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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Brahmin Reborn - Book Review (Alison Bird)
Brahmin Reborn by Bhaskar Sreerangam
This is an excellent book which the St Mary’s book club will be discussing at our next meeting in June.
In this true story Bhaskar tells how he was born into a loving Brahmin family - the highest caste of Hinduism. He was deeply religious and obsessed with avoiding being re-incarnated as a lower being rather than achieving a better reincarnation and eventually achieving the ‘supreme reality’. As he desperately sought answers from priests and family his search for God found only doubts and disappointments. At university he became so obsessed with his quest that he decided that unless he received an answer to his question, “How, God, do I reach you when I die?” that he would commit suicide.
As he roamed around Madras looking for an answer he met a man who gave him a leaflet which he thought was about blood donation. “I will do this good deed before I die,” he thought. The leaflet was actually an invitation to a church. There he finally discovered that Jesus is the answer to his lifelong question, the one who can finally lift his burden and put him right with God. This book shows us how we can love our Hindu neighbours and reveals some of their beliefs and background. It reminds us of the importance of showing warmth and hospitality to Hindu friends and lovingly welcoming people into church when their own family may have rejected them.
St Mary’s book group is open to anyone. For information please contact Sara Hewins on 07903 675863
Book Sunday (June 2021)
Instead of having an in-person book stall we have asked for some suggested reads for the summer – all obtainable online from 10 of Those (www.10ofthose.com) or The Good Book Company (www.thegoodbook.co.uk), or locally from the Quench bookshop in Maidenhead.God’s Story: The Bible Explained by Matt Searles
“Matt Searles’ beautifully illustrated Bible overview is excellent. 56 short chapters (each chapter is only 2 or 3 pages) help explain the whole Bible in a very accessible way. This book will bless all who read it, whether you are new to the Bible or a regular reader. It will both inform you and thrill you as you see how the whole of the Bible proclaims Jesus.”
“God’s Story is superb. It’s really engaging and I found myself reluctant to put it down. I found the inserts in each chapter, ‘Looking Forward to Jesus’ for the OT chapters and ‘OT Fulfilment’ for the NT ones, especially helpful. The book gives a cohesive and clear flow of the Bible showing how it is all connected. This, along with the range and quality of the illustrations, makes for a very special book.”
Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund
“The book is about the heart of Christ and there is nothing that we need to know better than his heart in all its tender love for us. It is well written and speaks of great and precious truths. Sam Allberry writes ‘breath taking and healing in equal measure, it is already one of the best books I’ve read.’”
“I read Gentle and Lowly last year when I was feeling particularly unsettled. An in-depth look at the character and heart of the Lord Jesus helped me to trust and not give in to the anxiety I was feeling. Drawing on Bible passages and on the wisdom of the Puritans, the book shows God’s compassionate, mercy-rich heart which is gentle and lowly towards his people.”
Living Without Worry by Timothy Lane
“A very practical book which looks at so many aspects of worry – from the physical manifestations, to worry about our past, present or future. Timothy Lane suggests ways we can change our thinking and points us to the great truths of the gospel, that speak directly into our worries. Truths that speak real comfort to us in this uncertain world.”
Rachel MeynellConfronting Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin
“I found Confronting Christianity to be an accessible, credible and compelling read. The author tackled key objections to the Christian faith with academic rigour, sensitivity and honesty. The book was a very useful read for me, helping to develop my own thinking in response to some of the big concerns about the Christian faith e.g. suffering, gender,
sexuality, judgement. It is also a book that I would be happy to share with others as a non-embarrassing, robust and compassionate presentation of the Christian faith.”
The Art of Rest by Adam Mabry
“We rarely think biblically about rest, but in a world which is all go, go, go, we must learn what it looks like to enjoy God’s gift of rest. The Art of Rest is a short, well-applied read which shows how central rest is to the Christian life and what true rest looks like.”
Brahmin Reborn by Bhaskar Sreerangam
“This book reveals some of the beliefs and background of the Hindu faith. It reminds us of the importance of showing warmth and hospitality to Hindu friends and lovingly welcoming people into church when their own family may have rejected them.”
Isesomo: God’s Servant in Congo by Joshua Maule
“A short engaging biography of Anglican Bishop Isesomo of North Kivu, DRC, one of the most geopolitically unstable areas in the world today. Bishop Isesomo’s story of conversion and passion and joy for evangelism is told in the context of both the development of the Anglican church in the Congo and the history of a country ravaged by civil war, nepotism, tribalism and poverty. This book has been a great springboard to learn more about the DRC.” (Available online from www.langhamliterature.org)
Sara HewinsListen Up: 10 Minute Family Devotions on the Parables by Marty Machowski
“Would you like to read the Bible together as a family but you’re not sure how to get going or keep going? Help is at hand. ‘Listen Up’ is full of ideas for 10 minute family times reading and discussing Jesus’ parables.”
This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years by Jaquelle Crowe
“The author was a teenager when she wrote this book. This is excellent for anyone looking to really grow in their faith and think hard about how Christianity changes teenage life. A wise book from a wise woman.”
How Do We Know Christianity is Really True? by Chris Morphew
“This book explains why we can trust the gospels as real historical documents and walks through the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. The book has a chatty style with short chapters – highly recommended for 9-14 year olds.”
Simon EvesNIRV The Illustrated Holy Bible for Kids
A new version suitable for 4-9 year olds and a good follow-on from the Jesus Storybook Bible used in Sunday School for the younger folk.
The Beginners Bible – Timeless Children’s Stories
“This is an excellent story Bible for children aged 2-6. It’s faithful to the Bible, clearly written and with engaging pictures. Our 3 year old loves it! It is ideal to use alongside ‘Beginning with God’ the Bible reading resource for pre-schoolers.”
X and Shift Focus' Return (Melinda Stylo)
It was wonderful that we were able to run X and Shift Focus in person on Friday 11th June. The weather was perfect and so we spent most of X and all of Shift outside. X Focus started with us all eating Nick’s delicious pasta bake and catching up with each other, then we had a talk from Simon from our series ‘Jesus in Real Life’ where we are looking at how knowing Jesus makes a difference to our everyday lives. Free time and the small group discussions happened in the garden and then, all too soon, it was time to head home.
At Shift Focus we are looking at some of Jesus’ parables. We started with the Parable of the Sower and encouraged the older teens to reflect on their heart response to hearing about Jesus. There was plenty of free time to catch up as well as a Covid-safe, blindfolded Pictionary challenge which resulted in some artwork of which Picasso would have been proud.
We understand that both X and Shift will feel different and a bit strange at the moment, and are sorry that we can’t provide tuck this term, but it was still so good to see the youngsters having fun and a laugh together. Please pray for good weather so that we can meet each Friday and that those teens who have not engaged with the Bible much during the pandemic will be fed from God’s word.
Each Friday X Focus runs from 6pm-7:30pm and Shift Focus from 8pm-9:30pm, no need to sign up.
7Up's Return (Nick McDonald)
It has been over a year since 7UP, our Wednesday after school club for 7-11s, has been able to go ahead. But thankfully last week, we restarted 7UP!
It was a really exciting time as we were able to play games, make crafts, and learn about Jesus together. We had 26 children attending, and we went into 4 smaller groups. In our groups we rotated in a 'carousel' of varied activities in the church garden. There were physical games like orange catch and football, as well as more chilled board games and crafts.
This week's theme was yellow. Everyone came wearing yellow, we made yellow crowns, we had yellow squash, and we painted yellow handprints onto the wall in the church garden. Yellow was our theme for the week because we were thinking about how perfect, golden, and shiny heaven will be and we were reminded about how amazing it is that God wants us to be there with him.
Each week we will be given a different colour which will represent a different part of the gospel story. By the end of the five weeks, we will have five colours painted on the wall in the garden, which the children should be able to use to tell the gospel story to their friends and family.
We are so excited to be able to continue in this ministry and we would value your prayers as we seek to continue to share the amazing news of Jesus with our children here at St Mary's.
Booking for 7UP opens every Wednesday at 9pm, closing Sunday at midnight. Book on the 7UP page of the church website.
Meals and More (Tim Bird)
‘Meals from Marlow’ is a charity established in Marlow at the start of the pandemic to provide healthy pre-prepared meals to those in need. The meals are cooked and frozen by restaurant chefs donating their time, while All Saints in Marlow have organised the delivery of these meals to needy individuals and families around Marlow.
Now, St Mary’s has been invited to help extend the service to the Maidenhead area. Maidenhead FoodShare already provides food supplies to those in financial need around Maidenhead, so the vision is to focus more on the shut-in and lonely in our community. Lockdown has increased the isolation for many of these. For such folk, the offer of a meal, is potentially an entrée to contact and company – and we hope for some will become friendship and fellowship. Once Covid restrictions allow, we would aim to provide coffee/lunch and companionship in the church hall on a regular basis.
Our challenge as a church is to look out for, and reach out to, those who may be lonely and isolated in our streets and neighbourhoods.
Do you know anyone around you who would welcome a healthy meal and contact from a friendly face? Or do you have some spare time you could volunteer to deliver meals and a smile? (Thank you to those who have already volunteered.) If so, please let Tim Bird know – 07796 993 274 or .
Power Plays (Will Stileman)
It was Lord Acton who famously observed that ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.
And history has shown how accurate that observation is. In recent years there have been numerous examples of an abuse of power and that is why on June 20th we begin a three-week sermon series at the 9.15am, 11am and 4pm congregations called ‘Power Plays’ in which we will be considering the issue of an abuse of power from a Christian perspective.
I am no expert on the subject but it has been good for me as I have been preparing for this sermon series, to think about the dynamics of power and how the Bible repeatedly highlights and condemns the abuse of power and shows through the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ how we are to use the power that God has given us.
Update from Trinity@4 Henley (Sam Brewster)
Dear St Mary's friends,
We continue to be so thankful to God for your prayers and support. It's now nearly three years since we left St Mary's, but have continued to be greatly blessed by friendship and gospel partnership with you. I hope this brief update gives a snapshot of our eight months since our last update.Brewster Family
We are thankful for God's sustaining and providing for us in more ways than we can number. Amelie is in her final term of year 1, Jo-Jo will start in reception next year, and Barney is a very smiley and inquisitive toddler of 14 months. The Lord has given them all good friends at school and church. Lucy and I stagger from one day of young-children exhaustion to the next, but generally with a smile on our faces. We are well supported here with good friends and a very caring church family.
Trinity at Four
The winter lockdowns were emotionally draining for most of us, and we're aware of some families who have still not re-emerged. However, since Easter we're thankful to God for a real sense of regathering. Our kids' groups have restarted, we begin each service outside with a time of singing, and the Lord has brought newcomers almost every week. Praise God for it all. We now meet weekly at the URC church building (Christ Church) on the Reading Road. The facilities have made life much easier for us.
Our baby cafe, initiated and led by Lucy, has been perhaps the most fruitful outreach through the lockdown period, drawing 30 mums and babies every week through those difficult winter months for much needed in-person meeting and support- even with other groups restarting it is still going strong. We've been thrilled to see a number of those dipping their toes into church, and Christianity Explored.
It feels like plans were things that we used to make. That said, we are working towards a closer collaboration with the existing Holy Trinity congregation, with hopes to see God revitalise and grow the ministry of that church as a whole. You might also pray for a new midweek families’ outreach which we'll be starting in September, as well as plans to start a small youth work for older children.Specific points for prayer
- Pray for the Brewster family to find joy and strength in Jesus day by day.
- Praise God for his faithful provision, and pray for wisdom as we seek to serve him here.
- Pray for a full and joyful regathering of our church family, and re-envisioning for the mission that he's given us to be his ambassadors in word and deed in Henley and region.
Introducing Melinda Stylo
Since joining St Mary’s, I have been involved in helping out with the youth in various ways and in September 2019 I started the Ministry Training Course in Oxford. It has been wonderful to spend the last two years studying God’s word with other enthusiastic people and learning how to give talks from the Bible.As the new Youth Minister, I will be taking over responsibility for Sunday Pathfinders and the youth time after the 6:30pm service, running X and Shift Focus on Friday evenings, coordinating youth Growth Groups and organising weekends away.
My prayer is that I am a blessing to the teenagers and a support to their parents as I come alongside them in raising our youth to know and love the Lord Jesus. Thank you to so many of you who have encouraged me and been praying for me.
Singleness Matters by Sam Allberry (Isobel Jobson)
In May, we were blessed to have Sam Allberry joining us from sunny Nashville, USA, for an online talk about why singleness should matter to the church. Many of us will be single at some stage of our lives and over half of those who are married now will be single again in the future. Given that as a society we are constantly told that we aren’t ‘complete’ without a significant other, or that life is ‘less fulfilling’ if you don’t have a romantic partner to share it with, this was a really encouraging talk. I could write an essay based on all the points Sam made (don’t worry, I won’t!), but here are some aspects I found particularly helpful.
I was struck by how we should view intimacy. While the world focuses on intimacy only arising through sexual fulfilment, the Bible often talks about deep and intimate friendships, such as David and Jonathan in the Old Testament, or Jesus, Peter and John in the New Testament. This intimacy comes from sharing your whole lives with one another, and John 15:13 says that there is no greater love than laying your life down for a friend. This all shows that friendship is much more important to God than the world thinks or values, which I found both encouraging but also challenging.
The Bible describes the church as functioning as a body, where if one part suffers the whole body suffers (1 Corinthians 12), so it was helpful to be prompted that we should all be invested in one another. An application of this is having married couples and families reaching out to singles to support and encourage them and include them in their everyday lives. It’s also great to be reminded that we are like a blended family (1 Timothy 3 and 5), and we should both encourage and be encouraged by our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of our relationship status.
You can listen to the talk (by signing in to the St Mary's website) by clicking this link.
Ministry Training Course (Rachel Meynell)
The Ministry Training Course (MTC), which is run by Matt Searles, takes place on Tuesdays in Oxford, and there may well be an online option again next year. The aim of the course is to equip women and men to grow in their faith and ability to minister God’s word to others. It is suitable for anyone who teaches the Bible, in growth groups, to children, to the elderly, or just informally with friends and family.
Matt is coming to preach at St Mary’s at the 9.15am, 11am and 4pm services on 6th June, and then at the 6.30pm on 20th June.
I asked a few people who had done or are doing the course, what they would say to someone thinking about doing it. This is what they said:
“I couldn't believe that I had been a Christian for so long and yet had not really grasped the flow and themes of the whole Bible and God's salvation plan. MTC changed my life and gave me renewed joy and conviction as through the course I understood God's word better. It gave me confidence in sharing and explaining God's word to others. Everyone should do the course if they can!”
“I am not in any traditional ministry, but I have the desire to know more about the beauty of my Lord and Saviour's glory and grow in him. More importantly, to be able to share my beliefs with friends and family with peace and joy, and this is what the MTC course had given me through the superb structure and teachings of teachers and speakers - covering a wide range of gospel topics.
I would encourage anyone who wants to deepen their relationship with Christ Jesus to give MTC a try.”
“The atmosphere is not at all intimidating and, even though giving a talk is scary, it really is a safe place to learn or try out new things.”
“MTC is an absolute game changer. The course covers lots of things. Some of the highlights for me included learning about the bigger picture of God's divine rescue plan, studying various specific books from the Bible and developing skills on how to communicate God's word clearly and effectively. The whole course is brilliantly set up - flexible, accessible and hugely inviting. The workshops were particularly useful - a great opportunity to practice some of the skills learnt in the sessions. Whilst it is not a parenting course as such, I would undoubtedly say that this has been incredibly useful in this particular area. MTC is a springboard for life - parenting, friendships, work, church, ministry and so on. It will most definitely change how you see God, the world and yourself. As an added bonus also, a great opportunity to get to know some fab people. I cannot recommend it enough.”
“I'm absolutely loving MTC. It is such a blessing to be able to dig into God's word in more depth. Definitely staying on for the second year!”
Well, that says it all! To find out more, please talk to one of the ministry team, or catch Matt Searles when he is at St Mary’s.
Introducing Ben Raymond
I'm looking forward to joining the St Mary's staff team as the Facilities Manager, taking over from Steven Wheatley. I'm excited to be involved in helping to keep the church running smoothly. It's a privilege to be able to support the St Mary's gospel ministry behind the scenes. I'll be getting involved in setting up for meetings and events, and managing all aspects of the St Mary’s site and church owned houses.For the last three years I've been learning to roast coffee whilst working for a speciality coffee company in central London called Caravan. Prior to that I was the Buildings Manager for St Nick’s church in central London. And before that I spent three years as a Ministry Trainee in Leyland and Liverpool.
Damy, Julietta and I look forward to meeting you. Do come say hi, Julietta will love it!
Mission Partner Update: Greg and Jill Vine
Their prayer points from the May St Mary's Evening were:
- MAF has been working hard to repair their runway at Kajjansi which is being flooded by the rising levels on Lake Victoria. The maintenance guys have done a great job to regain the airstrip and to enable MAF planes to return from their temporary base at the international airport. The rains have been relentless recently so please pray for the runway to dry out and for the lake levels to decrease.
- The flight schedule is getting fuller as life hopefully returns to pre Covid days, although there has been a rise in cases recently. Please pray that Uganda remains on the green list and that the Vines can still come to the UK in June.
- The Vines’ home was broken into a couple of weeks ago while they were asleep. Thankfully their dog barked and scared the thief who left a weapon behind in the hallway and cloths ready to chloroform them. This reminded them of how much they always appreciate our prayers for protection both in the air but also at home and on the roads. On the morning after the break-in Jill’s bible fell open to Psalm 91 and she was able to stop and thank God for protecting them from the terror by night.
- Pray for peace and stability in Uganda and for corruption to lose its hold on this country, the existing president has recently been sworn in for yet another term in office.
- Please pray for Esther to find a job that suits her degree and that she can be connected to the right people - she would love to be based in London. Pray for wisdom for Ariela wanting to attend university in Australia (with all its associated Covid problems), but also with an offer of a place at Goldsmiths in London. Pray for Zoe who is with Greg and Jill in Uganda.
Update from St Mary's White Waltham (Dave Atallah)
Dear brothers and sisters at St Mary’s,
Thank you for your partnership in the gospel and continued prayer for us at St Mary’s White Waltham. Since mid-March we have been back into the church building for Sunday services, and able to start up some kidswork from mid-April which has been a blessing. We ‘Zoom’ the services (if that is indeed now a verb) in such a way that someone can lead prayers from home, and I can greet those who still need to stay away, as they arrive. This also enabled more people to watch a recent funeral than would have been allowed in the building. All this is very much thanks to John Croft’s work.
Currently midweek we have a group doing the ‘Identity Course’ and another group digging into Proverbs. Other activities are restarting too. Our Monday toddler group ‘Little Roots’ has a completely new clientele after lockdown. On the first morning we had five new families and we pray that the Lord will keep bringing people, especially from our community and the local schools, and also make it so we don’t need to turn anyone away or operate a waiting list with restrictions still in place. Please pray for Helen Atallah as she heads that up now that a co-leader has new job responsibilities. That she maintains enthusiasm for the bible story and song, is supported by others, and that the group continues to provide a way of bringing blessing to others and presenting the good news of Jesus within a loving group.
I have been able to get back into one of the schools to do assemblies in person which has been such a joy. I adapt that into a video assembly for our other parish school and others who show an interest (check them out via our website if interested). Please pray for doors to remain open, and wisdom and discernment as to how to reach not just the children but also families with the good news we have.
Finances are about to become an even more serious issue as the deanery changes how much they ask us for, please pray for wisdom and love on both sides of that discussion.
Encouragingly, although numbers are not everything, we praise God for an average of just over 40 people a week in the building over the last three weeks, with more on Zoom, of whom around a dozen have been children. That shows how vulnerably small we are, but also what good shape we are in as an age demographic. We have had a good lockdown in the sense of more people joining groups and growing in their faith. Please pray we would grow in number, now that it is a warm place to come to (physically as well as spiritually), and our church congregation will celebrate the changes that come with that.
We continue to give thanks for the support we receive in running our kidswork by volunteers from St Mary’s Maidenhead, and we rejoice to be able to supply a couple of the leaders for the Monday night Pathfinders group. It is so good and God-glorifying when churches can work together in these ways!
With humble thanks
Rev Dave Atallah
Update on Windsor Fellowship (Paul Williams)
We are hugely grateful to the support of St Mary's since September in the form of weekly preachers but also in the way that you have all, as a church, supported us in prayer. We do praise God for our partnership together in the gospel and we are feeling encouraged as we look ahead to the lifting of COVID restrictions.
The Lord has graciously granted us a new venue, has provided us with a minister from September and has brought new faces along to us over the last few months. We are about 50 in total week by week which is perfect for our venue at the URC church (situated right in the heart of Windsor, 50 yards of so from Peascod Street). We have started a new crèche and we are looking to begin a parent/toddler midweek meeting over the coming weeks which, we pray, will be a means of drawing other people into the church.
Please do continue to pray for us, asking the Lord to sustain us as a church, to give us continued unity, to give us a deeper love for one another and to give us a real concern for those around us in Windsor.
Pray for Tim Hiorns, his wife Lucy and their children Avani (4) and Elsie. Elsie was born very prematurely but is, by God's grace, stable as she comes up to full term. Pray that the Lord help Tim and Lucy as they prepare to leave Crowborough and move to us in August.
The Gospel and Race (Staff Team and PCC)
The apostle Paul in Acts 17 declares that from one man God made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth. Here is a glorious reminder from the apostle Paul about our common humanity and dignity: whatever our racial background, we all share the same ancestor. Every human being has the dignity of being created in the image of God. What is more, God’s purpose is to save for himself “a great multitude that no-one could number from every nation, tribe, people and language” [Revelation 7:9].
Eternity will be spent rubbing shoulders with Christian brothers and sisters from every racial and cultural background. God loves diversity and variety. He has created a diverse and varied world. Sin separates and divides us, but it is God’s purpose to bring all things together in heaven and earth under the Lordship of Jesus [Ephesians 1:9,10]. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” [Galatians 3:28]. Through the blood of Christ all Christian believers are “no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” [Ephesians 2:19].
It is striking how through the preaching and application of the good news about Jesus Christ the greatest racial divide in the ancient world, that between Jew and Gentile, was overcome in the early church. However, the NT makes plain that that was not achieved easily [c.f. Acts chs 6, 10, 11, 15]. As believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, we must never show favouritism [James 2:1].
In 2003 when Will Stileman became vicar at St Mary’s, there were only a couple of people who attended St Mary’s who were not white. It is pleasing that within the St Mary’s church family there are now significantly more with a BAME heritage, but they are still very much a minority. There is, also, no-one with a BAME heritage on the staff team and, until recently, all the Growth Group Leaders and Congregational Oversight Teams were white. It was this realisation that prompted Will to raise the matter with the staff team in September 2019. The events following the death of George Floyd in February 2020 have simply added to the urgency to address this issue.
From the first chapter to the last, the Bible has much to say about these issues; and it is a conviction of the staff team and the Parochial Church Council that we as a church need to give serious thought to these matters if we are to be faithful disciples of Christ and effective as ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world’.
This paper outlines the steps we both want and will need to take, with the help of God’s Holy Spirit, to become the diverse, multicultural church God longs for us to be.
It is our desire that all at St Mary’s should long to be a church which more fully reflects God’s love and purpose for his people. We long to be a diverse, inclusive church, that reaches out and connects with all parts of our community. We long to be a church where every individual, whatever their background or race, feels equally valued, loved and able to flourish in their walk with Christ. We believe that to create such an environment would, indeed, cause us to be the salt of the earth and light of the world. We recognise this is unlikely to be achieved in a short time or without dedicated effort and much prayer. However, as we seek God’s grace and humble ourselves before him, we trust that we will become more the church God would have us be: enabling more people across cultural barriers to meet with Christ.
We want to avoid initiatives that may be seen as mere tokenism and will not bring about any lasting change. Unless the church family are fully committed, one and all, to actively pursuing our ambitious goal, we cannot reasonably expect to achieve it or to make any meaningful progress towards it.
It is not sufficient just to raise general awareness, nor can the onus be on minority members to thrust themselves forward; rather, the impetus for change must come from the white majority. This can lead to white brothers and sisters being made to feel uncomfortable and consequently become over defensive, but our wish is to encourage and empower people to cross boundaries.
We are not aligning with any worldly political agenda, instead we are pursuing a Christ-centred vision. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” [John 13:35].
“Let us not conform any longer to the pattern of this world” [Romans 12:2]. The gospel imperative outlined in the introduction should motivate us as a church to take both individual and collective responsibility.
What steps can we begin to take, as the body of Christ in a Christ-centred way? We propose the following:
- Encouraging the white majority lovingly to listen to the experiences of BAME brothers and sisters – “everyone should be quick to listen” [James 1:19]; “he who answers before listening, that is his folly and his shame” [Proverbs 18:13].
- Arranging special meetings or events on Saturday mornings (three times a year?) as safe, open places to listen to people’s experiences and to discuss racial and cultural issues.
- Holding regular prayer meetings (spending not less than 50% of time in prayer) on race four times a year to enable people to listen, understand, reflect upon and pray about racism as experienced by our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ – “carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ” [Galatians 6:2].
- Preaching on the issue of race and the gospel from time to time, and being mindful to preach on the application of the teaching of Christ in a range of diverse social and cultural contexts.
- Ensuring that all recruitment notices positively welcome applications from people of all backgrounds.
- Encouraging and providing opportunities for all within the church family to serve and develop their gifts – being built together, like precious living stones, into one spiritual house [1 Peter 2:4-5; Ephesians 2:22].
- Encouraging one another to get to know a person from a different background, whether within or outside the church e.g. work colleague or neighbour – “the alien living with you must be treated as one of your native born, love him as yourself for you were aliens in Egypt” [Leviticus 19:34].
- Recommending books and other sources to educate the church family about racial matters.
St Mary’s staff team and Parochial Church
Annual Vicar's Address (Will Stileman)
There are four significant things that I want to speak to you about this evening and the first concerns abusive behaviour. Sadly, there has always been, and until Christ’s return there will always be, those who misuse their power to dominate and abuse others. Such abuse commonly takes place behind closed doors in people’s homes. But it also exists in the work place, in sports teams, in governments and sadly, yes, in churches and Christian organisations.
In recent years a number of such abusive practices have come to light in evangelical churches and organisations and one in particular, as far as I am concerned, is very close to home.
Jonathan Fletcher has been a significant figure in the Conservative Evangelical Anglican world. He was a curate at St Andrew’s the Great Cambridge, he worked alongside Dick Lucas at St Helen’s Bishopsgate and for 30 years he was the senior minister at Emmanuel Church Wimbledon.
My father was a trustee of Emmanuel Wimbledon and under God Jonathan Fletcher was a significant influence in my life. I preached my first ever sermon at Emmanuel under his guidance. He spoke at Becca’s and my wedding.
Anyway, in 2017 reports of abuse he committed in his capacity as vicar came to light which have hit the national press and TV stations. An independent inquiry into his behaviour was commissioned by Emmanuel Church and was carried out by a safeguarding organisation called 31:8.
They produced their report just before Easter to which I drew people’s attention via the weekly email update. The report is comprehensive and made a number of recommendations not only for Emmanuel Wimbledon but also for the wider evangelical Anglican community to ensure such abusive behaviour doesn’t go unchallenged as it did in the case of Jonathan Fletcher. The report was critical of a culture that allowed such abuse to take place and it recommended that all those associated with Jonathan Fletcher who are in Christian leadership should consider their position.
Consequently, I have asked the PCC and staff team to read both the report into Jonathan Fletcher and another one which was also produced by 31:8 into Steve Timmis and the Crowded House church network which came out last year, and during this year we will seek to apply the lessons learnt from these reports.
I am also taking seriously the recommendation to consider my own conduct and position as vicar of St Mary’s. And let me stress, at this point, that if anybody has concerns about the behaviour of any of the staff and especially my behaviour then please do get in contact with the church wardens whose contact details are available on our website. And if you would prefer to speak to somebody completely outside St Mary’s then do contact either the Bishop of Maidstone or the Bishop of Oxford, or the diocesan safeguarding officer whose details can be found on the home page of our website.
Abusive behaviour and the misuse of power are a great evil. They are more common than we may like to think. The whole church family needs to face up to the dangers of abuse, including spiritual abuse; so, God willing, in June I intend to preach on this subject at the 9:15, 11:00, and 4pm congregations. I will also address the issue at the 6:30 congregation within 12 months.
So, this is a serious matter that we need to be addressing as a church. But it is only one of many significant issues. In fact, at the church council meeting earlier this month, I highlighted nine important and urgent issues that we at St Mary’s, and the PCC in particular, need to address. I won’t go through them all. But can I take this opportunity to mention that all our church council minutes are public documents and that we do publish them. They can be found on our website and when we are allowed, we will return to displaying a hard copy of the PCC minutes at the back of the church.
But, I do want to mention the two most important issues that we need to face.
The first is that as individuals and as a church we maintain the right priorities. I can remember the evangelist J John once telling me that the main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing. He is right. And to help us do that as a church, we have produced a mission statement with three essentials and three priorities.
Our mission statement is: To know Jesus and to make Jesus known. Apart from Jesus we can do nothing. We cannot please God, we cannot know God. It is the responsibility of every Christian believer and every Christian community to trust in Jesus and to do all that they can to maintain a healthy, vibrant walk with him. And that involves three essentials. Do you remember what they are?
The first one is dependant prayer. When we truly pray, we acknowledge before God our weakness and powerlessness and our dependence on him. We are never healthier than we are when we are praying; we are always less effective when we fail to depend on God in prayer. The second is biblical teaching. As Jesus said, quoting the OT, “Man does on live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” [Matthew 4:4] And that is what we have in the bible - the words of God. It is our spiritual food. Without regularly feeding on it we will fade away. The third essential is loving one another. As again Jesus said, “By this shall all people know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” [John 13:35] It is through the quality of our relationships that others will see the evidence that we are indeed Jesus’ people, that we are his brothers and sisters.
But then alongside these three essentials lie three priorities. Again, I wonder if any of us know and remember them? The first is engaging Maidenhead with the good news about Jesus. We can’t be private about our faith. We long for other people to know Jesus for themselves. And as a staff team we are giving much thought how we can encourage one another to be more natural and active in sharing the good news of Jesus with others. The second priority is to make mature disciples of people of all ages and backgrounds. That is what most of our ministry at St Mary’s is all about. And the final priority is to partner with other churches and Christian organisations to make Jesus better known. And again, I trust we are doing that with our mission partners and the links we are forging with churches in Slough.
I, personally, keep going back to these three essentials and three priorities to help me keep the main thing, the main thing. These are our priorities. In all the challenges and difficulties we face, we must keep our focus on these things.
But the other major issue that we must address is the rebuilding that will need to take place as we come out of lockdown. This will not be easy and it will take a lot of time and care. Many people have got out of the habit of coming to church. There are people who were regular members of St Mary’s who we have not seen at any Sunday service, whether on-line or in-person, for over a year. There are those who are anxious about returning to church in person. The number of folk who are willing and able to lead our Sunday children’s groups is markedly down from pre-Covid levels. Many of us are weary.
On top of that there will be a significant change in the make-up of the staff team, as Tim Adams leaves St Mary’s at the end of July to go off to theological college and it is likely that Simon Eves will do the same. Steven and Jo Wheatley are also planning on returning to Malawi this year.
There is a lot do; there still is a huge amount of change and uncertainty; many of us a weary. So, we must be wise in what we do and take on and we must be careful not to overdo it. But as Isaiah says “The Lord gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.” [Isaiah 40:29-31a]
I suspect it will take over a year for us to fully recover and there will be some people who will never come back to St Mary’s. It is the nature of trials to test and refine faith and sadly there will be those who fail the test and who fall away. The Lord Jesus spoke of this and so we must not be surprised when we see it happening. But it is hard. Yet Christ is building his church. The gates of Hades and Covid cannot prevail against it. And it has been wonderful to see how the Lord has used this crisis to bring many new people under the sound of the gospel and some right through to faith in Jesus.
The final thing I want to talk about is the gospel and race. And I hope that a good number of us have read the paper which carries that name and which has been adopted by the staff team and the church council.
The paper both sets the reasons and the road map of how we hope as a church to address this sensitive issue. I don’t intend to rehearse the contents of that paper. I will be seeking to make sure that it gets as wide a readership as possible in St Mary’s in the next couple of months.
But what I do want to do is to speak personally and confess my own blindness on this issue and to try and convince each one of us to personally and actively engage with the issue of racial bias.
Growing up I think I have always been conscious of racial differences between people but I have never considered whether I had a racial bias. I imagine that until recently I was like many white people in the UK, I deplored racism and I took a quiet pride that as a nation we have, on the whole, good race relations. Racism has been a dreadful problem in South Africa and was a problem in the United States but it wasn’t a major issue in the UK.
I also took a quiet pride that since I have been vicar of St Mary’s that we have had many more people in the church from different ethnic backgrounds than when I started back in 2003.
But in the last three or four years my ignorant complacency has been challenged. It was our dear sister Karnie Sharp, who is a member of St Mary’s and attends the 11am congregation, who first began to make me aware there was a real problem. Karnie was brought up in apartheid South Africa and spoke to me about how easy it is for racist attitudes and behaviour to go unchallenged, and how it is alive and kicking all over the place in the UK today including the church.
But what made me realise that this was a problem that I had to personally and actively address as vicar of St Mary’s was when we produced some boards displaying the names and photographs of the staff team and the congregational oversight teams. It hit me like a bullet between the eyes how white everybody was.
Since then I have done a lot more active reading and listening and I have to say it has been both enlightening and humbling as I have listened to the stories of racism and racial bias experienced by some of my brothers and sisters in Christ.
I have already mentioned that one of our key essentials at St Mary’s is loving each other, and friends we are not loving each other if we do not listen to or are indifferent to the painful discrimination that some of our own brothers and sisters face because of the colour of their skin.
Racism has always existed in society and it will always exist, but the one place it must not and need not exist is in the church of Jesus Christ. All forms of racism and partiality are an anathema to God. In the gospel and race paper we have produced we make some specific recommendations for us as individuals and it would be great if all of us act on them.
That is all I want to say but can I take this opportunity to thank you all for your love and support over this last year.
Mission Partner Update: Wayne Dixon
Dear St. Mary’s Church Family,
Thank you very much for your on-going interest, prayers and support over 33 years now. I am very grateful. Philippians 1: 3-5 means a lot to me; ‘thanks’ and ‘partnership in the gospel’ comes through and that is how I see St. Mary’s Maidenhead.
The last 15 months have been tough for us all in different ways. Recently, I had a positive Covid-19 test and that was scary. Thankfully I have been OK with minor symptoms though my taste is still not right. During the lockdowns most of my involvement with schools in Slough, Windsor and Maidenhead has been remote, this has been a learning curve for me, flexibility and adaptability come to mind. I have loved the Q & A sessions at Furze Platt Senior & Newlands Girls. And I had a funny incident at Desborough College when part way through an on-line assembly about the Bible & the F.A. Cup we had a power cut so the assembly couldn’t continue!
The Christian Connections in Schools (CCiS) newsletter comes out next month. In the meantime, here are a few things about my work for your information and to be praying about:
- Please pray for more schools that are not yet involved with Easter and Christmas presentations to be involved with them in churches like St Mary’s and 8 other local churches. See this 3 minute clip about church-school links and pass it on as appropriate.
- This link gives a little flavour as to some of what has been shared in schools over recent months.
- Easter Cracked was recorded back in January and sent to various schools: https://youtu.be/lv07rOYbI4M
- Pray for our headteachers and for Christian staff and pupils in their on-going witness where God has placed them.
- There is an opportunity to pray for CCiS and Scripture Union on Tuesday 18 May 10.00-10.45am or 7.30-8.15pm on Zoom. If would like to join, email me and we can follow that up. Prayer remains the most significant contribution we can make to our schools.
- Please pray for the well-being of children, young people and staff in all of our schools.
- Please pray for wisdom and sensitivity going forward into the rest of 2021 for me. Schools are contacting me for in-person visits starting at the beginning of term.
- Maybe as you read this, pause to pray for a school you live near, or attended, or maybe have children, grandchildren or other family at. Recently I was encouraged to hear of a praying grandparent who has forwarded the Easter Cracked on-line recording to other family members.
God bless and thank you very much as we continue to make Jesus known to children, young people and staff in our schools in this time of on-going challenges and changes. He is still risen! Jesus, the reason for the season, hallelujah!
Easter 2021 (Will Stileman)
A good question sometimes reveals so much more than a bare statement. That was the case when Jesus asked Judas, the night before his crucifixion: “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” The short answer to that question was “yes he was.” But Jesus’ purpose in posing that question was to expose Judas’ hypocrisy. A kiss in every culture is a sign of acceptance, greeting, affection. Outwardly Judas was pretending to love Jesus, but in reality he was betraying him. When that disconnect between Judas’ outward persona and his inner life began, we do not know. But for three years Judas played the part of one of Jesus’ closest friends while in his heart he was nurturing resentment and distrust, which reached its climax at this point.
Whether we would call ourselves Christians or not, Jesus’ question to Judas gives us cause to reflect on whether there is a disconnect between our outward persona and what is going on in our heart.
It is easy for all of us to be living a lie. But Christ entered our world not only to expose such hypocrisy but to give us the antidote to it. Jesus died for sinners. He died for hypocrites. We don’t have to pretend to be whole and righteous before God. He knows what we are truly like better than we know ourselves. Yet at Easter we remember how Jesus died on a cross to take our guilt and shame so that we might be clothed instead with the purity of his life and heart. It is through accepting that God knows exactly what we are like and yet still loves us, and because of Jesus can accept us, that the power lies for us to live an integrated, whole life.