Blog

The St Mary's blog is a mixture of news pieces and topical articles. Each month a number of these are collated into a printed magazine, Touchline. Blog items over three months old are moved to an archive, which is available when logged in. Views expressed here are those held by the individuals posting, and not necessarily representative of St Mary's Church.

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Mission Partner Support Group Lunch (Jo Jobson)

On Sunday 26th January, the hall buzzed with talk and laughter as the Mission Partner Support Group hosted a lunch for more than 110 people of all ages and from across the congregations. While we enjoyed our food, each table learned about a different mission partner’s life and ministry, from either the partner themselves or from their St Mary’s mission link.

We were given cards and stickers so that we could write encouraging messages to the mission partners – stickers and coloured pencils were also provided, so all ages had something to do! Photos were taken of each table, holding up a sign with the partner’s name on, and after the event these were stuck onto the cards and were sent to the mission partners. Halfway through, the mission partners and mission links swapped tables, so that everyone heard about two partners and the cards and photos were repeated.

For the final ten minutes of the meal, Jon Drake interviewed Luke and Mary Foster, our mission partners from Santiago, Chile, who had joined us with their children Barney and Martha. They commented that they always really appreciate receiving the cards from this event, so it was fun to join us and see what actually goes on!

But it is not only mission partners who appreciate the event: Penny McCrabbe describes her experience of the Mission Partner lunch this year - and last.

My family and I attended this event last year. Clyde and I wanted to hear more about the mission partners so we could pray more effectively for them. It was really helpful to focus on two mission partners. We learnt more about where they were located and exactly what they did. This event inspired me to choose one mission partner and pray specifically for that person a few times a week. I have little time to serve in other ways but there is always time to pray, so this was a great opportunity.

I started praying for Angy King after this event and now we email each other at least once a week. It has been really good and it is great to be able to pray for very specific things. I still pray for the other mission partners but it is really helpful to focus on one.

We returned to the Mission Partner Support Group lunch this year with great eagerness and found ourselves on the table representing Angy. The children loved making her a card and we all enjoyed doing the quiz.

It was great to hear from Luke and Mary Foster too as we had been on the table representing them last year so it was lovely to see them in the flesh.

Quiz Night (Brian Jones)

With nine full tables booked the hall was going to be packed, so some competitors arrived early to get a head start on the warm up round.

As Kate was hosting the Newcomers’ Welcome Supper elsewhere she sent her team along with strict instructions to win at all costs and as a backup dispatched son, Paul, with his young guns. Bridget’s White Waltham team (past winners) were also back in force and it was good to see many newcomers too. The “Mad Hatters” lived up to their name and blew any chances of winning by playing a triple Joker on a round everybody scored badly on (they did win the warm up round though). 

Supper was served after a nail-biting five rounds with “Vindikated” in the lead having just played their Joker for maximum points. By round 8 the result was too close to call so with everything hanging on Phil’s wonderful last round (testing knowledge of the Luxury items on Desert Island discs) the finish was a cliff hanger. White Waltham had played their Joker on the previous round and just needed to win this one to clinch the title.

But “Vindikated” hung in there and with three teams scoring almost max points it was a tie. Both the Pipers (“Vindikated”) and Bridget’s White Waltham team (“4 times table”) scored an incredible 119.5 points out of a possible 138 and so shared the trophies and the glory.

A great way to finish a fun evening of fellowship and with £420 raised to support Mission Aviation Fellowship worldwide and Tearfund in Sudan.

Huge thanks to Maggi and Phil Richards for putting together the questions.

Should Christians Worry About Climate Change? (David Brunt)

2019 proved to be the year when the issues around climate change and damage to the environment gained a particularly high profile. We had the rebellion extinction marches and protests (remember the protester super gluing themselves naked in the House of Commons?). We have had the highly articulate Greta Thunberg challenging the (feeble) actions of governments and businesses. And who is now not aware of the issue of ocean plastics brought so eloquently to light by David Attenborough?

Separately, we have observed the terrible forest fires in California and Australia, flooding in the UK and other countries and the melting of sea ice in the Arctic. Scientists put this climate change down to Global Warming.

Strangely, the loudest voices highlighting the issue and working for change are not overtly Christian. This at the same time surprises and disappoints. God gave us an earthly home yet we don't treat it as we do our own individual homes.

So, what does the Bible say about our views and actions towards our world?

1. The earth is a result of God's incredible creativity and he created it for us to enjoy and steward. We read about this first in Gen 1:28. A couple of other verses that make this clear are:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. Gen 3:15

The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to mankind. Ps 155:16

So, to be obedient to God we are to care and manage what God has trusted us with to the best of our ability – His creation. That is what good stewards do.

2. Secondly, there are many parts of the Bible that implore us as children of God to care for the poor and vulnerable, and to uphold justice.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8-9

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27

But what has this to do with climate change? Climate change will have a massive impact on crop yields, result in more droughts, and wide-scale flooding. It is estimated that one billion people will live in low-lying coastal areas by 2050 and so a one metre rise in sea levels could have devastating effects. 4 out of 5 of these people will live in East or South East Asia. Climate change will disproportionately affect the food, shelter and lives of the poor. So, if we are to be concerned for the poor and vulnerable, we need to be concerned about climate change.

Christians can be tempted to react to this challenge in 2 extremes. One way is to be overly focused on 'saving the planet’ with not enough focus on our eternal destiny. The focus is too much on the here and now and not on the Kingdom to come and the plight of people who don't know God. The other is to be totally focused on 'saving souls' and little concern for the world God has given us. The argument goes that our destiny is heaven and that is all that matters, so focus on the earth now is a distraction. Evangelism and discipleship and saving souls are what’s important.

Of course, both extremes are not Biblical. Our theology must reflect the whole of what God says to us in the Bible. So, my reading (and that of many others) is that we are called to advance the gospel AND be good stewards. It is not one or the other.

We, as Christians, should be vocal about climate change and humankind’s lack of care for our earthly home. We can model sustainable lifestyles, be active in debates and policy change and hold each other to account. Just as important, we can offer an alternative way of living. A life of eternal hope through Jesus. A life that seeks to put God first and foremost. A life of greater simplicity eschewing the idols of endless consumption & consumerism.

I hope that will keep us busy…

New Year's Day Walk (Brian Jones)

Stayed up late to welcome the New Year, grabbed some kip, overslept(!), collected our boots then tried to find the right car park to join a good crowd out for 5km of fresh air and fellowship. If you were really keen you might even have fitted in a Park Run on the way! We started out via Stubbings church to check if the snowdrops were out (we were a bit early!), collected a few late arrivals and then let the children and dogs loose in the woods to find the site of the crashed plane... No it wasn’t a ruse to encourage attendance! It is marked by poppies, a plaque and the flags of the varied nations the airmen came from; there is an impressively large hole in the ground but no wreckage.

Once out of the woods it was an unplanned crossing of the Red Sea and, when someone asked for Moses’ staff, Kate quipped that she was “staff” while Paul’s boots, not really required in Chad, proved a bit leaky. The church warden saved someone clinging onto a dodgy bush from falling in and the White Waltham contingent found a hole in the hedge and sneaked past with dry feet! Then it was an easy cruise back to the cars via the Golden Ball (no stopping!) and Darlings Lane.

Fun and fresh air aside, it’s always a good opportunity to catch up with folk from other congregations or get to know newcomers. Join us next year!

Introducing Tom Brewster (Tom Brewster)

At the beginning of February 2020 I will be joining the staff team at St Mary's as Trainee Music Director. I'll be moving to Maidenhead with my wife Ruthie, our daughter Miriam (she's two), our dog (Rupert) and two cats (Wolfgang and Mahler). We're all very much looking forward to joining the church family at St Mary's, and are excited to see the opportunities that God has in store for us to serve Jesus alongside you.

Over the last nine years or so I have worked as a youth worker in two Anglican churches. In those roles I have had the joy of teaching the Bible to teenagers (11-18), helping them love and live for the Lord Jesus. Ever since studying music at university, I have loved being involved in the musical life of the churches we have belonged to. I'm constantly grateful to God that He has, in His wisdom, given His people music as a part of their spiritual life and I'm very much looking forward to serving the church family in this way at St Mary's.

I'm also excited to be able to attend Crosslands seminary to further my understanding of God's Word and to develop my ability to teach it faithfully - this, of course lies at the heart of our musical life as a church, a rich and full understanding of the gospel that flows out into musical worship of our wonderful God.

Ruthie, Miriam and I would love to get to know you - so please come and say hello, and maybe you can tell me your favourite song? I'd love to hear it!

When I don't feel like going to church (Louise Drake)

Sometimes I don’t feel like going to church. Is that a terrible confession for a minister’s wife? Maybe, but it is the truth. Sometimes I am feeling a bit tired, or overwhelmed, or like I have too many other things to get on with. I’m sure others feel the same. We intend to come, but other things crowd in unexpectedly. Or perhaps church is just an occasional activity, and we don’t particularly want to commit to anything more.

As we start the new year, and reflect on hopes and priorities for 2020, I thought I’d share four reasons for why church matters that I’ve been reminded of recently.

For the sake of ourselves… Jesus said that “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). There are so many voices and demands in our world, shaping and moulding us (often without us realising it). If I think I can work out who God is, and live in a way that pleases him, without hearing His voice regularly on the matter, then I am kidding myself. Coming to church is one of the best things I can do – not because I can win God’s favour by doing so, but because I can be reminded of the only hope for my soul: what Jesus has done for me in securing forgiveness and relationship with God.

For the sake of our friends and families… Many of us are acutely aware of the pressures of modern life: demanding jobs, friends and family who live far away, hectic social calendars, endless chores and errands. But I need to ask myself, what does it say to my children, parents, friends and colleagues, if protecting time for church – the time for listening to God and meeting with his people – is third, fourth or fifth down my priority list? In Exodus 20:3, God says "You shall have no other gods before me”. The uncomfortable truth is that how I choose to use my time communicates far more than my words about who or what is ‘god’ in my life – not a slavish or mindless ritual, but a willing decision in advance to prioritise what matters.

For the sake of the church family… I can be a bit of a ‘lone ranger’. I’ve worked from home for a number of years and I’m quite happy with my own company. But I am struck by Paul’s statement that “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). The fact that “you” in the New Testament letters is usually plural reminds me that the Christian life is a profoundly corporate thing. Yes, each of us needs to make a personal commitment to the Lord, but we are connected to each other and dependent on each other, perhaps in ways we do not yet realise. I am hugely grateful and encouraged when I see someone at church,especially when I know that it has been hard for them to get there. It is a wonderful thing to be sharing life in a regular, committed way.

For God’s sake… Ultimately, and for the all the reasons above, I need to attend church for Jesus’s sake. It’s a matter of obedience: “not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10: 24-25). But it’s also a matter of joy. Church can sometimes be hard or disappointing with all its foibles, but it is also a beautiful and glorious thing. Paul talks about a great mystery being unveiled: “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known…” (Ephesians 3:10). When we meet together at church, something amazing is happening. The heavenly realms can see a visible picture of God’s profound wisdom: people from every nation and background approaching God – equally and with freedom and confidence – through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:12).

Sometimes, I don’t feel like going to church. But I try to… for the sake of myself, my family and friends, my church family, and the Lord. And it’s been my experience – without exception – that I’ve never regretted it.

Willow Wreath Making (Ester Schoeman)

I had the privilege of attending the Women’s Willow Wreath Making Evening on Monday 9th December 2019. The event was sold out, with a great turn out on the night. It was set up in the main church building and so lovely to use the refurbished facilities as intended, providing a truly magical atmosphere.

The evening started off with Vic Henshall and a few singers singing carols, and we all joined in singing along too. Singing carols never fails to awaken the Christmas spirit!

Rachel Meynell gave an inspiring talk about the real meaning of Christmas, focusing on God’s generosity. She showed us the 2019 Sainsbury's Christmas advertisement set on Christmas Eve in 1869 about a young boy called Nicholas the Sweep who was wrongly accused of stealing an orange and got banished into the snowy wilderness by the crowd. The owner, Mrs. Sainsburys, saw that he was innocent and went to find the boy. On the way back to town she gives him a whole bag full of oranges, but he declares that he can’t pay for it. To which she replies: “Well if you can’t do something special for someone at Christmas then when can you?”

Nicholas the Sweep takes his precious gift back to the orphanage he came from and shares it with all his friends by putting an orange in everyone’s stocking. And the advertisement then claims that is where Christmas was born… but actually, Christmas started long before 1869. It started more than 2,000 years ago when God gave us the precious gift of his Son Jesus. Just as Nicholas the Sweep shared his oranges, Jesus also shared God’s gift with us. Jesus came down from heaven to restore the broken relationship between us and God. Even though it all started on the day Jesus was born – Christmas Day – the generosity of God’s gift to us became clear when Jesus died on the cross in our place, and by doing this he shared the gift of having a relationship with the real living God, adopted into His family making us heirs to his heavenly kingdom. Jesus didn’t keep the gift to himself, instead he wanted to share it with us who didn’t deserve it. Not just on Christmas day, but every day for those who are willing to accept the gift.

Debra Jonckers prepared a few willow wreath examples and talked us through how to make our own. We collected supplies and unleashed our creativity! Not one wreath looked the same and everyone had a lovely time putting their masterpieces together. As always, it was a lovely evening filled with laughter, spending time with old friends, making new friends, and remembering the glorious gift of Jesus we received that very first Christmas.

Funding Camps (Kate Wheatley)

Mark was Kate’s husband, and he died ten years ago following a long illness. Knowing that he was moving to his forever home with Jesus he wanted to make plans for those he left behind.

As a committed Christian who had come to faith as a teenager on a youth camp (an electronics and go karting camp in North Norfolk) he had a very special interest and enthusiasm for summer camps. In his memory a fund was set up to enable young people from St Mary’s to take non-Christian friends to Summer camps or other events where they will hear the Gospel.

Money can also be used to help fund Children and Youth from St Mary’s to attend camps or other events when family circumstances mean that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend.

This fund has enabled dozens of young people to go on Summer camps, Youth weekends away and Explorers Abroad over the last ten years. The fund would usually offer up to a half of the cost per child. One of our great hopes for this fund is that it would be used as a tool for mission –  for parents to encourage their kids to invite friends to the camps that are on offer.

As camps, though still good value, are becoming increasingly expensive please do contact , or if you would like any more information about this fund.

Summer Camps (Simon Eves)

It may be dark outside and three short weeks after Christmas but now really is the time to be thinking about summer camps.

What are they?

Many of you know all about camps already but for those who don’t- they are fantastic activity holidays where there is also the opportunity to think about the message of Christianity and to ask questions in a relaxed and safe environment. Every summer we have around 100 people from St Mary’s head off to a summer camp and they are truly brilliant times.

The young people we take always come back having had an amazing time and, often, having really engaged and thought about the good news of Christianity more deeply than they have before.

One important thing to mention is that they involve no camping! They take place in boarding schools.

Two Things to do:

  1. Book your child on now (before they get full up)
  2. Think about a friend who could be brought along too (there are always a mixture of Christian and non-Christian members on these camps and it is never assumed that everyone there thinks alike- I’ve seen many unchurched folk come and have a great holiday and generally they’ve really enjoyed thinking about and engaging with/ asking questions about the Bible talks etc.

Money

I’m aware that these holidays aren’t cheap (although at around £35 per night for all accommodation / food and activities they aren’t bad value). We have a fund available at church (see the next item on the blog) in order to make it possible for all who want to come to enjoy the camps- if you’d like to apply for funding then do contact . Normally two thirds of the total cost can be covered.

Camps and Dates

There are a number of very good camps around but there are four which we especially recommend and support and where a number of members and leaders from St Mary’s go along each year- here are the details of those camps:
  • Barnstaple 2 25 July- 1 August, £263 A camp for 11-14s in North Devon
  • Quantock 1 25 July- 2 August, £285 A camp for 14-18s which has a good number of our young people coming along each year
  • Brymore 2 1-7 August, £240 A camp for 11-14s in Somerset
  • Sparkford 3 11-19 August, £285 A camp for 14-18 year olds in Somerset and traditionally has a large number of members from St Mary’s go

But now I see (Jon Drake)

“One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

These are the words of the man born blind who, in John chapter 9, meets Jesus and has his sight restored. He finds himself being grilled by the Pharisees who were furious that Jesus had healed him on a Sabbath. The man born blind is no match for the Pharisees in theological argument and debate but he is able to give his personal testimony. He can tell them how Jesus has changed his life, so he gives his famous response, “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (John 9:25b)

Still today Jesus changes the lives of those who trust in him. A very effective way to introduce people to Christ is to share the difference he has made in our lives personally. People in our culture today are interested in personal life stories, you need only look at the ‘Real-life stories’ section of the BBC website to see that. Sharing our personal testimony is effective because it’s non-threatening and intriguing. It shows the power of Jesus and the relevance of the gospel to our lives today.

May I suggest that each of us take some time to think through how Jesus has changed and is changing our lives. This may be how he is healing the brokenness in our hearts, or helping us through difficulty and pain. We should consider how we can speak of these things in a way that gives glory to Jesus and not to ourselves.

The heart of our Real Lives Mission Week (Tuesday 25th February to Sunday 1st March) will be people sharing the story of how Jesus has changed their lives. Over the week we will hear from eight Real Lives, including how Jesus has brought transformation in the midst of abuse and addiction, hope in the face of incurable cancer, and how Jesus has brought peace and forgiveness to a man who was once one of the most violent people in British prisons. Ian Miller has blogged about the speakers, the events and how we can make the most of them.

Do join us in praying that the week will be a great encouragement to each of us and a powerful witness in our town to the life-changing power of Jesus. Please book the dates into your diary. Do pray about who you can invite. And come along yourself to hear about the difference Jesus has made to these Real Lives.

Christians in Sport - Quiz Night (Chris Hutton)

Bowl or Bat? Retire or another season?
Take the three points or kick for the corner?
Push back or choose end?
Free pass or shot?

What’s your biggest sporting decision?

On Friday 29th November, 77 of Maidenhead’s finest sporting knowledge talent gathered for the annual Christians in Sport quiz (just over 50% were guests).

After the first three quiz rounds concluded (which, by the way, the ‘youth’ table had amassed the leading score), Si Powell from Christians in Sport got us all reminiscing on those pivotal sporting decisions which may have gone well or not so well for us.

This was followed by an explanation of an even bigger decision we all need to make - “who do we say Jesus is?” Si gave a clear explanation on what the Bible tells us about Jesus and that the consequences of this decision we all need to make are very significant.

As ever, the quiz was well hosted by Maidenhead Rugby Club with great curry and good atmosphere. We had several new teams enter this year and one new team who became the eventual winners (well done – you know who you are!).

A big thanks to all those folks who came along and especially to those who invited their mates to join their teams.

The quiz will be back next year!

Real Lives 2020 (Ian Miller)

Imagine coming to St Mary’s to hear a gifted interviewer interviewing someone with a powerful and real life story of how Jesus has given them real hope in their lives. Imagine that interviewer then speaking in a winsome and helpful way about Jesus. Imagine enjoying that event – the company, the atmosphere, the refreshments, the background music. Imagine that there was not just one such event but a whole week of them, a week of Real Lives.

There is no need to imagine! A week of Real Lives events will be happening from 25th February to 1st March at St Mary’s with a great line up of guests.

Glen Scrivener is our gifted interviewer and speaker. Glen preached at all four services at St Mary’s on 19th January. Originally from Australia, he was a curate at All Soul’s Church, Eastbourne before becoming the director of Speak Life and working as an Evangelist.

Our guests include a number of people from St Mary’s such as Alison Bird, Shubbie Awoyemi, Tracy Wild and Angela McDonald. Professor Russell Cowburn, Shane Taylor, Ed Watson and Jeremy Marshall all come from further afield. All of our special guests have worked through big issues in life coming to know Jesus or finding him to be their real hope.

We have a great webpage which tells you about our speakers and enables you to buy tickets. There are short films which you can watch which will (hopefully) excite you about the prospect of coming.

Please be praying for Real Lives week:

  • For yourself – that you would be able to come and have courage to invite others
  • For your non-Christian friends – that they would come
  • For the publicity – that many would respond to flyers, adverts, posters etc. and come
  • For the speakers – who are speaking publicly about their faith and personal matters
  • For the organisation of Real Lives and for plenty of volunteers

Please join us in the Chapel every Friday from 8:30am-9:15am until Real Lives to pray – we will put aside a dedicated time for Real Lives week.

Coming

Please mark out the week in your diary, book online at www.stmarysmaidenhead.org/reallives and come! Don’t be embarrassed if you have not brought someone – come and hear these great stories of God’s work in people’s lives.

Inviting

Why not start early? Set aside time early on to read up on the speakers, watch the films on the website and get motivated.

  • Start early! Now is the best time to invite and it is all too easy to put it off, and off…
  • Make a list! Not everyone is a list person but it will help with praying and think “who?”
  • Don’t limit to best friends. You may want to start there but why not invite a wide range of people – your cleaner, the local shop-keeper, a dog-walker you see, work colleagues etc.
  • Be confident: the events will be superb. Your friends will not be embarrassed – the events are interesting, engaging, warm and friendly.
  • Invite people to all events. It may seem over the top but they may come to a couple at least and if they come early in the week might come back for more!
  • Take a stash of publicity. Keep a load of flyers in your bag. Leave them in your local shops. At the station. On the train. Give them to anyone who will take them! Put posters up in your windows. In your cars. In your gym. On school noticeboards. Be creative for Christ!
  • Use the St Mary’s website. You can download the publicity so that you can send it to friends electronically. This can be a great addition to a face-to-face invitation but would be a poor substitute. We even have the publicity in Mandarin, Polish and (hopefully) Urdu.

Serving

After deciding which events you want to come to, it would be great if you could consider how you might serve at other events. Please look at the volunteer boards in the church hall for more information.

Junior Youth Weekend Away (Charlotte Faulkner)

On Friday 22nd November, 32 members and 10 leaders took the journey to Woodcroft Christian Centre in Chepstow near Wales. Here we spent Friday evening to Sunday lunch time together as a group doing fun activities, getting to know each other better and looking at chapter 14 of Luke’s gospel.

The weekend was lots of fun! Saturday morning, we carousel-ed round various activities: Franken-fruit which involved sewing different fruits together and attaching googly eyes to create a film star for the next activity. They then moved on to the film making, where they were given a category (e.g. The Olympics) which they had to use as inspiration for their films which we showcased on Sunday morning. And then to top it all off a game of dodgeball.

After lunch, everyone gathered in the sports hall dressed in their disguises to be briefed on their next activity which was to solve a Murder Mystery. To do so, they had to go to the different suspects and interrogate them or complete one of the activities they had to get a clue. The youth were amazing at this and truly uncovered the secrets of ‘Williams Manor’.

Tom Brewster came along to lead us through chapter 14 of Luke’s gospel. In his four talks, we learned about how our relationship with God calls for compassion to others who are suffering (14:1-6), that we should embrace humility rather than pride because one day Jesus will exalt us (14:7-11), that the way we get to go to heaven is because of what Jesus has done not our actions (14:12-24), and finally, that loving and following him will not be easy as he calls to be in charge of our lives (14:25-35).

All in all, it was a wonderful time away with the Junior Youth. Thanks to everyone who helped in any way, without you it would not have been so successful!

Happy New Year (Will Stileman)

Happy New Year! By the time you read this I will be in South Africa on the first stage of my sabbatical. In case you have missed the previous communications, I have been granted by the ‘powers-that-be’ in the Diocese of Oxford time off between Christmas and Easter to have a decent rest.

I will be in South Africa for six weeks. The first two weeks are a complete indulgence. I will be watching cricket as England just happen to be touring South Africa! I will then be spending two weeks at a theological college in Cape Town (George Whitefield College) which will act as a bit of a retreat and give me a chance to do some studying. For the final two weeks Becca is flying out and we will have a holiday together which will include a visit to Durban to see the charitable project that a St Mary’s member, Corlea Human, is heading up. I will be back in the UK in mid-February. After that you may well see me around Maidenhead and at the odd Sunday service, but I will be there simply as a member of the church family. I am also intending to be around during the ‘Real Lives’ week and will be praying for opportunities to bring along non-Christian contacts and friends.

I am hugely blessed to be supported by a godly and able staff team in whom I have confidence. They will manage fine without me. In my absence Jon Drake and Rachel Meynell will be responsible for all pastoral matters while Dick West and John Blackbeard will be responsible for anything to do with the practical operations. Ultimate responsibility for St Mary’s lies with our Churchwardens, Damien Eustace and Rae Binning. So, these are the people to consult in event of a crisis.

These months between Christmas and Easter will be a significant time for us as a church. Not only do we have the ‘Real Lives’ Mission week, but at the beginning of February, Tom Brewster joins the staff team as a trainee Director of Music. The Sunday morning congregations will also be embarking on a major sermon series in the early chapters of Genesis. I also hope that many parents and those who help with our children’s and youth ministry will be attending the first of the ‘Parenting Matters’ sessions led by Mel Lacey on the evening of 13th January.

We have a memory verse for this year: Romans 5:13 ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.’ That will be my prayer for myself and for you all while I am away.

Christingle Making

The annual Christingle making took place in the St Mary’s church hall with the usual mix of young and old, first timers and old-hands and oranges, sweets, mince pies and fun. Some were so keen to be part of the making that they turned up 45 minutes early, but most arrived just before the 10am start!

As you can see from the photos, making Christingles is a production line. Oranges are cored, red tape is stuck around them, candles are inserted before the cocktail sticks, laden with sweets, are pushed in. As always, the most popular task - amongst both children and adults alike - is putting sweets onto the cocktail sticks!

Christingles go back a long way - and each part of them help us to remember the significance of the Christmas story:

  • Orange - the world that God made
  • The sticks - the four seasons (or possibly the four corners of the world!)
  • The sweets - God's good gifts to his world
  • The candle - Jesus, light of the world
  • The red ribbon - Jesus' blood, shed for our forgiveness

Within an hour, 413 Christingles were made, placed on the trays ready for today’s Christmas Eve services (2:30pm and 4pm). These services are a wonderful opportunity to share the joy of celebrating Jesus' birth with others come and share in the joy of celebrating Jesus's birth.

Christmas Unwrapped (Charlotte Faulkner)

Where was Jesus born? How many wise men were there? What does the Donkey do?

These all seem like super easy questions, right?

Well, unless you answered ‘In a cave’, ‘We don’t know’ and ‘The bible doesn’t tell us about a donkey’, you may know quite a bit less about Christmas than you thought you did.

From 4th-6th December, we asked 485 kids from 11 primary schools these questions as well and then helped them to unwrap the true meaning of Christmas.

One of the highlights of the sessions was making mince pies. Helped by our amazing group of volunteers, the kids were able to mould some pastry into whatever they liked. The most popular designs this year were snow men, presents and unicorns! They also got to vote for their favourite Strictly Come Dancing pair, do a word search, dance and much more fun stuff!

One of the key things that Sarah taught them was the idea of Bubblegum and Fluff. Bubblegum is the original story, what the Bible tells us about Jesus’ birth. The Fluff is all the stuff that has been added onto it over the years, like the Christmas trees and elves. They then watched a video about why the Bible is reliable and trustworthy, before Kate sent them all off to read and write down what the Bible says about Christmas.

To practice what they had just learnt, they were asked to sort out Christmas cards into ‘Bubblegum’ and ‘Fluff’. Some were really quite tricky, where would you place a card that has the three wise men on it? We know there were wise men in the Bible but were there three?

They also got the chance to hear from the acclaimed Nutty Professor who went through one of the quizzes with them and then later answered some of their amazing questions.

Here is a selection; why not think about how you would answer them…

  • Why should I read the Bible?
  • Why did the wise men and shepherds travel to see Jesus?
  • Why would the wise men go to such a gross place?
  • Why did God want Jesus to be called that name?
  • Did Joseph and Mary know that they were having the saviour?
  • Why did angels tell the shepherds about Jesus?
  • If angels told the shepherds how come we know about it today?
  • What did Jesus come to save us from?
  • Is Jesus the Messiah of the Christians?
  • How do we know that Jesus is God’s son?
  • If Jesus is God’s son – then who was Joseph?
  • How did Luke (and other gospel writers) know what to write down?
  • Why do we get presents at Christmas?
  • Is Jesus coming back and if so when?

Ways to Support Mission Partners (Jo Jobson and Jo Wheatley)

Jo Jobson, Chair of the Mission Partner Support Group, was asked to give some advice on ways to support mission partners and Jo Wheatley was asked to reflect on her experience of this as a Mission Partner.

Jo Jobson (Chair of the Mission Partners Support Group) writes:

Why do this?

We aim to link one of St Mary’s Mission Partners with each Growth Group, so that a personal relationship can be established - which has benefits for both sides. The Mission Partner will be encouraged by regular contact & knowing they are cared for. The GG will gain a greater insight into God’s amazing work of spreading the gospel worldwide and into all walks of life. They will learn about a country or an area of work of which they may have no direct experience & may build up friendships with the Mission Partners & their families.  Knowing what God is doing in a different context can also change our perception of our own situations.

How can we do this?

Rather than giving the Growth Group leaders something else to remember, the arrangement works best if another group member (or members) takes responsibility for it. You can find information about your Mission Partner on this website. Liaise with the St Mary’s Mission Link to ensure that you receive the monthly prayer updates from the Mission Partner. Include these in your growth group prayers.

You will find Partners’ email addresses via the Care List search. Contact them to introduce your group and let them know that you will be praying for them.  Partners’ work can be lonely, isolating & immensely challenging, so they love to receive emails or letters – no matter how brief (or long!) Even if you don’t know them, tell them a little about your life & ask about theirs. Don’t be put off if you don’t always receive a reply – they are human too!

Other practical ideas

  • Pray specific Bible verses for them and their ministry, and then email these to them
  • Send them a photo of the Growth Group so they can identify who is writing to them
  • Find out when their birthdays are & send them a card signed by all in the group
  • Try a Skype call with them during one of your meetings – if you’ve pre-arranged it, it may well work!
  • If they live in the UK or are back on furlough, invite them to a meeting, whether it’s to find out about them or for them to join in with your Bible study. Invite them to other events at church. Host an ‘at home’ afternoon /evening for church members to drop in & catch up, for coffee or a ‘bring & share’ meal. Organise an update session before a St Mary’s Evening they’ll be coming to - they will be so delighted to be able to talk about their work, joys and struggles to people who they already know a little.
  • At Christmas, send a food parcel of items they like but which are hard to find or very expensive in their country, or a Christmas card signed by the group
  • Donate frequent flyer miles to them
  • Purchase an iTunes gift card for them; you can send these through email or if you buy a physical card simply email them the code on the back
  • Call their local florist (not everyone is in the jungle these days) and have flowers delivered
  • Ask them if you can host an evening of prayer for them and the local people who work with them

View from a recent Mission Partner, Jo Wheatley.

Philippians 1:3,5 'I thank my God… because of your partnership in the gospel…'

This was the verse Steven and I used for our Prayer Card as we so valued our supporters as part of our partnership in the gospel. Ever since I first went overseas in 1986 I realised (and the Mission drummed it in) that I was only a cog in the wheel fulfilling Christ’s command of Matthew 28:20. Without the prayers and support of others, any Ministry would be in vain.

Back in the old days we had to write Prayer Letters every three months (NB no computers then! Letters took six weeks or more). Now with the technological advance sending communication is so quick. But it is hard to write if we never hear back. It is a two-way ministry. As Missionaries we need to communicate but as supporters so do you. It’s a relationship. Some are better at this than others. I write a missive, Steven writes 2 lines! It doesn’t matter. When overseas or in a cross cultural situation receiving a line like: 'prayed for you last night and by the way it’s snowing and Will is soon off on sabbatical' means so much. It’s also nice to receive a photo of the Group and hear about the individuals in the group and how to pray for them. This makes visiting when on Home Leave so much easier. To meet in the flesh and personally thank the Group is special.

One of our Growth Groups set up a rota and every week one member of the Group would e-mail a few lines. Another group sent food parcels at Christmas. Another time the Group were concerned they hadn’t received any contact in a while and asked if we were okay. In fact, I was quite low and it is during those times that we most need prayers BUT it’s so difficult to ask.

We need Partnership.

6:30pm Ladies Day Away (Hazel Tomlinson)

We had a wonderful day away at St Katharine’s, Parmoor in Frieth. The 16 of us met there at 10am where we started with our first study - looking at what contentment is which Rachel led. After a small break, Kat lead us in our second study - being content with what we have. It was an amazing time spent in sharing, praying and getting to know each other better.

On our return we made some little angel charms which Becs kindly organised, whilst those who could knit helped Katie Croft out with knitting some little Christmas stockings. There was lots of laughter and some special bonding.

Our final study was about being content when life is hard which was very challenging. We looked at Corinthians as Paul was such an amazing role model in regards to living life even through adversity. We learnt how God is our comfort in all our troubles. We looked at Philippians 4 and focused on rejoicing in the Lord, not being anxious about anything but being thankful for all our blessings and looking at what we have instead of what we don't have. Philippians 4 verse 8 is a wonderful verse to put into practise. We finished listening to a beautiful song by a lady called Debbie Arnott which is based on Philippians 4 'I will be anxious about nothing'.

We ended with some time of open prayer, reflecting on what we had learnt, before breaking up into small groups and praying for each other.

We had a wonderful meal together cooked by the staff at St Katherine's and even had some champagne brought by Ruth! Again lots of time to share and get to know each other better.

We all set off home at 9pm encouraged, blessed and thankful.

Mission Partner Update: Harrison and Rhoda Mungai

It was a delight to welcome Harrison and Rhodah Mungai, our link missionaries for iServe Africa, to St Mary’s during November. They were able to meet a good number of the church family, both to pray for each other and to share updated news about the work and ministry of iServa Africa, based in Kikuyu – just north of Nairobi, Kenya.

iServe Africa is a Christian organisation that exists to promote faithful Bible teaching and servant leadership through four main programmes, namely:  TransformD for high school leavers, Apprenticeship for university graduates, Utumish (Servanthood) Course for local leaders as well as Injili Afrika that deals with contemporary issues affecting the African continent.

Each year many young people go through the organisation – currently there are 40 beds available for young people in dormitories which are used by TransformD members for six months of the year, camps through the school holidays and the apprentices during their Ministry Training Course.

However, only Phase One of the project is complete. With more space available there would be extra capacity for more training, thereby enhancing efficiency and creating sustainability. Phase Two would provide 24 en suite rooms plus training rooms and a library.

Many of you will remember that St Mary’s generously donated funds towards Phase One a couple of years ago. iServe Africa are now launching Phase Two and are praying that God will provide £160,000 to complete the building of the Training Centre to help them in their quest to reach the continent of Africa with the gospel.

Current prayers for Harrison and Rhodah and the iServe Africa programme are:
  1. Praise God for the 35 young men and women who were recently commissioned into the Lord's service and pray for their future ministries.
  2. Pray for gospel workers who have signed up for this year's Utumishi Course which provides training in Bible handling skills.
  3. Pray for those who are preparing to apply for the TransformD Course in 2020 – this is specifically aimed at school leavers, before they move on to university next autumn.
  4. Praise God that Phase One of the Training Centre Project was completed last year. Please pray for Phase Two where fundraising is underway and pray that the Lord will provide the required £160,000 by August 2020.

iServe Africa prayer requests are always available in the monthly edition of the prayer diary and regular newsletters can be found in the iServe Africa slot on the Missionary Noticeboard in the Hall foyer. If you would like to receive these personally direct from iServe Africa please send your email address to me, [hidden], ( and I will forward them on.

Harvest Giving (Steven Wheatley)

22nd September was St Mary's annual Harvest Day, when we had an opportunity to show our gratitude for all that God gives us, by sharing these blessings with others. This year there were two strands to our giving.

Locally, we shared in a very practical and tangible way with Foodshare. Food brought to the Church throughout the day was taken to the Foodshare store for distribution as needed.

Further afield, we were able to send over £10,000 to SIM Malawi, to help with their work following serious flooding some months ago. SIM together with their partner church, the Africa Evangelical Church, and the Evangelical Association of Malawi, have been helping people who lost their homes and fields through the flooding, by supplying emergency supplies and help with rebuilding. So far, nearly 2,000 families have been helped.

As the country gears up for another rainy season, with the prospect of further flooding, much of the relief work has been suspended for the time being, but will be restarted once the rains have finished and roads are passable. The gift from St Mary’s will be used during this phase of the work.

Parenting Matters (Will Stileman)

In the Bible both Old and New Testaments stress the responsibility of God’s people and, in particular, believing parents to instruct their children about God and his ways. For instance Psalm 78:3-4 declares that ‘...what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.’ In a similar vein, Paul issues this challenge to Christian fathers: ‘Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and the instruction of the Lord.’ (Ephesians 6:4)

It is because of this that as a whole church family we want to be helping one another to do the best job we can in bringing the next generation up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

To that end, on the evening of Monday 13th January 2020 (7:30pm for 8, until 9:30pm) we are hosting the first of our Parenting Matters events. Parenting Matters consists of three evening sessions presented by Mel Lacy (the other two are on 27th April and 28th September). The title of this first evening is Raising Kids for Christ, which will be focussing on identity and raising children to know who they truly are. Mel has been doing children’s and youth ministry in various ways, countries and contexts for over twenty years. She has had extensive experience in church-based children’s and youth ministry and has, more recently, been the Director of the Children’s and Youth Ministry Course at Oak Hill College (a position she continues to hold). She is great value and comes highly recommended. These evenings should be of immense interest to parents, grandparents, and all who help out in any form of children’s or youth groups. 

Do visit Growing Young Disciples if you want to find out more.

Cru-Club Celebration (Brian Jones)

Maidenhead Crusaders, or Cru-Club as it has been more recently known, was started 70 years ago by Eric and Kitty Golden to reach out to unchurched boys. It’s been based in various locations and moved to St Mary’s some time after I became involved 40 years ago. It was originally a boys’ Bible class on Sunday plus sports on a Monday night but the two meetings were combined to ensure no one missed out on (or escaped!) the Bible teaching slot. There was close liaison with many similar groups in the Reading area and a good tradition of inter-group competitions and annual House Parties. Badges were awarded after ten attendances and Bibles after 50, and it was our pleasure to present six Bibles at last Saturday’s final birthday celebration bringing the total over the years to 131.

We used an in-house programme to train young leaders whenever possible and at least four have gone on to be youth leaders in their own right (Adam and Daniel, Adam and Harry) and another into ministry (Joel). One talented football player (Andy) went on to win the Premier League (needless to say we won quite a few football trophies while he was in the group!)!

At least 20 different people have helped out over the years with Gary, Ian and Steve being our present team and Joanie, Ruth, Helen and Bob working faithfully in the background. Recruitment seemed to work best with boys bringing their friends, Marcus once famously bringing his whole class.

Why run it? Crusaders helped me stay in touch with my Christian faith through my teenage years and with 95% of young people having little or no connection with churches anything we can do to bridge that gap is vital.

Why stop now? Well my first Crusader is now a grandfather himself! And we all have to retire sometime; Gary (with Sara) as my main helper has moved away; the group is smaller and the boys can all be catered for at 7 Up, X and Shift Focus; plus a whole host of other small pointers.

Huge thanks to all who supported our final birthday, it was a great occasion.

Massive thanks to St Mary’s for their background support over the years to a group that was effectively independent.

Grateful thanks to St Piran’s for hosting us on a occasional basis over the last 10 years, fitting us in wherever possible.

Humble thanks to all those who have helped and assisted in so many ways and for those of you who have, unbeknown to us, prayed.

It’s been great fun - hard work - sometimes frustrating, often encouraging, but in the long run we are all just small cogs in God‘a family playing our part in building his kingdom.

Real Lives Week 2020 (Ian Miller)

Between 25th February and 1st March 2020 we have a great line up of events at St Mary’s at which people will be interviewed about their life stories. These include the story of a prisoner who was one of the most violent men in the criminal justice system (Shane Taylor), of the former CEO of a city bank who is now battling incurable cancer (Jeremy Marshall), of a Muslim who became a Mormon and then a Christian (Shubbie Awoyemi) and of a woman who suffered abuse, struggled with addiction and became a single mum (Angela McDonald). We have invited these and a number of others to be interviewed about their stories because each story speaks of the gripping and life-changing story of God’s love and faithfulness to real and ordinary people.

My hope is that you will find that Real Lives week offers a variety of events to which you can invite friends and family to hear the impact of Jesus in people’s lives. At the evening events there will be drinks, nibbles, music etc and then interviews conducted by Glen Scrivener who is a gifted evangelist. After the interview he will give a short gospel talk.

More details will be forthcoming, but in the meantime why not:

  • Put Real Lives week in your diaries (25th February to 1st March)
  • Start praying for the week and for friends, colleagues and family you might invite
  • Check out Glen Scrivener’s website and perhaps send links to some of his films to your friends: he has some great Christmas films
  • Get to know some of the speakers you will be inviting your friends to hear by looking at the following films of Shane Taylor (4 mins) and Jeremy Marshall (25 mins)
player


Word Alive (Various Authors)

Word Alive - what is it?

Word Alive is a Christian conference held in Prestatyn, North Wales every Easter for six days. About 5,000 people attend from around the country and overseas. It's held on a Pontins site right on the beach and many families stay on site, but large numbers also book holiday cottages, B&B's and hotel bookings in the local area. A group from St Mary's go each year and we tend to all stay in the hotel next to the site, being together gives a great opportunity for fellowship as well as enjoying the conference itself.

How does it work?

Each day follows the same pattern. For adults there are two main morning meetings with a break in between and a main evening meeting. The main Bible talk, teaching from a book of the Bible, is repeated at both morning sessions so that you can go once to that and then choose a second series of talks to attend should you wish. The afternoon is filled with seminars on different topics which you can dip in and out of, or just enjoy some down time or family time. The main evening meeting is a get together for all adults and is very similar in style to a St Mary's evening service, just on a much bigger scale! Following on from this is the main student evening meeting (though non students are certainly welcome!) as the conference is well supported by UCCF and many university Christian Union groups attend.

Whilst adults are learning in their sessions there are sessions running for children of all ages. Pre-school children have groups for one of the two morning sessions. School aged children have groups for the entire morning and from year 3, an evening group also.

There is teaching for the mentally handicapped and for overseas students, teaching for church leaders and those doing voluntary ministries. Our own Sam Allberry was there this year talking on the issue on singleness.

There is a huge book stall run by 10ofthose and the week provides a great opportunity to just sit and read up on different topics. This year I read a book called "Gay Girl, Good God" and heard first hand how God had transformed the life of a girl trapped in the gay scene.

Why do we go?

Several of those who attended Word Alive 2019 write about why they went and their experiences of attending with young families, older families, without children or as a worker.

Katie Croft
We first went to Word Alive in 2008 when our eldest daughter was 7 and in year 2 at school, despite the varying Welsh Easter weather we have not missed a year since. When our girls have reached GCSEs and A levels we have asked if they still want to go, knowing that Easter is a key time for revision. Despite their dedication to working hard and doing well, we are always met with a resounding "yes!".

Hannah, our eldest, said that she loves meeting with other Christians from around the country and it has strengthened her faith to know that it's not just our family or our small community at St Mary's that believes the Gospel. The friends she's made over the years keep in touch outside of Word Alive for prayer and encouragement as they live for Jesus in the world. The teenage work is excellent and the girls have loved going to their meetings.

For me, the excitement of another Word Alive begins early and we can't wait to get there each year. If you offered me an all expenses paid holiday in the sun (which I would dearly love) in place of Word Alive, I would turn you down. What makes it so special? The teaching is outstanding and I love the opportunity for fellowship with the church family. We learn more about God, go deeper into subjects of interest ranging from "can I lose my faith", to "where to do Christians stand on the issue of medical ethics". I love the atmosphere of being surrounded by other Christians, the worship and the fun. It's a little foretaste of heaven.

What struck me most this year were Tim Chester's talks on "Enjoying God". Stopping to think about our one-to-one relationship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in turn was really life changing and encouraging. It can be easy to get carried away with learning Bible knowledge or with serving or just the daily grind of life, but just to stop and enjoy God, knowing in return that He delights in us (Zeph 3:17) was just brilliant. You can download Word Alive talks from their website if you would like to hear more.

Richard Crane
We never attempted Word Alive when our children were younger, but now we wish we had. It’s quickly become a big highlight of our family’s year - no exaggeration! Our two children (11 and 15) always ask us to book it again. The balance of Bible teaching and silly games is just right for them, and they also get to meet children from around the UK who share their experience of growing up in a Christian family. The kids and youth sessions each day look at the same Bible passages as the adults, which makes for some helpful conversations. And they always have plenty of spare time for the sandy beach next to the site or hanging out with their friends. It’s brilliant.

Thomas Walton
I have attended Word Alive several times in the past but this was my first trip for four years. It was a really encouraging time spiritually; singing God's praises with a couple of thousand people was really uplifting and hearing faithful and relevant teaching was challenging and thought-provoking. There were lots of different sessions to attend so there was almost always something of interest.

This year we stayed off-site, which meant the accommodation was nicer but less convenient for popping in and out or for attending the After Hours evening entertainment. It would be great to get a few on-site chalets as part of a group next year!

Suzie Eves
I don't know how you feel about toddler tantrums...? They're not usually my favourite parenting experience, but when your child has had "the best time ever" on their "Jesus Holiday" and throws one on the realisation that there won't be another of their groups to go to, my heart felt full. I had been slightly apprehensive before we arrived as Simon was serving (more on that below) so I knew I'd be doing bedtime with our two children (10 months and nearly 3) myself etc, and we were staying offsite, but once there and settled we had the best time and the days flew by!

There was so much on - both Pontins and the Word Alive organisers make a big effort to ensure the event is family-friendly: huge inflatables, face-painting, trampolines, swimming, go karts, and lots more are all available for free. There are age-appropriate Preschooler groups run in the mornings (I got to the main Bible meeting) - Tillie's group (our nearly 3 year old) was literally in a soft play centre and she hasn't stopped singing the songs she learnt there - and then, highlight of our day, the Families Together celebration at 5:30pm. This was a wonderful, faithful, accessible, encouraging, engaging and eccentric "Jesus show" (as ours put it) - songs, memory verse ("Preach the Good News, be ready at all times!"), silly yet theological sketches, jokes, dress up, games, craft, prayer - all centred around the book of 2 Timothy. Music and drama were led by Awesome Cutlery. The timing of this and the other sessions can be routine friendly for little ones - for example, we had a picnic during Families Together which was totally okay and a relief!

Staying onsite, or a bit closer than we were, would certainly be something we aim for next year as with young children, it's great to be able to use all of the facilities / nip back to avoid "adventure wees" in the park / for a nap. I loved being surrounded by fellow believers on such a huge scale every day, getting to the Bible talks and being challenged and encouraged anew, getting excited about Jesus with my family lots, and having some adult-only time at two of the late evening celebrations (note: thanks to the friend and babysitter we brought with us!).

Simon Eves
I'm still not sure exactly how or why, but somehow I managed to find myself serving on the youth team leading Bible Studies for 14-18 year old lads (I really know how to let my hair down and enjoy my holidays!). But it was honestly brilliant. We had over 200, 14-18 year olds crammed into our meeting room and it was incredibly encouraging to be a part of that work as you saw so many young people genuinely eager to grow in their walk with Christ. From a personal perspective, Word Alive seemed to be really great at looking after the teams and because I was serving it made it possible for my family to come and enjoy a very reasonably priced holiday. One of the great joys is that as a family we were all studying the same stuff so in Tillie's group, Suzie in the main sessions, what I taught the teenagers and what we looked at in the family / all age meeting was all from 2 Timothy and so we were all able to have conversations about what we'd been learning together.

Word Alive takes place next year 4th-9th April 2020. And for more information see their website.