time in Herts, we were greatly edified by our time at Holy Trinity, Frogmore.
In 2011 Becca secured her first practice role as veterinary surgeon, so we moved to Towcester, Northamptonshire. We served at our local church where we were able to lead the children’s work for a time as well as Christianity Explored courses. With no evening services at Towcester, we sometimes took the opportunity to visit fellow ex-St Mary’s member Andy Byfield at Moulton Parish Church.
Our careers developed over time. Becca undertook further studies into camelid care and is now the go-to person in her practice and the local area for all things llama and alpaca. This has taken her far and wide, even to a conference in Ohio, USA. I ended up as head teacher of a primary school but, despite loving teaching, was persuaded to explore full time ministry again.
We moved to Oxford in 2018 for two years at theological college. Becca was able to commute to work from there, she worked part time so she could more meaningfully join in with college life as well as attend the South Central Ministry Training Course. While at college, our daughter Elizabeth came along.
Coronavirus and lockdown made our last term at Wycliffe quite different from what we had expected. Teaching went online, earplugs were bought in bulk to help with essay focus and we missed seeing our friends in 3D! Despite this, God taught us a lot. Thankfully all of our curacy arrangements had been made pre-COVID-19, so we were able to move in 2020 during lockdown to Moulton Parish Church.
It’s been interesting to observe how the church has adapted to the challenge and opportunities of ministering online, and to learn how to do this alongside the Moulton staff and church family, as well as my college friends. I confess that Becca and I have tuned in to some of your services too!
We trust that through lockdown the gospel will be heard by a wider audience and pray that God would soften hard hearts.
We’re looking forward to learning a great deal here at Moulton Parish Church. Our prayer is that we’d be equipped well for our future ministry and learn how to contend for the gospel within the Church of England.
Nic, Becca and Elizabeth Edwards
Praying for Real Change in Racial Equality (Daniel Matovu)
The Apostle Paul unequivocally condemned ‘slave traders’ as ungodly and sinful (1 Timothy 1:10). There is no place in the gospel of Christ for discrimination on the grounds of race. Most people recognise that overt racism is wicked; what is less well understood is the way in which structural or institutional racism operates, how widely it impacts the daily lives of so many of us insidiously. When a person says “I don’t see colour”, what that conveys to me is not a non-racist attitude but more a closing of the mind to the possibility of unconscious bias. We need to dig deeper to get rid of all forms of discrimination.
The Lord Jesus was, consciously, anti-racist as shown by his interaction with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in John 4 – the gospel writer expressly noted, for a reason, that Jews did not associate with Samaritans (John 4:9). Jesus, of course, readily associated with people from all backgrounds and of every status, including the wealthy and most respected (such as Nicodemus) and the poorest and most despised (beggars, prostitutes and tax collectors). Jesus does not care where you come from; he came to save the ‘lost’, whatever the colour of their skin, whatever their race, culture or background. Jews or Gentiles, all are welcome to receive the gift of eternal life, for God so loved the world, not a select portion of it.
Too little, for far too long, has been done to root out systemic racial inequalities in our society. All at St Mary’s are therefore invited to join in a new prayer initiative for those committed to pray for the promotion of racial equality and justice in every institution and across every sector, reflecting God’s mercy and love for all mankind equally. First meeting: Tuesday 18th August 2020 via Zoom from 8pm.
Do You Remember This? (Rae Binning)
Do you remember this?
Well, it is over half way through the year and I have been attempting to remember our 2020 verse from January. I was aware that I cannot properly remember it off by heart, and even now am struggling with it. I can remember it for a day, then it goes again, until the next time I review it.
During lockdown, when we are not easily able to meet up in person, falling back on encouragement from Scripture has been important to me and is helping me keep going when I have felt low or just a bit despondent and fed up. Memory verses have helped me focus on the truth, not on my feelings, and have also given me hope when I am feeling hope-less.
Seeing Scripture during the day is also good. I like getting my ‘verse of the day’ on my phone and having a quick pray because of it. Putting a verse up by your kettle can be a gentle reminder of a truth, or as a screensaver on your computer. We can encourage each other by forwarding truths from the bible too, especially if you are aware of someone in need. Another good way of getting Scripture into your head and heart without even realising it is through songs, especially some of the kids’ songs which contain so much truth.
There are many verses from Hebrews that I want to remember, but am going to review Romans 15:13 regularly too, so it does not keep disappearing from my mind. Maybe if you have never tried to memorise Scripture, this summer is a perfect time to begin. My brain is not what it was, but I am going to keep having a go and learn some new verses, I hope you can too.