A Christmas to remember

The Sibley crib found room on the piano

I’ll be frank, Christmas planning this year was a bit like herding cats. No sooner had we organised something, it was tweaked, rejigged or completely cancelled. Disconcerting if you don’t like last minute changes, frustrating if you’ve put lots of effort in, embarrassing if on the nth time of changing some information, it still ends up wrong.

But we stumbled through and emerged blinking into 2021, the current situation looking worse but the prospects brighter.

We hope you enjoy our photo round up of Christmas 2020 at Stoke Poges Church…

Our first event was the Senior Citizens’ Christmas Lunch, reformed for 2020 as the Senior Citizens’ Christmas Hamper. Instead of 120 people sitting down for lunch in St Andrew’s Hall, there was a socially distanced production line of turkey sandwiches, homemade cake, other edible goodies, a knitted angel, cracker and a CD and booklet of our podcast of lessons & carols. The whole hamper was carefully wrapped and given a little decorative flourish. As always, the event was funded by the Mobbs Memorial Trust which also provides a small financial gift to each recipient if they wish.

These were then doorstep delivered, with a friendly greeting, to over 100 addresses by volunteers from the church and parish council.

The full production line

Our Service of Lessons and Carols would have been difficult to pull off with a diminished choir and no congregational singing, so this was transformed into a podcast, which you can still listen to on our website. It features music kindly shared via the Church of England by St Martin-in-the-Fields and our own choir members reading the lessons.

We did however attempt a Christmas party atmosphere at St Andrews with upbeat carols, cabaret seating and a game or two.

Next on the calendar was the sadly cancelled Wassailing – although we weren’t in full lockdown, it just seemed too risky to expect large numbers of guests to keep their distance in the dark whilst walking and singing. It will be all the sweeter next year.

And then it was Christmas Eve.

St Giles’ was beautifully decorated with flowers and our familiar crib, there were extra candles everywhere to make up for not being able to hand them out, and a torchlit path. The fact that we stuck it out and had three live services plus Communion on Christmas Day, all safely organised, warmly personal and fun to boot, was a huge testament to the hard work put in by Natasha and her family and everyone else who contributed to the proceedings… our church family.

This Sunday, Natasha is taking a break and so there will be a link to the Diocese “Church at Home” service on our website, Friday email and here. For junior church, there will be a link to a new episode of Virtual Sunday School in all the same places. We’ll be back with a home grown podcast and Zoom church on 17th January.

Another birthday, Remembrance and a new adventure on Zoom

Last Sunday, 1st November, in what turned out to be our last service in church for the next month or so, we rediscovered the story of Jonah, who disobeyed and finally submitted to God and and saved a city of thousands from a smiting. We pondered on what we might be ignoring that God is asking us to do (or not do!) and how we could listen to him with more courage and obedience. If you missed it, you can listen again here.

At the end of the service, we wished John a very Happy Birthday, including luring him out of the tech box with cake, for a covid-safe candle blowing.

No, John’s not on the naughty step!
That’s not much of a cake? Hang on, just blowing out a candle
Now THAT’S a cake!

We said goodbye at the end of the service, to arrive home to the News…

Now here we are in Lockdown 2

After so much angst and worry over the last couple of months about whether to have Remembrance outdoors or indoors, at the flagpole, in the church, all or none of the above, eventually the decision was taken for us. Our preparations and careful covid planning were put to one side, and we were left with the essence of the day – remembering in our thoughts and deeds those who have fallen so that we might live freely.

St Giles’ was still beautifully dressed and wreaths were laid on behalf of local organisations but without a congregation.

Did you hear our church bells at the end of the two minute silence? Many thanks to Anne and Ralph for ringing at St Giles’ on behalf of our whole community and Richard for manning the reply at St Andrew’s.

We hope you managed to mark the occasion, either by watching the Oxford Diocese “Church at Home” Remembrance Sunday Service, the BBC coverage at the Cenotaph, by displaying a poppy at the window or standing outside your house for the two minute silence.

So to the new adventure…

I’m sure you’ll agree that, whatever your circumstances and whatever you think of the rules, this lockdown is not like the first. As a church, we want to build on what we were able to offer before, so today (8th November) we embarked on a new Zoom adventure: Prayer and Peace, this week on the theme of Remembrance.

Instead of meeting in person, we gathered online at 4pm in little windows. It was so lovely to see people we haven’t seen for more than six months and, in addition to being fed via podcasts, actually talk to one another, share thoughts about the bible reading and join in with prayers. We even sang along with the worship music, though thankfully muted from each other to avoid sounding like daleks in a biscuit tin!

With a few minor tweaks, we’ll be back next week and hope to see even more people “there”.

We’d really appreciate your feedback. If you joined us, how did you find it? If you didn’t, let us know if you had difficulties joining or if you have questions about the format. Just email office@stokepogeschurch.org

Join us next week using the link, which will be available on the Friday Email and podcast page. Remember, don’t try joining with the link until 4pm on Sunday or listening again later because it is a live service! There will be a service sheet to download in the same place as the link:

See you there!

10 ways to worship without singing

Reposting from The Discipleship Blog by Matthew Porter at The Belfrey in York. Food for thought…

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Like many churches, we love singing at The Belfrey in York! It’s basic and central to who we are and what we do when we gather for worship. In fact a recent survey of church members showed that it was the top reason people initially came to our church – they were drawn by the worship and singing. So this Covid-19 season of not being able to sing when we gather is especially hard for us. 

But it’s not impossible. That’s why over the last few weeks, as we’ve met in church masked and in small, socially distanced gatherings, I’ve kept saying: ‘Please don’t sing, but please do worship.’

For many, that’s a real challenge, because they can no longer sing their heart out and praise God as they desire. But in the same way that lovers find ways to express devotion even when they’re separated, so the restrictions of this season stretch us to find fresh opportunities for adoration of our glorious God!

So, let’s get really practical. What can we do? How can we worship without singing? Here are ten top tips that I commend to you. They’re all good, biblical ways to worship that people have practiced over the centuries.

So here we go. Ten ways to worship without singing.

1. Use your mind & heart. 

Instead of singing the words, in your head register, read and hear the words. Then let them go from your head to your heart, so we end up doing what is advocated in Ephesians 5:19: ‘make music in your heart to the Lord.’ 

2. Use your breath.

We can mouth the words, even whispering them very quietly under our breath in our masks. We can let our breath unite with the breath of God’s Spirit, and know his presence. If you’re able to pray in a God-given prayer language (sometimes known as ‘tongues’) then quietly pray in this way too. In doing this, we’re fulfilling the call of Psalm 150:6: ‘let everything that has breath praise the Lord!’

3. Use your legs.

When someone we respect enters the room, most people do one of two things with their legs. One is to use them to stand. We stand to honour them, like God’s people were urged to do in worship in Nehemiah 9:5. The other is to use them to kneel. We show humility by bowing the knee in reverence, like they did in 2 Chronicles 7:3. Of course there is a time and place to sit on our backsides, but most people in Scripture, unless they’re old or infirm, get off their posterior to worship. To do so, we need to use our legs.

4. Use your hands.

After our mouths, the next most commonly-used tool for communication is our hands. Just watch people talking in public, and you know this is true. That’s why it often surprises me that many followers of Jesus fail to use their hands very much in worship. And yet the Bible encourages us to do just this, speaking of ‘lifting hands’ (Ps. 141:2; 1 Tim. 2:8), ‘spreading out hands’ (Ps. 143:6) and ‘opening hands’ (Deut. 15:8) to God. If you’ve never used your hands in worship in this way, now is surely the time to explore this, lifting the name of Jesus higher and higher.

5. Use your feet.

Given that we’re meant to keep distanced from people, we can’t move around too much when we’re gathered for worship at present. But we can keep our feet on the floor and sway. Jewish worshippers often do this, imaging themselves swaying to and fro like a candle flame in the breeze of God’s Spirit, and we can do the same. And of course we can use our feet to dance. There is much in the Bible on dancing (eg. Ps 149:3), although very few churches seem to practice it these days. For many years I have felt that the Lord is calling the church in the UK to become more of a dancing church. However I often get embarrassed dancing, as I know many others do too! I suspect I just have to get over that, and let my feet express praise that in the past I’ve left to my mouth.

6. Use your fingers.

God gave us fingers to aid creativity: for making, building, writing, drawing and for all sorts of crafting. So why not use your fingers creatively in worship in these unusual days? That could mean bringing a notepad and pen, and drawing something, or writing something to express your praise. Or you could use your phone or ipad in a similar way. If you do this, to stay safe, don’t pass your creative offerings to others, and make sure you take home what you create.

7. Use your ears.

With less distractions from our own voices, and from others around us, we should be all the more aware of the sounds of worship which will mainly come from the front – from those leading. So let’s ensure we’re using our ears well for listening: listening to the words, the prayers and the praises, and as we do so let’s be attentive to the prophetic voice of the Holy Spirit who wants to ‘strengthen, encourage and comfort’ us (1 Cor. 14:3).

8. Use your eyes.

As well as using your ears to listen, open your eyes to see. Look at the signs and symbols in the building and let them enhance your worship. Most are there for a purpose. So be aware of space and shadows, of colour and candles, of pictures and people. If you’re in a building you know well, ask the Lord to help you look beyond the familiar and see things in a fresh way. Use what you see to cause you to be thankful and draw close to God.

9. Use your smile.

As well as not singing, we’re not meant to have much conversation inside church, and certainly not in groups of more than six. This doesn’t mean we stop being church family, but it does mean we will all need to work harder to welcome people, to create community and to show kindness to each other. An obvious way to do this, is simply to smile. Even though you’re wearing a mask, make an effort to smile at those around you, and supplement it with a wave. Smile and show those around you that you’re pleased they’re there! I suspect our smiley greetings will be key worship tools in this season.

10. Use your finances.

Finally, as well as giving our thanks, our praise, our prayers and our love to the Lord, we’re also called to give him our tithes and offerings (see, eg. 1 Cor. 16:2). Giving financially – either by direct debit, or at a contactless giving station – is another important way of worshipping, even though we can’t sing. God receives our finances as worship, when we give from a thankful and cheerful heart (2 Cor. 9:7). As we worship with our money, so we can expect the Lord will continue to look after us, so we can give again. Such is his overflowing love (Luke 6:38).

So there are all sorts of ways we can worship without singing in these extended coronavirus days. And if it’s a Holy Communion Service I would add Use your Taste – as we eat the bread and allow our sense of taste to help us be thankful for the Cross and draw close to God.

So seize the opportunities to worship differently. Let’s be courageous and creative. Brave and bold. Prayerful and playful.

If we can learn now to worship together in many of these ten ways and more, then our worship post-coronavirus, rather than being frailer, weaker and sicklier, will in fact be much deeper, stronger and healthier. 

So please don’t sing, but do worship. 

Happy Birthday Nigel!

Brother Nigel, as he is affectionately known to many of us, celebrated his big birthday on Sunday by leading our Morning Prayer service both in person at St Giles’ and on the podcast. The cake didn’t stand a chance against the always-trustworthy builder’s hand.

Nigel’s extended family, unable to get together informally at home, attended church en (socially distanced) masse to help him celebrate – what a great idea!

We all wish Nigel a very happy birthday and many more of them!

In other news…

Sunday was also the day of our rather delayed APCM, at which we re-elected our Churchwardens, John Wheatley and Simon McDowell, our Deanery Synod Reps, John Wheatley and Mark Wells, and confirmed that we continued to support the rest of our PCC, namely, Richard Beckingsale, Jennifer Pickering, Nigel Lowe and Kate Holliday. We also re-appointed our sidesmen and thanked everyone for their service, past and future.

The Annual Report and finance documents are still available to view on our website.

Annual Report for 2019 Chapter 4

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.