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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Growth Groups at St Mary's (Jon Drake)

Our Growth Groups are such an encouragement to many at St Mary's. We have a number of groups that meet in the evenings, and also some daytime groups. In September the evening Growth Groups will be reorganising. This will be a good time for new people to get involved, so I'm writing to explain why Growth Groups are great to be part of, and why they are reorganising.

Why Growth Groups?

I can honestly say that one of the greatest helps in my Christian life over the years has been belonging to Growth Groups. I hope many others will feel the same.

Our evening Growth Groups are organised within congregations and meet in someone's home. They tend to have between eight and sixteen members and they meet for ninety minutes to two hours each week, except for the weeks when St Mary's Evening falls. Each group is different, but they all include time to catch up with each other, a Bible study discussion and time to pray.

Growth Groups are a brilliant setting to do many of the things the Bible calls us to do for each other as Christians. In the Bible study we can 'teach' and 'encourage' each other (Col. 3:16, 1 Thess. 5:11). Often we learn in a different way in an interactive discussion to in a sermon because we can ask questions and put things into our own words. Growth Groups are a great place to 'love one another' (John 13:34), 'carry each other's burdens' (Gal. 6:2) and pray for each other. In our groups we can also support one another as we reach out to others with the gospel.

If you are not part of a Growth Group at present do speak to your congregation leader, and look out for information coming soon about joining a group from September onwards. No experience is needed and it's fine to try a group and see how you find it.

Why Growth Group reorganisation?

Every four years there will be some reorganisation of the evening Growth Groups and that is happening this September (the daytime groups are organised differently). This will be a smaller reorganisation than four years ago in September 2014, when the groups became congregational for the first time. My hope is that each person will find themselves in a group with some old friends they have been with before and some new friends they can have the joy of getting to know.

There are many advantages to having some reorganisation every four years:

  • It is good for existing Growth Group members, because it gives us the joy of sharing our lives with new people. Most of the groups are now at capacity, so without some reorganisation it is not possible for new members to join them. I hope all groups have found it exciting to be joined by new members and we want that to continue.
  • It is good for those who have recently arrived at St Mary's. It is wonderful that new people join our church each year. We know that it is important for both recent and longstanding members of St Mary's to mix in a small group setting. With groups at capacity this can only happen if there is some reorganisation.
  • It is good for our congregations as a whole. It is the congregation, more than the Growth Group, that is the local expression of the body of Christ. Believers have a responsibility to serve each other in the body, but that is hard when we don't know folk. Having some reorganisation of the Growth Groups allows us to spend time with and develop bonds with a different group within the congregation. Over time, we trust, this will greatly strengthen our life together as the body of Christ.

In the early summer we will put out a brochure explaining how many evening Growth Groups will be on offer in each congregation from September. My hope is that, for the reasons above, as many people as possible will say that they are flexible to join any group, or perhaps specify one or two people they'd like to be with, or an evening they can't manage. The congregation leaders will then work with Growth Group leaders and others to organise the groups so that each person is in a group with some old friends and some new.

As the groups reorganise, it will naturally be painful to no longer be in the same Growth Group as some who have become dear to us. We are very grateful to group members for facing this change so we can share our lives with a wider number in the church. One good way to continue fellowship with dear friends we are no longer in a Growth Group with is to form a prayer triplet or square. This is a group of three or four who meet weekly, fortnightly or monthly to share and pray for each other.

It is important that this reorganisation is conducted sensitively and thoughtfully, so if you have questions, concerns or suggestions please speak to or email your congregation leader directly. We will be delighted to speak with individuals or groups, to put our heads together on how this reorganisation can be done in a way that works for us all.

I write this with great thankfulness to God for all he is doing in our Growth Groups, and excitement about what the future holds as we seek to grow the number of groups and people involved for the glory of his name.

I don't understand art (James Ainscough)

I don't understand art and I would never normally choose to spend time in an art gallery. But the "Heart Of Things" exhibition has been eye-opening. Why? Because you can meet the artist (Paul Hobbs) and talk to him about his work. The pictures open up to reveal their treasure. The themes and issues take on new depths. And art becomes personal rather than inaccessible. Whether you're young or old this is a unique opportunity to explore art, to learn, to think, to be stimulated. Don't miss out!

The exhibition in the newly refurbished church is open 10am-6pm and 7:30pm-9:30pm from Wednesday 31st January to Saturday 3rd February.

Scarlet knickers and gold fish (The Heart of Things)

What does a pair of scarlet knickers placed in a wine glass next to two gold fish on a table with a map and a page from the Financial Times mean? Why is it in St Mary's Church, Maidenhead this week?

Come and see the exhibition of paintings, sculptures and installations by Paul Hobbs that is on display at St Mary's, Maidenhead this week. There is the opportunity to talk to the artist, discuss the artworks with refreshments available in the evening. 

The exhibition in the newly refurbished church is open 10am-6pm and 7:30pm-9:30pm from Wednesday 31st January to Saturday 3rd February.

What does 2018 hold for us as a church? (Will Stileman)

God ultimately is the only one who knows and that is our great confidence. Jesus is head of his church and that includes us at St Mary's - our life and prospering is ultimately in his hands.

But given that, what are some of our aspirations for the coming year? Let me suggest five:

1. The continuing faithful proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ in everything we do. We want to do this year what we seek to do every year - that is to remain faithful to Jesus and to keep faithfully preaching and teaching the testimony to him that we find in Scripture. All the ministry we do at St Mary's needs to have Jesus Christ and the Bible at its heart. Where we hold our Sunday meetings (whether it is at Oldfield School or back on the St Mary's site) makes not a blind bit of difference to that.

2. Sam Brewster's move to Henley to establish a new congregation there, and Dave Atallah's move into the White Waltham vicarage to take on responsibility for that parish while still continuing to lead the 4pm congregation at St Mary's. As I hope most of us are aware these have been our aspirations for a long time, and we are continuing to trust that they are part of God's will. There is clearly a need for a new families-orientated congregation in Henley (check out the Trinity at Four web site); while David Andrew, the current minister at St Mary's White Waltham wants to move on, and both he and our local bishop think Dave Atallah is the man to lead that church in its ongoing mission. However, neither have been plain sailing. For instance, we have heard in the last two weeks that the school which Sam had hoped the Henley congregation could meet in is no longer available. These set-backs are a reminder that we are involved in a spiritual battle and we must remain vigilant in prayer.

3. Building up the centre. In recent years we have been involved in many significant, new initiatives: the establishment of the Windsor Fellowship Church; the forging of the partnership with St Mary's White Waltham; preparing the ground for the new enterprise in Henley; and of course the complete refurbishment of our church building. We praise God, for his leading and empowering in all these initiatives. However, they have taken their toll (and in some cases still are) on our resources of energy, time, money and people. I think that as a staff team we need to particularly focus this year on building up Christ's body at St Mary's and working out how best to use our town centre site and newly refurbished building to reach out afresh with the gospel to Maidenhead. I mentioned at the end of last year how John Furley's two year sabbatical from his job as a Civil Servant with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) was coming to an end this year. Well because of Brexit, the FSA have requested that John come back sooner and so John will be finishing as our Operations Manager on 23rd February. However, I am pleased to announce that John Blackbeard and Dick West are both joining the staff team part time to fill that post; in fact the hand over process is already happening. More on how all that will work in next month's issue of Touchline. But I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to John Furley for the huge support he has been to me over the last 22 months in that role.

4. Paying off the debt. Although we are back in, the refurbished church building is not completely finished. The organ still needs to be installed and, with our builders applying for liquidation before Christmas, there is a plethora of snagging issues that must be sorted. However, I hope that you are as pleased with the results as I am. It was always our plan, once the building was completed and we knew the final costs that we would hold a final Gift Day to try and clear the outstanding debt. We plan to hold that Gift Day on 18th March and the outstanding amount we need to raise is around £350,000. Please be in prayer about this. More details will be announced once we have had The Heart of Things mission week.

5. Being godly in the face of a growing crisis. If the present trajectory is maintained, within the next two years the Church of England will make some sort of official provision to bless same-sex unions. At St Mary's we welcome all, whatever our sexuality and personal issues, and we call on one another to receive God's grace and submit to Christ's lordship. However, if same sex unions are blessed a red line will have been crossed; for then the Church of England will be blessing something that the gospel explicitly condemns. In the face of such godlessness we will have to make an appropriate stand. However, we are not the only local church concerned about such matters and on 6th March the St Mary's Church Council is meeting up with the church councils of three other parishes in the Oxford Diocese to consider what our response should be if / when this happens. It grieves me that we find ourselves, as a denomination, in this position. I don't want us as a church to be distracted by this (that is why it is mentioned last), but when God's truth is being undermined, faithful disciples can't watch on and do nothing.

So, five aspirations for 2018. Please make them a matter of heartfelt prayer.

Will Stileman