This is the last of four chapters of our Annual Report, in preparation for our APCM on Sunday 25th October 10.30am at St Giles’ Church.
LIFE Groups – KJTS Life Group
Through 2019 our life group was led by Karen Perez, Jeff Higgins and Tina and Simon Edwards. We meet every week on Thursday evenings in group members’ homes in Stoke Poges.
We take it in turns to prepare and lead sessions. As well as studying the books of James, Malachi and Colossians, we have explored the names of God and how to pray for each other. The 6 session titles of the Paraclesis course, which we followed in Lent, sum up our group dynamic; Caring, Loving, Journeying, Living, Healing, Connecting.
We have journeyed together through bereavement and blessings, headaches and happy times: the sudden death of a brother, buying a house in the village, physical injuries and the wedding of a daughter. The group feels very much like family, we don’t always agree on everything, but we make the effort to respect and embrace our differences. We love it when members’ children choose to join us for the odd session and bring their own, fresh honesty, eg the challenge to apply what we study more to our lives and today’s living!
We use WhatsApp to share prayer needs between Life Group meetings, and to encourage each other with good news, thanks, Bible verses, poems and songs.
The highlight of 2019’s much-looked-forward-to Caribbean-themed Christmas meal was definitely Laverne’s home-made Jamaican black cake – lots of fruit soaked in lots of rum!
Deborah and Matthew Wetherall’s Life Group
Our hope as Life Group is to deepen our faith and walk alongside each other in fellowship. Throughout 2019 there continued to be a sense of anticipation as we met with each other in the presence of God every Thursday night.
In parallel to the sermon series, the Life Group embraced delving into the Paraclesis course, with this helping us think deeper about ‘coming alongside each other’ and complimenting the ‘Frontline’ courses we have studied previously. (18 months on, one of our members still caries around a Paraclesis ‘kindness’ card in his wallet as a practical reminder to share God’s love with those we come into contact within our everyday lives!)
We explored Rosemary Green’s ‘Listening to God’ ten session adventure in purposefully setting out to listen to God, whether it be directly or through an inner voice, dreams, visions or even the quiet – this particularly gave one of our members an opportunity to share many of the words she had heard recently from God.
Other topics we covered included a Scottish Bible Society study on Jonah and a Methodist based study where we transported ourselves to experience what it was like for an early Christian living in Thessalonica.
We have continued to see many answers to prayer not only in our own lives but in the lives of family and friends some of whom do not yet have a relationship with God and have been touched by our faith in interceding on their behalf.
Ladies’ Life Group
The Ladies’ Life Group helped each other through all the usual ups and downs of life throughout 2019. We had a few hiccups with our studies, finding it difficult to follow the intensity of some of our previous courses. We started the year with Bob Goff’s “Love Does”, then studied the Paraclesis course alongside the other Life Groups. For the summer term, we supported Natasha and Nigel to run an Alpha course and ate a lot of cheese and cake, though sadly this did not bring any new people into our congregation.
We then embarked on a study of “Jonah – A Life Interrupted” by Priscilla Shirer, whose work we have really appreciated before but (ironically) in this study, we got pretty stuck half way through! Two of our group were confirmed by Bishop Alan at St Giles’ in May, which was a great milestone for them. We enjoyed a couple of socials – in the summer at a local restaurant and at Christmas at Heather’s house, where we had been meeting for most of the year.
From the Vicar – Revd Natasha Brady
Stoke Poges Church embraced the vision that was inspired by Jesus from the greatest commandment – to LOVE GOD and LOVE PEOPLE during 2019. As the year progressed, we began the process of articulating what this might mean. Which is why many of my sermons contained this vision statement and why I often referred to the values we hold. For they enable the mission of the church to be an expression of what God has called us to be and to do in Stoke Poges and beyond.
What are these values you may ask? Well they are to be Christ-like, relational, trustworthy and prayerful. All of which we have striven to be as a worshipping community. It has been most heartening to see our congregations really catch hold of all of this, and come together as we have built on the relationships we have in the village. It has also seen us embrace new opportunities to share the Good News of the gospel in word and deed throughout this year. Thank you everyone, for being the body of Christ in this place.
As a church we were invited to man the BBQ at the Horticultural Society. A huge team of volunteers graciously stepped in and cooked, served and and chatted to hundreds of visitors to this historic event. Sporting our Church T-shirts we were a visible presence in the community shining out the love of Christ while flipping burgers and slicing bread. We have booked to return in 2020 to do the same again, so well done and thank you to all who helped with that project: your efforts were appreciated.
The village school has been a place of growing involvement – which is amazing. The relationship between school and church has grown warmer. We are now the ‘go to’ for all things faith related, even when it is not our particular area of expertise. This year saw a significant increase in invitations for St Giles’ to be used as a place of learning and exploration. We were able to offer workshops and lessons on Saints & Martyrs, and Places of Worship alongside hosting their annual Carol Concert. The collaborative History day with the Memorial Gardens and the Stoke Poges History Society happened in June this year. Caldicote school continues to extend a regular welcome, inviting me to lead and preach at their weekly Evensong a few times per term. Their Choir had great fun during the summer, visiting us too, as they came to sing at a Wedding for one of our local couples. A real treat for all concerned. We are continuing to foster good links with the Teikyo School and we were able to help them celebrate their 25th anniversary in the village. They would love to spend more time helping us with the autumn leaf clearing but the leaves this year refused to drop in time, before their winter holidays, so sadly that was missed this year. Thankfully, they are always happy to serve and be present at church services that have a more civic nature to them, like Remembrance Sunday, so we include them and encourage their participation as much as possible.
Building on the opportunities for evangelism that our seasonal services bring, we worked on making the Harvest Festival more inclusive to those enquiring about the Christian faith. I appreciate that it did cause a little bit of consternation for the more traditionally minded amongst you but, if we truly want to grow and be good news to all, we had to give it a go, and thank the Lord for it was a success. It encouraged non-regular churchgoers to come and hear about God, and creation, whilst allowing us to extend our giving further by collecting items to make up bags for DASH, a local charity that houses and helps women and children who are fleeing domestic violence situations. SHOC was also a thankful recipient of many of the food items. The marrows were beautifully decorated for the Harvest Supper, which was also well attended.
The Remembrance Service returned to St Giles’ this year, but was also developed. We hosted a 24 hour prayer vigil for peace and then marched from the flagpole to the church, weaving our way through the fields, changing muddy boots for clean shoes, as we entered the church for the service. The crowds that followed us along the mile-long walk and then joined us to worship as a community far exceeded my expectations. It was a glorious time and the coffee and chat after the service was vibrant and affirming. You were most generous in your hospitality to those known to you and unknown, so thank you. I felt we were truly encouraging inviting all to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’.
Christmas was its usual whirlwind of concerts, services and candles but this year we preceded it with our ‘Angel Landings’ initiative. Knit and Natter helped by creating over a 100 little woolly angels who all had a card attached, encouraging people to take them home, name and display them. They also carried an invitation to take a look at our new church website and see what great things they could get involved with. The local shops were very kind and let me distribute them amongst their shelves and the school hid some each day for the children to find and take home. I must say, all the angels disappeared and interesting conversations were had with quite a few people who were intrigued by them. A good starting point for building a sense of awe and wonder for the Advent season, an exercise we will continue with into 2020 and 2021 … so many more folk will have an angel land in their street or place of work, spreading the Christmas story.
Finally, we tried something completely new – we Wassailed. I know, it wasn’t the Pagan version, it was instead a “fresh expression” of it, incorporating lantern making, the Heritage walk, and carols on the Repton bridge. This outdoor service enabled us to use friendship, evangelism, song and hospitality to re-tell the story of Christmas in a creative way. The choir turned out in full force to support it, and we warmed ourselves with mulled cider and hot mince pies back in the church. Over 70 people came and quite a few of them had never be seen by any of us before, which was exciting to note. Interestingly, a significant number of them were in the 18-30 age bracket. Perhaps this is a new opportunity for us to reach out and form relationships with this demographic? Only time will tell but we will work with Franzi in the Memorial Gardens to do this again.
As 2019 drew to a close and 2020 began, there was much to ponder on. As a congregation, we have grown a little in number but more impressively we have grown in our discipleship. As I have spent time with life groups and individuals I have been warmed by the continued desire to actively live out your faith. The legacy of the Paracelsis course still features in what we are saying and doing as a church. It was a useful programme that gave us the means by which to develop the Mission Action Plan so it meets us where we are now as a church. I hope you agree that, as God’s people, we are journeying with Christ and serving all for the glory of God’s kingdom. Thank you so much for all that you have done, this year has been joyful and a blessing. And as we strive to live out the love that God has shown to us in Christ Jesus, may His grace sustain us in the year to come.
Rev Natasha Brady …. September 2020.
That’s all folks! Please join us for the APCM on Sunday.