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.
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.
Honesty - An Unexpected Benefit of Lockdown (Karen Martin)
We can no longer meet in person.
That statement of the obvious has repercussions in every single household. There are families who are battling the conflicting demands of home schooling and work. There are women whose careers have had equal priority with that of their husbands, but now find themselves confined to a domesticity they had previously rejected. There are husbands who find their jobs untenable with home working and who are now becoming teacher, cook and cleaner. There are those living alone and finding no break from their own company. Introverts who are tiring of the space created by living in our own heads for weeks on end. Extroverts who are sapped of energy with no-one else to provide stimulation and creativity. Couples whose love is being tested, confirmed and tested again when unadulterated by friendships outside the home. There are financial concerns, furloughs and uncertainty over future employment.
No one’s life is normal.
Some of us will be racked with concern, guilt and grief over our loved ones. Some of us are learning to relinquish control to the Saviour we have professed to trust for a long time.
But whatever our circumstances, there is a collectivity to our experiences. We are all home alone. We are all deprived of fellowship and daily contact with those outside our immediate household. And the result has been an outbreak of honesty. At Zoom coffee times we are meeting members of our own congregations who we have never spoken to before. We are sharing Covid-19 isolation stories. We are not chasing folk for rotas, or diary dates or simply making small talk with our friends.
Coronavirus has made us more real with one another. I have heard family stories that before have been held close to the chest. I have received a long email that picked up on some of my insecurities and pointed me back to the Lord. People have simply said “I am lonely.” Parents have admitted that life is very hard indeed. Teenagers have acknowledged their isolation when access to their friends is reduced to the technological.
Over Zoom coffee recently, someone suggested we should learn from this outbreak of honesty, this opportunity to expand our repertoire of Christian brothers and sisters. We bandied the idea that in the first quarter of an hour of coffee in-the-time-after-Covid-19 which surely must happen one day, we should be allocated a colour group and then join all others in that allocation to share family news, to pray, to discuss the teaching we have just heard. I can already feel the relief that everyone would have someone to chat to. No matter how long we have considered St Mary’s our home, negotiating coffee time is a pleasure that is laced with anxiety. So maybe we extend the symbol of the NHS rainbow and have a blue corner, a red one, a yellow one and a green. In essence, we have simulated breakout rooms.
But even if we can preserve the random connection of a breakout room, how do we preserve honesty once collectivity is gone? When normality resumes does I’m lonely become, I’m not good enough? Does my family life is difficult become I am failing as a wife, mother, husband, father?
For it is exactly because we are all under the same restrictions that there is suddenly freedom to express how we are all coping with it. Perhaps some families have been struggling for a while but have not been brave enough to voice it? Perhaps a marriage has been in difficulty for some weeks but the time for vulnerability has previously eluded us?
We all wear a mask in public, whether medical grade or not. We present a professional face at work, a mummy/daddy face to our children, a Christian face at church. When we arrived at St Mary’s over two decades ago, we thought everyone was sorted. Everyone knew Jesus as their absolute best pal and everyone had a hotline to God. I know now that that is not the case, but others are still fooled by our Sunday masks. Recently, a member of my own growth group expressed some relief that Bri and I were no more sorted than they were. We were contemplating moving away and were deeply confused as to the right path to take.
Being a Christian does not negate our humanity and our weakness – indeed, it should reveal it more honestly. If I cannot tell a fellow brother or sister in Christ that I am struggling, then what does that say about me? We should not fear judgement from one another, but expect compassion. We should allow each other to point us back in the direction of Jesus. How can we be accountable to one another when we hide the very weaknesses that the devil seeks to exploit?
I am not advocating that we should all confide our inner thoughts to everyone we meet. There is a fine line between pretence that all is fine and over-sharing. We have family to protect and confidences we should keep, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t all have a safe space in church to be ourselves, to let the mask slip.
Covid-19 has made us all braver. People I have never spoken to before have opened up their fears and frustrations during WhatsApp video messaging, Zoom and breakout rooms.
Whilst we can pray for each other and support one another, while maintaining social distance, how much more could we be to one another when that love can be expressed through a hug, a meal, a shared walk, a trip to the shops.
Let’s thank God for the honesty that has broken out amongst us. Let us pray for greater courage to share our lives, our joys and our fears with one another. After all, being united in Christ is surely stronger than being united in isolation.
An Unlikely Love (Karnie Sharp)
Joyce Pearson, who died on 11th April, was a longstanding and much loved member of the St Mary’s church family. As I look back at my family’s friendship with her I wonder, did Joyce choose us?
I was a newcomer to St Mary’s in 2011, the year before my baptism. I was a nervous, new child of God, attending two congregations every Sunday to satisfy my insatiable appetite for the word and to just be with other believers. And there she was, always sitting at the right hand side of the church - curious, welcoming, warm and inquisitive, with a twinkle in her eye and a wit and razor sharp mind to boot! She didn’t miss a thing - that was Joyce.
But we know that meetings are never accidental and God makes relationships possible, there’s always a reason. So let’s be clear, Joyce didn’t exclusively need us, we needed her too and so it came to be. This brief hello and reaching out on Joyce’s part melted into on-going Sunday lunches and Christmases and birthday parties too. Joyce was part of all of it. We have no elderly relatives nearby. Our family is a sustaining presence back home in South Africa, where we learned that our elders are wells from whom to draw wisdom, so allowing Joyce in was not unusual. However with Joyce we didn’t need to ask for advice, it was always offered in unprecedented amounts firmly but lovingly. We struck up an unlikely friendship, a friendship that grew into mutual love and respect.
Joyce’s son Alan said that the church was her family and we can vouch for that. She loved St Mary’s with an evident pride that followed her to our home every single Sunday, where she spoke with equal pride about her sons Mark, Michael, Alan and Andrew. She glowed each time she mentioned them collectively or individually. She took us with her down her memory lane. Sometimes stories remained the same and most were familiar and repetitive because she just needed someone to talk to. Joyce chose two favourite places in our home, almost labelled as hers as though she had earned it, and I suppose in many ways she had. One was the kitchen where she would perch, partial in the last few months to a glass of rosé, talking to her favourite person in the household, her “partner in crime” Derek, with whom she laughed and joked, reminding us always that she was more than the person I had met at church, she was family. The second place Joyce claimed was the one near the heater at the dining room table, where no one else was allowed to sit. That’s how comfortable she came to be in our home and our hearts.
We will miss her dearly and we would do this all over again, if we had to. The guilt of not seeing her enough in the last few weeks will stay with us for a long time. But the joy of knowing that Joyce has gone to glory and that we will see her again when Christ comes is bound to surpass any guilt or sadness that remains. We thank God that he made this unlikely union possible. You see, Joyce didn’t just choose us, we chose her too because of the love she gave.
Work Turned Upside Down (Richard Crane)
For many in our church family work is totally unrecognisable from a few months ago. Let me suggest some ways we might respond.
1. Pray for those who work
This is a period of intense pressure. Our brothers and sisters working in the NHS and social care are going through a severe test, which may indeed have long-lasting psychological effects. Other key workers including teachers and supermarket staff are also risking their health, working long hours under tough conditions. Those of us able to work from home may face other kinds of pressure, especially if home-schooling children is now on the agenda. Our relationships with colleagues are easily frayed when we are exhausted. And yet there are opportunities to be seized! Loving and sharing our Christian hope with beleaguered colleagues, listening to their struggles and offering to pray for them.
2. Support those who are out of work
An unprecedented number in our church family are reeling from the sudden shock of unemployment or being furloughed. The government has rightly put some emergency benefits in place, but individuals and families are still facing financial uncertainties that they never expected. The early Christians showed their faith in practice by generously supporting each other (Acts 4:32-37), and we should be no different. We can offer financial support through our individual friendships, or through our giving to St Mary’s to be dispensed via the Care Fund. Do contact Jon Drake or Rachel Meynell if you’d like more information about this. Let’s also continue to support the most needy in our local community, for example through the Maidenhead Food Bank or Christians Against Poverty.
3. Rethink our relationship with work
This pandemic has humbled us in so many ways. It has punctured the pride we took in qualifications and job promotions, which seem so trivial now. Supermarket shortages have reminded us that a salary doesn’t entitle us to daily bread; we depend on our Father in heaven. The cancellation of many church activities has shown us that our worth before God doesn’t lie in serving on rotas, but being hidden in Christ (Colossians 3:3). And we have seen in stark terms that work is painful and frustrating in a fallen world (Genesis 3:17). But we can take heart, because Jesus is in the business of restoring work! Even now, Christians can ’work with all our heart, as working for the Lord’ (Colossians 3:23). If we are unemployed, Jesus gives us strength to find contentment even in hard circumstances (Philippians 4). And we look forward to working for Jesus in a place without coronavirus. Revelation 22:3: ‘No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.’ Let’s not lose sight of this wonderful vision.
Annual Church Meeting (Fiona West)
Usually at this time of year members of the St Mary’s church family from across our five congregations get together for our Annual Church Meeting. At this meeting we have the chance to reflect on the past year. We take a look at the Annual Report together and we hear about how faithful our God has been to us in blessing our various ministries. We hear about his generous provision for us financially and we learn how those monies have been used to further gospel work. Will talks about plans for the coming year at St Mary’s.
Also at this meeting the formal matters of church business take place such as the election of Churchwardens (this happens each year) and the election of new PCC members (there is a turnover each year as people who are elected stand down after their term).
This year we had big plans for this meeting. ‘The St Mary’s Thanksgiving Celebration’ was due to take place on 23rd April, however due to the current restrictions on our movements the meeting has been postponed. We will reconvene it as soon as we can in the Autumn Term. Won’t it be great to be able to meet together then to celebrate what the Lord has done for us all!
Until then current PCC members will continue as they are. And our wardens Rae Binning and Damian Eustace will continue in post, and at that meeting they will both be standing again for another year.
Under pressure or with time on your hands? (Will Stileman)
People’s experience of the Coronavirus lockdown varies dramatically. Some of us are under huge pressure: those who are working on the front line in our hospitals, single parents with young children, households where both parents are working from home while also having to home school children and/or look out for elderly parents. While on the other hand, some of us face long days without many things to do.
One of the feedbacks we are getting is how harassed Christian parents are finding that they have neither the time nor the emotional energy to prepare Sunday school sessions for their children, or to actively teach their children about the things of God. If that is you, don’t beat yourselves up that you are finding it difficult. We are living through extraordinarily difficult times. However, can I encourage you to simply include the reading of a “Jesus story” in your daily night-time routine.
When our children were growing up, the evening routine used to be: supper, bath-time, story, Jesus story, prayer, kiss, lights out and hopefully sleep…. It didn’t always work out, but our kids knew the routine and by and large were happy to go along with it. When the children became older and didn’t want their parents to put them to bed, we encouraged them still to read the Bible at night for themselves. By including a short time of Christian devotions in the night-time routine, we always had an opportunity to talk about the things of God with our children and they with us. In the “Resources for Families” section on the St Mary’s website, Kate Wheatley has provided a host of good materials you can source for your children and yourselves.
However, if you are in the position of having long days without much stimulation other than the TV, can I encourage you to consider signing up for the first module of the Moore College Course that starts soon. The Introduction to the Bible provides an excellent Bible overview. Jon Drake and Richard Crane are leading this. It involves a one-hour a week tutorial, and an additional two to three hours personal reading a week.
There was a Christian chorus I learned as a child, which I found myself singing recently:
When the road is rough and steep,
Fix your eyes upon Jesus.
He alone has power to keep,
Fix your eyes upon Him.
Jesus is a faithful friend,
One on whom you can depend.
He is faithful to the end,
Fix your eyes upon Him.
The First Real Lives? (Ian Miller)
When was the first ever Real Lives event? Could it have taken place one afternoon in a town called Sychar in Samaria? If so, the speaker was a woman not only from a despised racial group but also with a difficult past - a startling number of failed marriages. The event followed an encounter at noon that day at a well (Jacob’s well) between this woman and Jesus, an encounter that changed her life. The encounter revealed that Jesus knew all about this woman’s life – right down to the details. It was staggering: not only was he, a Jew, prepared to speak to her but, as she said at the event: “he told me everything I’ve ever done” (John 4:39). This woman’s (real) life mattered to him in all its detail. He knew what was going on and he not only offered her living water after which she would never thirst again but he revealed to her that he was the Messiah (John 4:25-6).
Two thousand years later and Jesus is as much at work in people’s lives as he was in the life of that Samaritan woman. Like her, our speakers at our Real Lives week (25th February to 1st March) were prepared to share their encounters with Jesus and to speak of his work in their lives. It was wonderful to have speakers from such a variety of backgrounds, with such different life stories but all sharing one hope in Jesus Christ. I know that the St Mary’s church family is immensely grateful to them for being prepared to be interviewed during Real Lives week in front of large numbers of people.
After her conversation with Jesus, the Samaritan woman was so eager to tell others that she left her water jar at the well (John 4:28). Moved by their own encounters with Jesus, many in the St Mary’s church family invited their friends to Real Lives events so that they too could hear about Jesus. John tells us that some believed because of the Samaritan woman’s testimony. Others were prompted by what she said to go and hear Jesus and they concluded, “now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world” (John 4:42).
Let’s keep praying that, as a result of Real Lives, many of those who were invited would be people who come to know Jesus as “the Saviour of the world.”
Easter Changes Everything (Will Stileman)
The historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is so strong that nobody would question it, except for two things: first it is an unusual, supernatural event; and second, if you believe that it happened you have to change the way you live.
As a Christian believer, who is persuaded by the evidence, I have been reflecting this last week on how Jesus’ resurrection should be shaping the way I live during this crisis over Covid-19.
It should give me confidence. The resurrection declares Jesus as victor over the forces of sin, evil and death. Satan is a defeated enemy. There may be untreatable viruses, economic hardship, domestic abuse, pressurised work, social isolation and emotional distress, but none of those things will have the last word. It is Jesus who will have the last word on human history. When Jesus returns to claim his people for himself, all those evils will disappear. God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) God’s people will be ushered into God’s presence in a renewed, perfect creation.
And while we wait for Christ’s return we are not abandoned by the risen Jesus. Not only is he seated at the right hand of God the Father interceding for us, but his Holy Spirit dwells in us and his power is at work within us to keep us and sustain us through any trials we may face.
I have it easier than most, but I am still finding the lockdown hard to cope with. But when I fill my thoughts with the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and the implications that flow from that, I find that my stress levels drop dramatically, and my emotional mood improves markedly.
It should keep me working. 1 Corinthians chapter 15 is taken up entirely with Jesus’ resurrection and the implications that flow from it. And the chapter ends with these words, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.” (v58)
As we stand firm on the facts of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and as we let these truths permeate our mind then we are energised to keep working for the Lord. For those with young children at home, giving ourselves fully to the work of the Lord involves continuing to look after them faithfully and making time to read Bible stories with our children and encouraging them to trust in the Lord. For those of us in households with older children, giving ourselves fully to the work of the Lord involves playing our part to keep family dynamics positive and good. In fact, for all of us, without exception, giving ourselves fully to the work of the Lord involves looking not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others.
No-one has any idea how long this lockdown is going to last, but if we are Christian people who believe in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the fact that Christ is risen, should be affecting how we respond to this crisis.
Update from Windsor Fellowship Church (Pete Matthew)
Dear St Mary’s Church family,
Thank you for your support and prayer for us in the Windsor Fellowship Church over the past few years, and not least at the moment during this very odd season for the church. This year our sermon series have been from Habakkuk and 1 Peter, both addressing how to love God in times of suffering. We’ve been thanking God for how his word is helping us.
As you are, we’re striving to be a church family and love our community whilst physically having to stay apart. We do thank God that we live in a technological age so we are able to have some level of relationship, but it does make us long for being back together again physically in the same place. Each week we continue to ‘meet’ via Zoom so we can at least see and hear each other. Our average attendance is somewhat higher than our ‘normal’ Sundays. Please pray that those who are ‘visiting’ us carry on doing so when we’re back together.
The Coronavirus has also provided us with great opportunities to love our wider community and share the hope we have in Christ, even in the hardest of times. We’ve produced several YouTube videos to share, which address some big questions. These have been shared by one of the middle schools and we’ve had a number of contacts as a result of these. Please pray we care for our neighbours and point them to Christ.
In ‘normal’ times (whatever they were!) we’d started a new mid-week youth group for 8s to 11s called Contact Nano. This has been exciting and it’s actually grown in number during the crisis. Please do pray for this and our other 12+ youth group called Contact, that the time of Coronavirus will build and develop the friendships within these groups and, more importantly, that the young people’s love for God will grow.
2019 felt like we’d plateaued as a church; looking back I think God was using this time for us to develop and mature, not least me as the minister. However 2020 has felt like a fresh start and we have a new impetus which hasn’t been lost during this crisis, if anything God is using this time for us to deepen our trust in him and our relationships with each other as he equips us to reach out to Windsor and Eton. We’re in the advanced stages of launching a new leadership structure to help us to continue to grow, both in our Christian maturity and in our engagement with the people around us. Please pray for us to be a beacon of light and hope for Windsor, and for us to be disciple makers who disciple makers make!
Thank you again for your on-going prayers, and please be assured we pray for you regularly too.
Senior Minister, Windsor Fellowship Church
Update from Trinity@4 (Sam Brewster)
We are so grateful for your prayers. We need them, and the Lord has been faithful in answering them. Our Trinity at Four church family continues to grow in number and depth. On a typical Sunday (which we are most definitely not experiencing at the moment!) we have around 70 adults and 40-50 children. We are thrilled that steady trickles are becoming Christians, and there are signs of the Lord's work in people's lives across the board.
The Brewster family has just grown by one. Barnabas Brewster was born on 1st April!
A few things we would love your prayers for
- Pray for us in these unusual times as we 'meet' Sunday by Sunday, and also seek to keep reaching out in our community.
- Before the Coronavirus crisis we had a venue change coming up (due to outgrowing the present venue). This has been a fairly complex process, made now more so by the fact we are not meeting physically at all!
- We are feeling like a more established congregation after our first 18 months. As we begin to plan for the next 5 years or so, pray for the Lord to direct our steps. Pray for this especially as we work together with the existing parish church with which we are connected, Holy Trinity.
- Pray for us as a family to grow together in our love for Jesus and service of his people.
Does Psalm 91 Promise Immunity From Covid-19? (Richard Crane)
Psalm 91 is a great comfort in times of fear. It encouraged Charles Spurgeon during the cholera epidemic of 1854 and perhaps it’s encouraging you today. It reminds us where Christian believers find refuge. Not in our own distractions, or in binge watching the news, but refuge in our God:
He who 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' (verses 1-2)
But the middle section of Psalm 91 contains some rather extraordinary promises. Promises that are generating a lot of interest during this coronavirus pandemic. You may have encountered some of this buzz on Facebook or your WhatsApp groups. Verse 3 says ‘Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.’ And verse 9: ‘If you make the Most High your dwelling … then no harm will befall you ...’
Can it be that God is promising us immunity from Covid-19, as some people are claiming? This isn’t just an academic question. If Christians are led to believe that they are immune from coronavirus, they may start to behave irresponsibly and put the public in danger. And they will suffer spiritual damage too: if they see members of their church being infected, they will start to doubt God’s word.
The clue comes in verse 11: ‘For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’
When Satan tempted Jesus in Luke chapter 4, he quoted this very verse. Satan interpreted it as a promise of immediate safety, just as the internet preachers are doing today. But Jesus didn’t recklessly jump off the temple roof. Because Psalm 91 is making a different kind of promise. A much better promise!
The psalm is about Jesus, but not in the way Satan intended. The psalmist is addressing one person (‘you’ is singular) - perhaps a godly worshipper or the king. And yet what kind of person could verse 13 possibly apply to? ‘You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.’ The psalmist must be pointing us to Jesus, the perfect worshipper and God’s King. It is Jesus who trampled the serpent Satan, as he died on the cross to defeat the power of death.
So now, if we are trusting in Jesus, we benefit from the same refuge, the same eternal security that Jesus himself enjoys. Verse 14: ‘Because he [Jesus] loves me, says the LORD, I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.’
Psalm 91 is a wonderful psalm for Christians to hold onto during these dark times. We are not guaranteed protection from Covid-19, just as we are not immune from wars or unemployment. But in Jesus, we have something far better: an everlasting vaccination. We can rest in the shadow of the Almighty, and he is with us in our trouble.
Recordings of 'Thine Be The Glory' (Matthew O'Donovan)
For our ‘virtual’ Easter service we would love to have as many members of the congregation as possible take part in the singing of the final hymn, ’Thine be the glory’.
In order to do this, you need to record yourself singing to a pre-recorded organ accompaniment. I will mix together all these recordings to produce the final soundtrack to be used on Easter day (to which you may again sing along!)
There are many ways to do this, but this instruction video 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; if you can bear to do so, however, please record yourselves individually and then wait until Easter day to sing together!
- Sing with joy to the Lord and don’t be coy! The more entries the better it will sound. All entries will be mixed together and no individual voice should stand out, and I promise not to judge your singing in any way!
Instructions for macOS:
- Download the accompaniment from Vimeo 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 Messages (iMessage), 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 Vimeo 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
- 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 e.g. 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, however, as many phones will not simultaneously play a video and record a voice memo!
- Use WhatsApp or iMessage to share the recording with me
My contact details for sharing can be found from the church website Contact 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 Maundy Thursday (9th April).
Thank you! I look forward to hearing you all sing!
6:30pm Men's Weekend Away (James Howick)
From 13th-15th March, I was part of a group of men from the 6:30pm service who were able to spend a few days in the beautiful Sussex countryside. This was the first St Mary's men's weekend I had been on and though I arrived late this didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the weekend. There were lots of opportunities to do various activities from board games to a walk in the countryside with the grand achievement of not getting lost (though we did stop to ‘get our bearings’ more than once). These times were valuable for getting to know one another better and were just lots of fun.
At different points throughout the weekend Tim Adams led us in studying Romans 12 and a section of a book called ‘Serving without sinking’. It was encouraging to hear different people wrestle with what God has said, what ‘in the view of God’s mercy’ means for our lives, what it looks like to be a ‘living sacrifice’ and to ‘be transformed’.
One of the highlights of the weekend was the share and prayer on the last morning. It was a joy to hear and share how God has been faithfully working in each of us and a great opportunity to share things that are a little more than surface deep. We are all able to establish and grow deeper relationships in the view of Gods mercy and can turn to our Father God, depending on him in prayer.
Coping with Panic and Anxiety in times of Crisis (Sharon Bedford)
Many of you will have heard me speak about my experience of panic disorder and panic attacks, and will know what a struggle this has been for me especially in the past but still from time to time today.
So when the news that coronavirus had entered our country started to become more and more prevalent in the media, I started to experience those same old feelings again. The rising panic, the generalised nervousness, the fear for myself and my loved ones, fear for the future and my immediate loss of income etc. Last week I woke in the night sweating and frightened, I started to wake in the mornings with a terrible feeling of impending doom and felt myself descending into my all too familiar spiral.
I know many of you feel the same, some of us are experienced panickers after all! But since what we are going through globally is so unprecedented there are likely to be many more of us feeling extremely anxious and possibly even overwhelmed by what we are seeing in other countries and what lies ahead for us in the UK. Some of the reasons are obvious – of course no one wants to suffer, die or lose a loved one. Death is an outrage! It is the very opposite of what God intended for us when he created us. We should want to protect ourselves and others, we should try and prevent it where we can; our instincts for survival are God-given. But it is a question of where we put our trust for the outcome that matters. If we put our faith in ourselves to save ourselves then the responsibility becomes too much to bear. This, I believe, speaks to the heart of what underlies much of our/my anxiety.
In our modern world we have developed many excellent coping strategies to shield us from thoughts of our own mortality. We find security in routine and busyness, many of us have come to expect a certain financial security, we look to politicians to lead us, medicine to save us, education to give us the upper hand and if there is still some niggling unease then we have plenty on offer in the form of escapism – 24 hour entertainment, food, sport, internet connection, social clubs etc. All of this holds us in a blanket of cosy self-reliance. And now it feels like the duvet has been unceremoniously ripped off on a cold winters morning. All that we know to be reliable and safe is shifting and shaking and for some it may feel like the ground is giving way beneath their feet. This brings me to another emotion I have experienced this week and one which at least one other person has shared with me. Guilt. I feel guilty that I am having these feelings of intense worry. Guilty that it has exposed my weak faith, guilty that my function in society seems, at a time like this, to be so meaningless. So, as I busied myself (finding toilet paper!), immersed myself in the latest news and infection rates and lost myself to worry, God started to feel far away.
But then things started to change...
Firstly I noticed my camellia had come into bloom. The beauty of it seemed so incongruous to the horror I had just been reading that I was immediately struck by the reminder that, as the Bible tells us, we see evidence of God in his creation. God is life: where he is life abounds. God’s good gift of creation is a wonderful place to begin your journey in grounding yourself and drawing close to God. Look and take note of the beauty you see around you especially in spring when we see life bursting forth: ‘But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind’ Job 12:7-10).
Secondly the letter from our dear vicar, Will, was a huge comfort to me and a reminder that we are surrounded by loving people. This is another way we experience God’s love, through the love shown to us by others. In a moment of panic reach out to someone, phone a friend, family member, growth group leader. There is no shame in expressing your fears and feelings and sometimes all it takes is a few minutes hearing a friendly voice to draw you out of the panic cycle. When you are feeling better try to use some of your nervous energy to love, encourage and support others who are struggling.
Lastly, I was reminded in a reading this week that I am not alone in my weakness. The disciples themselves pretty much fell apart after Jesus’ crucifixion. Peter’s weakness was in full view when he denied Jesus three times in order to save his life. Fear and panic is a powerful emotion indeed. However, Peter is transformed. Not only does he witness that Jesus has risen from the dead and thus conquered death itself, he receives the gift of God’s Holy Spirit to enable him to go out and preach the gospel, face persecution, suffering and ultimately his own death without fear. Perhaps it is a good idea to try to reach for your Bible before you reach for your phone in the morning. Pray without ceasing and remember the gift of God in you, his Holy Spirit who strengthens and equips you to face each day as it comes.Proverbs 18:10 - ‘The name of the Lord is a fortified tower, the righteous run to it and they are safe.’
Coronavirus and the Gospel (Will Stileman)
We are living through an unprecedented time. This wretched coronavirus is bringing the whole world to a standstill. Governments and institutions are struggling to cope with a rapidly changing situation. All our plans are being thrown aside. I certainly didn’t imagine I would spend the last month of my sabbatical with an empty diary because all my trips and visits have had to be cancelled. There is widespread bewilderment and anxiety, and rightly so. It is already clear that the NHS is struggling to cope, livelihoods are being affected and some vulnerable people will die from this pandemic. I suspect some of us at St Mary’s will experience a bereavement.
How does the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ speak into this situation? I offer the following thoughts:
God is in control and is not caught by surprise. God is the maker of heaven and earth. Nothing in this universe happens without his foreknowledge or permission. We don’t know how coronavirus is going to pan out, but God does. This world is a fallen world and humanity lives in this world under both the judgement and the grace of God. I don’t know how God is going to use the coronavirus, but I do know that he has a purpose. Coronavirus is certainly waking humanity us up to our vulnerability and weakness.
God knows and is concerned about every individual’s situation. Jesus once reassured his disciples with these words: ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.’ (Matthew 10:29-31). What is more the Christian believer can be confident that ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ and that nothing in all creation (including the effects of Coronavirus) ‘will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 8:28,39). It is actively filling our minds with these truths rather than constantly checking the latest news reports which will help those of us who are anxious not to be.
God wants his people to be salt and light. Everywhere people will be speaking and thinking about coronavirus, and as Christian people we have opportunities to offer a Christian perspective on what is happening. Coronavirus is going to put some of us under greater pressure; but some of us including many of our children will find we have more time on our hands. Do let’s use this time constructively, seeking first God’s kingdom and his righteousness. This crisis will give all others of us opportunities to look out for one another and others in our community in fresh ways.
I am grateful for the staff team managing this crisis in my absence. I rang up today suggesting I come back to resume my responsibilities as vicar but I was told that everything was under control. However, I will be keeping in touch with my colleagues on the staff team. I had intended to be at church this Sunday, but I have just this instant heard that all Sunday Worship in Church of England Churches is to be suspended until further notice.
‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.’ (Psalm 46:1)
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update 17th March 2020 (Jon Drake)
Dear St Mary’s Church Family,
Following advice received from the Church of England today, and in line with recent government guidance, we are suspending all St Mary’s services and groups for the time being. This includes all activities here at St Mary’s and all St Mary’s groups meeting off-site. This is not a decision we take lightly. It is an expression of Christian love that we do what we can to support the national effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Our Sunday Services will continue to be streamed on the St Mary’s website and the staff team are continuing to work to support the church family as we reach out with the gospel of Christ.
As our nation responds to the developing coronavirus situation many of us will naturally feel anxious and concerned. It is wonderful that we can hold onto the truths of Psalm 46:1, ‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.’ Even in times of trouble, God is with us by his Spirit to protect, strengthen and help.
Although we cannot physically meet for the time being, we are still church together. It is more important than ever that we continue to support and encourage each other as a church family. Can I urge us all to consider the following three points.
- ‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus’ (Hebrews 12:2). Our greatest need is to continue to focus on Christ our Saviour, Lord and Friend. Sunday Services will continue to be streamed on the St Mary’s website so please do watch online. We also be in touch in the next few days with further resources we can use to continue feeding ourselves and our families with the truth of Jesus.
- ‘Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.’ (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Now is the time for us all to be proactive and creative as a church family in offering one another support, prayer and Biblical encouragement. Phone calls, messages and letters will be especially valuable. We all need to take responsibility for supporting the vulnerable amongst us.
- ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12:31). As the people of God we have an opportunity at this time to reach out to those around us with the love of Jesus. One idea is to put a card through the doors in our street offering help to those who are self-isolating.
If you are in need of someone to talk to or of practical help do not hesitate to contact a friend from church, or if that is not possible to email or from Thursday to phone the St Mary’s support line on 07487 387921.
We will endeavour to keep you informed of any changes as this fast-moving situation develops and of further resources as they are developed.
With love in Christ,
Numbers Don't Lie (Simon Eves)
We are hearing statistics all the time and there’s a reason for that. Numbers don’t lie. You can twist them and try to reshape them — but the cold hard facts of figures and percentages are hard to argue with.
Sadly, the latest statistics from the Church of England regarding children and young people are pretty depressing reading. You can check them out in full here but some of the headlines are below.
- 68% of churches within the Church of England have five or fewer 0-16s on a Sunday
- 38% have no young people at all
- The number of 0-16s in our churches has declined by 20% in just 5 years (compared to 12% decline amongst adults)
- In the most recent statistics, the number of 0-16s declined by 8% in a single year
No amount of spin can hide the facts here — the Church of England is in absolute crisis when it comes to our work with under 16s.
I fear that there is a danger for us in a church like ours to feel like things are okay. By God’s grace, we do have a large number of under 16s yet sadly we are the exception and not the rule. The task of telling the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord is vital yet these statistics highlight how dire the situation is across this nation.
In many ways, of course, we will continue to attempt to do the work we have always done — faithfully proclaiming the gospel to the young people of Maidenhead. But we are one church in one town — there is a whole country out there — and if things across this nation are going to change we’re going to need to see a real change in how we are engaging the next generation with the gospel.
But it's not all doom and gloom.
There is, in the midst of the depressing picture, a few glimmers of light and hope. There are churches that are growing in terms of their numbers of 0-16s. 44% of all the churches who currently have 25 or more young people in their church have grown in the last 5 years so whilst it is hard and the trend, even among bigger churches is downwards, growth is not impossible.
Most encouraging to me is the types of churches where you find young people today. For the first time these statistics have been mapped according to church tradition, where we see:
- 75% of churches with 100+ young people are evangelical churches
- 55% of churches with 25 or more young people are evangelical churches
Unfortunately we don’t have the national figures to compare those figures with but it is fair to say that 55% of the church nationally are not evangelicals! Therefore it is encouraging to see that it is the churches that believe and preach the Bible who, by and large, have young people and these churches are significantly over-represented in these statistics.
Behind all these numbers are real churches and real young people. That is not to deny how bad the statistics are yet the reality is that every young believer is truly a miracle and the work of the Lord. The task of passing on the truth to the next generation is huge and it is vital.
What can we do?
Essentially we trust that Jesus is building his church and nothing will stop him doing that and so we pray. We must ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers to this harvest field. We need to engage with this situation and not ignore what is going on out there beyond our town. Pray for our own young people to stand firm in a world where they really are the minority. Pray that in more churches the Lord Jesus would be clearly taught and proclaimed to children and young people, and that he and him alone would see more and more staying in church.
Safeguarding Review 2020
Our churches and church-related activities must be safe for all, with safeguarding policies and practices that promote a safer church.
We need to be certain that all known cases of concern about the behaviour of our clergy or church officers towards children and adults have been considered and dealt with appropriately. Every church in the Diocese, including our own, is now undertaking a comprehensive review as part of the national Past Cases Review 2 (PCR2). You can find out more about PCR2 on the Diocese of Oxford website.
If you have information or need to make a disclosure regarding church related abuse, please make direct contact with the Safeguarding Team at the Diocese of Oxford on 01865 208290.
If you have lived experience of abuse from within the Church of England, you may prefer to call the dedicated telephone NSPCC helpline, which is independent of the Church. Call 0800 80 20 20.
The NSPCC helpline is also available to anyone wishing to provide information or to raise concerns regarding abuse within the Church of England. The helpline is there for you whether you are reporting issues relating to children or adults or seeking to whistleblow about poor safeguarding practice. Your call is confidential, and your concerns will be taken seriously.
Wardens: Rae Binning and Damian Eustace
Parish Safeguarding Officer: Kate Wheatley
Senior Youth Weekend Away (Ruth McElhone)
Around 25 of our youth and leaders made the intrepid journey to Wales battling through Storm Ciara for the senior youth weekend away. We had a great time deepening friendships, perfecting our volleyball techniques and confusing Chepstow locals with the news that Harry and Meghan had decided to move in.Simon led us through sessions looking at heaven. A place “better by far”. It was really encouraging for us to see that for those following Jesus we have the certain hope of eternity with him. A place without suffering and death where 'God will wipe every tear from [our] eyes' (Revelation 7:17). We saw, through the gospels, that where Jesus is, there is a taste of his kingdom; of heaven on earth. Jesus has authority over nature, evil, sickness and death (see Mark 4:35-5:20). We were also encouraged to love one another as we saw that Jesus identifies so much with his people that a kindness to them is a kindness to him: 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me' (Matthew 25:40).
The bottom line is heaven is not some crazy fantasy of an endless holiday, swimming pools and parties that will eventually leave you feeling bored and empty but instead it is all about God. All good things come from being in the presence of Jesus and we will be with him forever. We will fulfill our purpose of celebrating the glory of God who deserves all our praise, always.
Parenting Matters (Rachel Puddephatt)
Back in January, Mel Lacy hosted a seminar on "Parenting Matters". The first in a series of three, designed to help those of us with children or grandchildren of our own, or any involved in children's and youth work, think about how we might be instrumental in ‘bringing up robust kids equipped to live with Christ’. The room was divided into groups according to various age brackets such as: under 5s, 5-11s and 11+ so that people could choose to sit with others with children in a similar age group, in order to help keep group discussions relevant.
If I’m honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, or even had much of an idea what the seminar was going to be about. I had seen the title and figured anything to do with parenting was probably something I needed to try and get along to – I’ll take any help I can get! So, when that was Mel’s opening gambit, I was delighted. One evening listening to her wise words and I’d have all the answers.
All I can say is I’m glad there are some follow up sessions planned. She did, indeed have some good advice, but given the stats she shared on the generation our children are growing up in ("Generation Z"), you could also be forgiven for thinking things are somewhat bleak. This is touted as the most isolated generation yet. Their struggle with mental health is a very real concern and it’s no wonder when society is forcing them to create "brand me". The pressure to have a presentable image and identity in a world that says you can no longer just tolerate, you must validate everyone else and their relativistic beliefs, is extreme. Often older children have two social media accounts – one to present themselves to their friends and another for the image of themselves they want to present to the adults in their lives. I can’t even begin to imagine how exhausting that must be! It stands to reason therefore that there’s an increase in image disorders such as self-harm, eating disorders and a rise in anxiety. So yes, at this point I was starting to feel pretty depressed if I’m honest.
Thankfully, there is an answer. The very best news is that despite all this, or perhaps in the midst of this, there is God! The Bible says, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart’ (Matthew 22:37) and our job as parents, caregivers and youth workers, is to lay that foundation. As Mel pointed out, we need to help these children to ‘understand and apply a biblical faith’. Something that really resonated with me, was when Mel asked, ‘when kids look at you, where do they see your identity formed?’. Do our children see us prioritising God, or time spent on our phones, for example?
Paul says in Romans ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). We are all in need of a saviour but isn’t it wonderful that we already have one! What a relief that we are not to be defined by our place in society and the image we create for ourselves, but by our identity in Christ. We are all made in the image of God. It is not down to us; we are special because he has made us so and these precious children need to know their place in God’s story. If we teach children to focus on God’s grace, they can be Christ-like in their compassion and not judgemental. Mel ended by getting us all to read Genesis 1:27: ‘So, God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God, he created them; male and female he created them.’
It’s amazing that the God who created the universe chose to bestow his identity on us. It’s the privilege of humanity open to all.
Mel’s next session is taking place at St Mary’s on Monday 27th April.
Utterly Loved and Safe (Rachel Meynell)
It is hard to believe, let alone see, but all Christians live in two places at once — we have dual nationality. We live here, in the physical world with all its ups and downs, but even though we can’t touch or see it, we have another home that is just as real. That is the spiritual reality because once we become Christians, we are united to Christ — or ‘in Christ’ as the Bible describes it — and therefore, where he is, we are.
See what Paul says in Ephesians 2:6 ‘And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.’
Now this is mind-boggling. That I am physically present here in Maidenhead, but I am also somehow spiritually present in heaven. It makes my brain hurt trying to understand it! But whether we understand it or not (and we are unlikely to fully in this life), there are some implications of this which I can grasp, and which are a huge comfort.
Firstly, I am completely and utterly forgiven for all my sins, both past and future. My unity to Christ unites me to him in his death, where my sins were judged and dealt with as he died on the cross. God cannot judge them again — it has been done. Jesus’ very presence in heaven, and my presence in him, proves that.
Secondly, as a result of that, I need not fear the future, because my location is guaranteed. In the final verse of Augustus Toplady’s hymn, 'A Debtor to Mercy Alone’, he says:
My name from the palms of His hands
Eternity will not erase;
Impressed on His heart it remains,
In marks of indelible grace;
Yes, I to the end shall endure,
As sure as the earnest is giv’n;
More happy, but not more secure,
The glorified spirits in heav’n.
Isn’t that astonishing? Those last two lines capture it perfectly. We are no less secure than the saints already in heaven — though they are happier than we are as they no longer live in a fallen world! How is that possible? Because we too are in Christ who has gone before us into the throne room of heaven.
The third implication (and there are many more) is that as we set our minds on who we are, and where we belong, he helps us to throw off those things that belong here, and put on those behaviours and attitudes which bring him glory. He is at work in us making us more like him — helping us to be who we are more and more.
So remember: this world and our homes here are just temporary. We already have a certain spot in the very presence of our Heavenly Father. However you feel you are doing in your Christian life and whatever the encouragements or discouragements from the Real Lives week, for those of us who are trusting Jesus — we are utterly loved and safe in him.
Real Lives: Science and Religion
Science and religion can’t go together... right? That’s what we have seen through the 19th and 20th centuries: a battle between scientists and God.
On Saturday night many people came to St Mary’s to hear Professor Russell Cowburn talk about this subject. Cowburn, who is Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Cambridge, and a Christian, shared his experiences as he was interviewed by Glen Scrivener. He took us through his journey discovering Jesus in John’s Gospel alongside his growing career as a Physicist. And he answered audience questions that were sent in through a site called Slido, including whether he has struggled to piece together biblical ideas and his scientific research, what is the smallest thing he has seen, and the idea of the universe being a closed system. If you want to hear his answers to these questions you could watch the interview:
“Science is the description of how God works most of the time.”- Professor Cowburn. It’s seeing the regularities of God in our everyday lives.
As the evening came to a close Glen gave a short talk from John’s Gospel teaching us that the world is given for us to understand and rule over, but it’s also a love gift from Jesus who wants us to know the depth of his love for all of us.
All in all it was a wonderful final interview to round off Real Lives week, leaving us all food for thought.
Real Lives: Abuse, Addiction and Single Parenthood
At breakfast on Saturday, Glen Scrivener interviewed Angela McDonald.
From the start, the interview was very emotional, dealing with the issues of abuse, addiction and single parenthood.
Angela grew up in Yorkshire, one of seven children of a Roman Catholic working-class family, though religion did not play a large part in her life as a child. She was an insular child but wanted to make friends. When she started at senior school she was mercilessly bullied. She received death threats, had rude words written on her clothes, and was moved to the front of the class as punishment. The bullies received no reprimand. She decided the only way to deal with school, was to become the “cool girl”, smoking and swearing. But deep down, she felt worthless, and went on to bully another girl at school.
As a teenager she fell pregnant, though she prayed to the God she vaguely believed was real, that it might not be so. Her parents were devastated but supported her. On her mother’s urging, she chose a church for her baby to be baptised, which turned out to be an amazing Bible teaching church, where she felt like she belonged to the church family. She struggled to get to church once her daughter was born, but one of the ladies from the church kept ringing and encouraging her to come along, and one evening, when her daughter was a few months old, she attended again. The vicar was talking about Jesus, and Angela felt like she was the only person in the room. Jesus is real, she thought, and he loves me. It was the first time she had felt loved inside. Angela finally found the courage to split from the father of her child, and faced life as a single parent.
During her teenage years, Angela was introduced to porn by her boyfriend, and also struggled with overeating. These two addictions were to be a challenge for her over the next 30 years. Then, 6 years ago, she had the biggest argument ever with her now husband. Angela then received a text message quoting James 5 – taming the tongue. She deleted the message not wanting to accept this, but later got out her Bible and looked at Galatians 5 – the list of sins. She felt she was guilty of them all, and the words “fits of rage” and “will not inherit the kingdom of God” stood out. She realised she needed God to be the one she relied on, not herself or those around her. She felt she had a new life, and is now telling others about how God has helped her, has a desire to train as a counsellor, and writes a blog: www.livinghisword.life.
Glen finished with a word from John 8:31-38, about being enslaved by lies, not living in truth – if we sin, we are a slave to sin. Cycles of addiction come from a slave mentality; we should be living in light as sons of God, not as slaves.
You can watch a video of the talk by clicking the link below.
Real Lives: Violence and Forgiveness
Shane Taylor was considered to be one of the most dangerous prisoners in British jails. Originally jailed for attempted murder he had his sentence extended by four years after he attacked a prison officer with a broken glass in an incident that started a prison riot. After that he spent time in some of the most secure prisons in the country and was often held in solitary confinement due to his violence towards prison officers and prisoners alike.
At the age of 26 having been in prison since he was 19 he ended up in Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight. There he met a Christian, a prisoner sentenced to jail for murder. He told Shane that he had become a born again Christian and some of the things he said sounded really weird to Shane. But one sentence he said Shane could not understand: "I’ve been in prison 15 years, will probably never get out, but I feel free".
Four months later Shane was moved to Long Martin prison where by a series of ‘coincidences’ and the desire for the best biscuits on offer in the prison he came to hear about, and meet, Jesus for himself.
The change in his life and his reconciliation with the prison officer he stabbed as well as with God, is a remarkable story.
Listen to Shane's explanation of how this transformation happened by clicking on the player below:
Real Lives: The Pain of Losing a Child
‘The Pain of Losing a Child.’ Glen Scrivener interviews Tracy Wild about the hope she has in the midst of her pain.
On Friday we gathered at church for a sandwich lunch and to listen to Tracy and Glen. It was lovely to see how many of Tracy’s family and friends came to support her, including some who had been though similar experiences.
Tracy spoke about growing up going to church, but how at the age of about 13 she rebelled against God and entered her ‘revolting years’ (her words, not mine!).
It was when she was teaching in a school that she met her husband James. A few years later she became pregnant, but at 38 weeks, at an appointment with her midwife, the baby’s heartbeat could not be heard. She and James were sent to the hospital, where they received the devastating news that their baby had died. After delivering her beautiful daughter Robyn, Tracy began to wonder where Robyn now was, and this is where her journey to find Jesus Christ began.
It was such a blessing to hear from Tracy, and to glimpse how in the midst of such terrible suffering, it is possible to have hope. Thank you Tracy for being so brave and trusting us with your story.
Click here the player below to see the interview with Tracy:
Real Lives: City Success and Incurable Cancer
Our speaker for Thursday evening, Jeremy Marshall – former CEO of C. Hoare & Co investment bank, and prior to that, 20 years with Credit Suisse – saw first-hand those for whom wealth equals success and money conveys a sense of status, security and worth. He spoke about the world of private banking, where for some, money in its multi-billions is never quite enough; however much you have, it leaves you wanting more. Yet one thing that money can’t guarantee is security against death.
This became all too real to Jeremy when, in 2012, he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Since then, he has undergone 12 operations, 24 rounds of chemotherapy and lost his sight for a while. He declared with great joy that he is happy to be alive, having been given 18 months to live back in 2015.
Jeremy said that his faith has been both strengthened and challenged by his journey with cancer (or the Big C, as he calls it). He spoke candidly of being afraid of dying, and said that throughout his diagnosis and treatment, fear has been his greatest emotion, but his faith and the knowledge of the presence of God with him has helped him tremendously. Jeremy spoke of his hope in the face of death – not a wishful thinking type of hope, but an earthed, grounded, realistic hope: he spoke of how it is possible to believe in life in the face of death.
His experiences have shown him that there is no bypass around ‘the valley of the shadow of death’ (Psalm 23), instead, God travels with us along that difficult road. And in Jesus, we see someone who walked that road and came out the other side. He challenged us to look at the evidence of Jesus, to investigate it, to ask, is it true?
The fact that Jeremy believes it is true is what motivates him to tell people about Jesus. Sitting in a chemotherapy ward, alongside several others also receiving treatment for cancer, he recalls thinking… ‘if I had discovered the cure for cancer, wouldn’t I tell everyone here?’. In Jesus, God has provided a ‘cure’ for the ‘sickness’ of the world, and Jeremy now makes it a priority to tell others.
‘What would make you believe?’ Glen Scrivener went on to ask. He referred to Thomas, the disciple, who would not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead until he had placed his hand in his scars (John 20:24-28). It was being confronted with Jesus’s ‘scar story’, where God’s love and suffering came together, that Thomas stopped doubting, and was able to proclaim ‘My Lord and my God’.
You can watch a video of the interview by clicking on the player below:
Real Lives: Different Religions
In the second evening event of Real Lives, we met the lovely Shubbie Awoyemi. Now a member of our church family, she told us the remarkable story of how she got here...
Raised in a large Muslim family in Nigeria, Shubbie found herself increasingly devoted to Allah in her teenage years. Hoping for a release from her distinct fear of death, and insecurity in relationships, Shubbie was trusting in her power to please God through prayer and obedience, believing that Allah would be content and that she would receive his mercy.
Change soon came as Shubbie moved to the UK with her mother, who had recently become involved in the Mormon church. Totally opposed to the idea that Jesus might be God, Shubbie kicked back against the efforts of Mormon missionaries. Yet she found comfort and familiarity in the common ground between Islam and Mormonism - the ideas of chastity, charity, and even polygamy. There were a surprising number of similarities between the two religions, and soon Shubbie began to embrace Mormonism, still with ideas of pleasing God through obedience to earn his mercy and pardon.
Then at university in Warwick, Shubbie began to attend a Bible study group. Thinking she knew it all with her Book of Mormon, she was challenged by the Pastor to read John’s gospel. There she found a totally different Jesus from the one she thought she knew. She saw the Gospel as a love letter from God himself. In her own words, she was astounded that there was “a supreme, powerful God who wanted a relationship with an ordinary person like me, and was willing to die to have it”.
For the first time, Shubbie knew that she didn’t have to work to earn God’s favour. Jesus on the cross was proof to her that she was, and is, adored by the Lord, despite her constant sin. So after years of struggle and effort to make God happy, Shubbie can now say that he is no longer unreachable and unrelatable, but rather is a loving Father, who cares for and loves her deeply.
And most remarkable of all, this offer of a loving relationship with God himself is open to anyone who trusts in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice at the cross.
Click here to listen to the full interview (you will need to log into the website to listen to the interview).
Real Lives: Anxiety and Depression
Ed Watson kicked off our evening interviews on Tuesday to a packed church – clearly a topic that is on a lot of people’s hearts.
By his own admission Ed is a highly driven perfectionist whose hard work and dedication to all he undertakes has brought success but also driven him into bleak periods of anxiety and depression. Whilst describing his childhood as happy it was nonetheless overshadowed by his mother’s cancer that she fought for over 30 years, a fact that contributed to his wanting to be in control of his life and doing his utmost in his own strength to achieve that goal. As he drew us a verbal picture of those desperate times we were all touched and moved by the reality that is mental health.
For the guest I brought, a young man in his 20s, it was so helpful and reassuring to listen to Ed’s story and to know that he was not the only ”bloke” suffering in this way. He related to everything Ed said, how hard it is - especially as a “bloke” - to admit to being anxious and not coping. Ed was insistent that this is the first step - acknowledgement that you are ill. Ed talked about the importance of family and friends in supporting him and the vital role of the one friend who can and does walk alongside through the loneliest and bleakest of times - Jesus. Because Jesus is Lord of his life, Ed finds his identity and reassurance in what the Bible tells him:
- He is created by God and therefore completely known and understood – Psalm 139
- He is loved John 3:16
- God is in control not him Romans 8:28
- God is good
Glen went on to explain using Psalm 23 that it is only Jesus who offers to and can walk with us through the “valley of the shadow of death” – the valley we will all walk. Only Jesus fully understands our individual sufferings – he suffered them all and through his death on the cross took away the sin that would separate us from God for eternity, and rose again to new life, as we will if we trust in him. Jesus will bring us through to the place where there will be no more anxiety and depression, where we will live in perfect unity with God and each other for eternity.
You can watch a video of the interview by clicking the player below:
Real Lives: Life's Unexpected Challenges
We all make plans every day about all aspects of life, what to wear, what to watch, what to post or tweet. Sometimes those plans are mundane - what to eat for dinner; sometimes those plans are life-changing - what job to take, who to marry, where to live.
But what do we do when the plans we make for our lives, the plans we think are good, are suddenly and irrevocably rendered impossible? How do we react when life takes a very different turn from the way we envisaged and planned it to go?
In the first of the Real Lives interviews Alison Bird spoke with complete frankness and honesty about the way her life changed when, a year into marriage, she was told that she and husband Tim could never have children. She related her pain at being unable to have what she had longed for and her anger at a God who at times she thought distant, cold and uncaring. Yet being a Christian, she says, does not mean we live a charmed life but rather that in our struggles, our grief and despair, God is there with us, bringing us through the suffering. And she spoke of how she has learned to trust that God is God, that the plans he has for us are often different but always better than the ones we make for ourselves. Alison explained how the years of struggling to adopt and then bringing up three adopted children, each with their own individual challenges, have given her a greater understanding of the depths of God's love for her, his adopted child and confidence in His plans for her life.
Listen to Alison's interview online and come along to the rest of the Real Lives events this week to hear how God has brought hope into a myriad of different lives and situations.
You can watch a video of the interview by clicking on the player below: