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 the archive pages, which are available when logged in. Views expressed here are those held by the individuals posting, and not necessarily representative of St Mary's Church.

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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.

Regards, 

Pete Matthew

Senior Minister, Windsor Fellowship Church

Update from Trinity@4 (Sam Brewster)

Dear Friends

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.

General tips:

  • 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.

  1. ‘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.
  2. ‘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.
  3. ‘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,

Jon

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.

Conclusion

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. 

Hallelujah!

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:

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“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. 

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

  1. He is created by God and therefore completely known and understood – Psalm 139
  2. He is loved John 3:16
  3. God is in control not him Romans 8:28
  4. 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:

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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:

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Real Lives: Books

Books for Real Lives and Sunday 1st March: 
Is Jesus History?John Dickson
But is it Real?Amy Orr-Ewing
The Case For ChristLee Strobel
Reason For GodTim Keller
3, 2, 1Glen Scrivener
Divine ComedyGlen Scrivener
When Darkness Seems My Closest FriendMark Meynell
Seeking Allah, Finding GodNabeel Qureshi
Beyond The Big CJeremy Marshall
Shane: The True Story of One of the Most Dangerous Prisoners in BritainDavid Taylor (only available Friday evening)
Help! My Baby Has DiedReggie Weems
TrappedAndy Farmer
Can Science Explain Everything?John Lennox
  
Books available Sunday 1st March 
The Wonder of EasterFamily devotional
Easter Unscrambled (7-11s) 
The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross(Colouring book and Easter calendar also available)
Kiss The WaveDave Furman
To Seek and To SaveSinclair Ferguson


Books are supplied by local Christian bookseller Quench ( 19 Queen St, Maidenhead) and 10ofThose.

World Focus 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.