Annual Report 2018: Chapter 3

During the two weeks leading up to the APCM, we are presenting an overview of the activities of the church throughout 2018 over four chapters. Printouts will be available to view in both churches and please ask in the church office if you need your own copy to take away.

The glue that holds it all together

PCC Activities
Simon McDowell
Churchwarden and Acting PCC Secretary

During 2018, the PCC consisted of seven elected members, two elected representatives of the Deanery Synod, two churchwardens and two licenced ministers.  The Secretary and Treasurer are appointed by the PCC.  Since the last APCM, the PCC has met seven times in a formal setting and twice where we focus on wider spiritual matters and developing our church community. 

Our PCC has two active working committees:

  • the Standing and Finance committee, comprising the vicar, churchwardens and Treasurer with other PCC members attending as needed.  It meets as required in between formal PCC meetings to address more urgent needs where a resolution is required; and
  • the Property Committee, which is responsible to the PCC for the upkeep of the fabric of both church buildings.   It consists of a majority of PCC members plus two church members who are experts in property matters and whose help is much appreciated.

During 2018, the PCC were focused on the recruitment of our new vicar, and preparing the church and community for her arrival in August and induction service in September.  During the vacancy, one of the churchwardens chaired the meetings, but Natasha Brady took the chair as Vicar from her first meeting in September.  We have subsequently focused our agenda in growing the church in line with our vision and Mission Action Plan.  This will progress during 2019.

Attached are reports of the activities that take place in our church community, both at St Andrew’s and St Giles’.  The PCC is very grateful to all the leaders and their helpers who give up their time to make these activities happen.

Also attached are the annual accounts, which reflect the financial state of the Stoke Poges Church.  Readers will see that we have little ‘unrestricted’ income, in which we can spend the money where we wish, but the ‘restricted’ funds are healthy, thanks to some major one-off donations.  These ‘restricted’ funds can only be spent on the item that the donor gave the money for – e.g. the restoration of St Giles’ was paid for using a donation that was restricted to just that use. 

I would like to thank Alicen Nickson, who acted as Secretary for part of the year, for her help and other members of the PCC for helping me in preparing and reviewing documents after Alicen retired from the PCC. 

Finances 2018
Gaynor Houghton-Jones

The way we manage our finances is underpinned by our Christian ethos. We ensure that money does not languish in bank accounts when it could be put to better use, that expenditure does not exceed income, that we pay our bills promptly, that all sums are allocated to the correct fund whether restricted, designated or unrestricted, that we hold reserves for emergencies and we set aside money and gifts for charity.

Our restricted funds, e.g. buildings and churchyard, are in a healthy state but there are times during the year when general cash flow can be a problem. We are grateful to members who give on a regular basis so we know what income to expect each month.

The above charts show income and expenditure on the general fund before transfers from the designated funds. By way of explanation on the income side, “Fees” include charges for weddings and funerals, “Sales” covers the coffee shop and “Tax” is what we recover from gift aid.

On the expenditure side, “Management costs” includes administration, office expenses, IT support, music licences, training and inspection fees, while “Buildings” includes minor maintenance, insurance, caretaking and utilities. “Church services” includes clergy expenses, junior church materials, organists, verger expenses, costs of candles and Holy Communion wine and wafers.

We are reliant on our income from rent and lettings and I am pleased that we have retained tenants in the flats for most of the year and that lettings income held up after it was decided, upon the departure of the lettings manager, to concentrate on regular hirers only for the remainder of 2018. Much greater detail can be found in the formal financial statements.

By transferring money from designated funds back to the general fund we have ended up with a surplus of £372 and there is £61,000 in reserves.

The PCC has concerns, however, about the level of income and expenditure and will undertake a cost review early in 2019. At the same time, we also have concerns about meeting the parish share in 2019. It is the largest item of expenditure and in 2018 amounted to £69,783 after a small discount for paying by direct debit. This contribution to the diocese largely covers clergy stipends and pensions and the training of ordinands. It amounted to 50% of total unrestricted income.  As we do not anticipate any increase in general income in 2019 and with ever increasing costs, we have taken the difficult decision to reduce our share offer to £60,000 instead of the inflationary increased sum of £72,000.  This will be kept under review and, if we can pay more at the end of the year, we will.

Property Committee
Mark Wells

In early 2018 we focussed on addressing the issues raised in the December 2017 Quinquennial report for St Andrew’s. The high priority items have been addressed.

As reported previously, we want to maximise the usage and income from the site and, with this aim in mind, we applied for outline planning permission for flats above the centre of building between the bell tower and the Youth Block. This application was successful and we are now working on a more detailed planning application for four flats within the planning outline already granted.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my fellow members of the committee and, in particular, Richard Beckingsale for attending to all the odd jobs that come up across our two Churches.

Burnham and Slough Deanery Synod
John Wheatley
Deanery Synod Representative

Four meetings were held in the past year: in May, September, November and February.

Key items discussed during the year were;

  • Training – various training courses were and are being arranged including Mission and Safeguarding, Faith in pictures and Worship. It has been agreed that Training courses will be key to growing faith in years to come.
  • Communications – churches growing through better and easier to use websites were discussed, with Stoke Poges being given as a good example of a website.
  • Mission Action Plan – each part of the Deanery will be formatting a M A P to enable a clearer vision of sharing resources.
  • Finance – much of our time has been spent on agreeing Parish Share from each of our Churches. Unfortunately, the Deanery will have a substantial shortfall this year which has been identified as being caused by a changing demographic mix in Slough.

Simon McDowell & Paul Elderfield

2018 was a year of change for our church.  We said ‘welcome’ to Natasha and her family, as she came to lead us here at Stoke Poges Church.  We also said ‘farewell’ to TJ and Andrew, although it was great to see Andrew installed in our neighbouring parish of Wexham in April 2019. 

Thanks Ann!

As churchwardens, we are responsible for the running of the church, and we are grateful for all the help and support from the PCC, the church office and other church members to enable us to do this smoothly.  During the year since the last APCM, we prepared ourselves and the church for Natasha’s arrival, worked with Natasha as she got to know our church and we were a sounding board for her ideas – which we are excited by and hope that you will be too as she introduces them to the church during 2019.  We were pleased to make the appointment of Ann Sibley as our St Andrew’s church caretaker, and delighted with how helpful she has been since starting, including taking on the church lettings manager role. 

You may remember that we had an opportunity to briefly welcome Natasha at our 2018 APCM.  She did not officially start until the end of August, with her induction in early September led by Bishop Alan.  She had to move for a third time in December as the renovations to our vicarage, flooded in March 2018, were completed.  We are grateful to the Diocese who enabled this to run smoothly and to Graham Saunders, formerly rector of the Farnhams and Hedgerley, who moved out early, thereby allowing the Bradys temporary use of the Farnham vicarage.

Sadly, at this year’s APCM, Paul will retire as churchwarden after seven years, staying on an extra year to help with the smooth transition and induction of Natasha.  Simon remains as churchwarden and looks forward to working with Paul’s successor, to be elected at the APCM.

Our final instalment will follow in a few days…

Annual Report 2018: Chapter 2

During the two weeks leading up to the APCM, we are presenting an overview of the activities of the church throughout 2018 over four chapters. Printouts will be available to view in both churches and please ask in the church office if you need your own copy to take away.

All together now…

The Coffee Shop
Tina Edwards

2018 has brought lots of changes in The Coffee Shop. We have continued to grow the numbers of customers, especially those that come to the organised groups: the Friday coffee group run by Jane Wall and our Tuesday Knit and Natter group run by Alison Wheatley.  Through personal invitation these groups have grown and we hope that this continues whilst advertising our activities in the village.

We have not seen the same increase at other sessions, although our sandwich board has made an improvement to our one off visitors, we have not seen any significant change to numbers of regular customers.  We are uncertain as to the long term effect that Costa Coffee will bring this year, but we believe that we reach a different customer base as evidenced by December takings which were up by a third on the previous December.  Running specific sessions, such as wreath making, boosted sales of gift items as well as food and drink sales.

What we do know for certain is that our customers are spending more with us. A detailed finance breakdown is available via the PCC.  We believe that it is important to support various charity initiatives and recognise that this differentiates us from mainstream High Street coffee shop chains. We can report that our charity support this year has been very successful, including our contribution back to the church.

Winnie’s Schooling
We have made our final gift to DCA (Deserving Children Africa) as part of our 3 year commitment.  The Coffee Shop has been using the tithes of its profits to support Winnie through higher education.  This is now complete so we will be looking out for a new charity to support at the end of 2019. 

Chocolate and Wool
Alexander Devine Children’s Hospice is our largest beneficiary. Through all the handmade items sold, we have been able to donate just under £500 in 2018. This didn’t include our Christmas sales of just over £500 which will be recorded in our accounts for 2019.

Purple Poppies
In the autumn we made purple poppies and raised £111 for the Horse Society who support service animals, including those retired by the police and army.

Lemon Drizzle and Home made Biscuits
Where would we be without homemade lemon drizzle? This added to the money raised for DCA by just over £200. In addition, we have a range of seasonal hand-made biscuits with profits supporting Care International. Many of our regular customers now look for a snack that benefits charity.

Wreath Making Workshops
We ran several very popular workshops leading up to Christmas and this money went to Care International’s programme helping trafficked women.  We sent £328.

Jam & Marmalade
If you buy our jam or marmalade then you have helped raise £158 for the Swan Sanctuary.  

Our charity support is very important as is supporting local young entrepreneurs.

We are still enjoying Bellaroo Bakes. Started by a local entrepreneur Beth, Bellaroo Bakes make special occasion cakes.  Beth has created a small range of cakes & bakes especially for us. These are a delicious and popular addition to our range.

Our newest entrepreneur is BBBows – started and run by one of the “Ballet Mums” she creates handcrafted bows, including those in the colours of Stoke Poges School.

Having sourced fair trade, healthy snacks, as some clients had requested we then failed to sell many – customers can be a little fickle we have found! We have, however, replaced our paper non-recyclable cups for compostable cups and lids – one small step at a time.  We’d like to source carton juices that don’t have plastic straws so if anyone can help we’d be delighted to investigate.

We have been able to continue offering the coffee shop to those in 7UP working through their community service section for their DofE award and also to another young person from the village. Giving young people this opportunity to develop responsibility is something we consider important. 

We are delighted that we can now open every morning at 9.00, coinciding with a new hirer on Thursdays, Tumble Tots. Some of the mums have been seen in The Coffee Shop, something we hope will grow as they socialise together after or before the sessions.

This year we have said farewell to two volunteers, Ginny Prashad and Margaret Wicks, both were part of the original team recruited by Liz Harvey in 2006 when the Coffee Shop opened.  Another volunteer, Simone Evard will be leaving us in July. We are very grateful for all the time they have given The Coffee Shop and we will miss them. 

Recruiting new volunteer baristas is proving very hard.  Many of the current team have taken on more shifts and those who help out from time to time have also put in more hours this year.  We recognise that this part of the UK is an expensive place to live and therefore nearly all those under retirement age work, while those who have retired are often called upon for child care or caring for others.  Taking that into account, could we ask you to reconsider coming to join the team in 2019?  Each session is 3 hours and we are not open in school time. Perhaps you could team up with a friend and each offer a session on alternate weeks. Please talk to us if you are able to spend some time helping to keep this valuable resource open.

Lastly, can I thank everyone who has worked in The Coffee Shop in 2018.  Those who give up their Saturday morning or work late in the dark mid-week.  You have clocked up nearly 1300 hours of volunteering.  This is brilliant and we couldn’t keep the lights on or the coffee pot brewing without you!

Our Opening Times

Tuesday & Wednesday              9am – 12.00pm and 2.30pm – 5pm
Thursdays & Fridays                 9am – 12.00pm and 3.00pm – 6pm late night
Saturdays                                     9am  – 12.00
Monday and Sunday                 Closed

Knit and Natter
Alison Wheatley

We have had a great increase in numbers of people attending Knit and Natter in the last year.

Knitted and crocheted projects included poppies, (purple and red), Nativity sets, chocolate crange cosies, bobble hats, tea cosies, key rings, Christmas decorations, cardigans and button pictures. We also dabbled in paper craft.

Most of what we made was either raffled or sold to raise over a thousand pounds for Charities including DCA, Alexander Devine Children’s Hospice, World Vision and the Poppy Appeal (including Animals) and of course, the coffee shop part of the church income.

We had lots of fun all year!

Stoke Poges Men’s Group
Nigel Lowe

Our Group enjoyed another good year with all our events being well attended. As usual we were delighted to welcome men from a number different churches a well as many guys with little or no church affiliation.

There have been some changes in the committee who help run the group.

Lewis Fry, the minister from Stoke Poges Free Church, was for many years an active and valued member the team. Lewis has moved back to the West Country. He is much missed and we wish him and his family well. Fortunately, Brian Jeans, an elder in the Free Church has now joined us, as has Jamie Brady who is married to Natasha, our vicar. It’s good to have them both on board.

For many years along with some 2,000 other men’s groups, we have been partnered with an organisation CVM (Christian Vision for Men). Their mission statement is ”To connect men to Jesus and the church to men”. They have developed a lot of resources to help churches reach out to men. They also have compiled a long list of suitable speakers with inspiring stories who are available to talk at our events.

More information is available on the church website: and you can join us on Facebook:

Mike Wright

One celebrated report to the Parish AGM, many years ago, was as follows:

”The grass grows and we cut it.”

Luckily, we have managed to keep the grass under control but, as with all gardens, there are always certain areas that need more than mowing. We have the tools but, at this present time, we are struggling to provide the manpower.

We meet at St Giles’ every other Saturday through the growing season from 9am for about two hours and then admire our efforts over tea and doughnuts.

We are unable to cover extra garden maintenance, so we arrange one off working parties to cut back brambles, overgrown shrubs and trees, clear fallen branches, tidy compost bins etc etc. We do need to organise a bonfire to get rid of wood that has accumulated throughout the Churchyard.

Frequent visitors to St Giles’ will have noticed that the Standard roses have suffered from the exceptionally dry Summer last year; it is a major disappointment as many of these have been sponsored in memory of loved ones. The subsoil at St Giles’ is very gravelly and compacted and we have tried every gardening dodge in the book to try and get these roses to thrive. We have not given up yet and many generous families have offered to replace their donated rose. As you can imagine, planting numbers of roses is quite an undertaking, but hopefully with help and some typically English summers we can eventually achieve a rose lined path as it was some years ago.

We in Stoke Poges are fortunate to have a famous Churchyard and it is the aim of the Reapers to maintain it for the next generations. The Reapers are in no way grim – we are a really great bunch – you are more than welcome to join us.

Bell Ringers
Anne Frank
Tower Captain

We currently have ten members in the society. We lost our longest-serving member, Beryl, who passed away in June. We practise on Wednesday evenings, usually with the help of John Davidge, an expert from Chalfont St Giles.

We can just about cover Evensong ringing, but have needed to bring in ringers from outside for weddings. We were pleased to ring for some of the Christmas services and other special Sunday morning services, as well as the commemorations of the end of WW1.

Our main aim is to keep going and improving! Teaching beginners is a time-consuming activity, and can set back the progress of the band. However, Ralph and I organised sessions over the October half term holiday for two promising beginners. We are hoping to welcome them back soon.

We suspended ringing for a few weeks after being plunged into darkness for the second time, but now that the electricity supply to the tower has been sorted out, it is business as usual.

The next instalment of our Annual Report will follow in a few days. Watch this space…

Annual Report 2018: Chapter 1

During the two weeks leading up to the APCM, we are presenting an overview of the activities of the church throughout 2018 over four chapters. Printouts will be available to view in both churches and please ask in the church office if you need your own copy to take away.

Children & Young People’s Ministry

Tot’s Praise
Revd Natasha Brady

Tot’s Praise continues to thrive: we have about 20 adults and 40 children attending each week.  We meet every Monday in term time and the atmosphere has a lovely buzz about it. The format of the session sees the children playing with the range of toys that are set out by our lovely volunteers each week.

Parents, carers and grandparents are welcomed and offered refreshments, as are the children. Near the end, I shout ‘tidy up time’ and then, once the toys are away, we settle down for nursery rhymes and play musical instruments.

Our team of volunteers grew by one this year, as we welcomed Barbara Botcher in the new year.  Sadly two of our team have had to lay this ministry down for a while due to ill health, the parents have missed them immensely. But it did give us a chance to witness to God’s healing grace.

The highlight of the year was the Christmas party.  More willing volunteers came to make this a really special time.  With party food, Christmas music and a copy of the Nativity story for each of the children to take home and cherish. It really helped cement some good relationships and introduced God back into the mix, after a short absence due to parents’ dismay at me mentioning Him in stories and songs.

This brings me to the low point of the year.  After I arrived, I had hoped that we could introduce some short, simple bible stories and a weekly Tot’s Praise news sheet … but the parents voted with their feet and left!  After a month of trying this new format – I decided that it was not working.  Numbers had gone down to only 6 or 7 attendees.  So I announced God would not be mentioned for a while, and suddenly the parents came back.  If you could pray for this aspect of Tot’s Praise, as it is so sad that the bible is not heard in this place.

Our future hope is that we will grow a bit more, that the parents and carers will become more open to hearing about Jesus’s love for them and their little ones and that another leader can be found to replace TJ.

Junior Church
Nicky Parry, Janet Cottrell and Karen Perez
Junior Church Leaders

The more things change, the more they stay the same!

I think these words sum up our year in Junior Church (or “Kids in Christ” as we branded ourselves many years ago).  While some of our leaders come and go, and our children grow and move on, we continue to reach out to the children of our church, to offer them a place to discover and grow their faith in a fun environment. 

At present we have few, if any, infants and babies who regularly attend church so we are not setting up a crèche. No doubt this may change in the future. I wanted to mention and thank two of our long serving leaders – Anne Bunce and Kate Holliday – who have stepped down this year.  Anne has contributed to Junior Church in Stoke Poges for many years, and more recently both she and Kate have been instrumental in running the crèche.

We continue to have a dedicated group of KiC leaders and helpers, without whom we could not run KiC.  We are deeply grateful for the service they offer every week. We also thank our occasional helpers who fill in at short notice to ensure we properly safeguard our children.

The challenges we face in KiC can be summed up in one word – unpredictability! From week to week we have a different number of children (ranging from none to as many as twelve); the duration of the service varies (meaning that we have always planned too much or too little!) and the nature of working with children means that quite often lessons can take a very different direction from the one intended.  As ever though, it is in God’s hands, and His plans always work out!

We hope that our children feel welcome and happy in KiC and, as leaders we pray that we can help them grow and develop their faith at their own pace.

Simon Edwards

In 7Up we provide a space for our young people to connect and build relationships with each other and God.  We welcome visiting young people who choose to join us; friends of 7Up members, visiting relations of church members etc.  We aim for our young people to increasingly shape the group in direction, content and pace.  Enjoying fun and food together, (particularly Malteser spread!), are key ingredients of our times together.  

Over the past 12 months we have built on the firm, relational foundations established by TJ and her team.  The group is growing.  Our young people have led sessions on their favourite Bible passages.  We have journeyed with each other through some major life challenges, and we have gone deeper into topics of interest to our young people, e.g. paths to God, is forgiveness always good? creation, and heaven & hell. 

This is what our young people and their parents say about 7Up:

“Highlights are the general friendliness and opportunity to speak your mind”

“Hopes are just that 7Up carries on. It’s a good size of group, makes you think and makes coming to church worthwhile but doesn’t expect homework or lots of extra time commitment.”

“As parents we are very grateful our children get a ministry that they appreciate and want to engage with. Whatever they are exposed to elsewhere, it is reassuring that there is a group of peers and supportive adults who will balance this towards God.”

On the team front, the blow of losing TJ and Hannah Halford from the team last summer has been made up for by Jamie Brady joining us in 2019. Jamie brings many years of experience of youth ministry.  Tara Purcell, Susanne MacDonald and Simon Edwards make up the rest of the team.  We feel privileged to facilitate and witness the growth of these wonderful young people.  We are looking forward to acquiring and applying wisdom and practical hints and tips from a LICC workshop in May – ‘Reimagining Youth & Children’s Ministry’.   Look out for 7Up updates in the church blog posts.

John Wheatley

Once again this year, volunteers from our church and some of our children will be attending a Lighthouse club.

Lighthouse is a holiday club for children, run by Christians from local churches working together, bringing churches and communities together around the children. A local Lighthouse is not just a church summer holiday club, it’s an investment in the whole community with long term results!

Lighthouse is passionate about seeing children from all walks of life and abilities encountering God in a fun-filled week with teaching, prayers, sport, craft, performing arts and music. Each year our teaching is centred around a specific passage in the Bible. This year’s verse is Matthew 28:18-20.

Lighthouse is staffed and run entirely by volunteers of all ages, 0 to 100+. At Burnham Lighthouse, 200 teenage and 150 adult volunteers care for 750 children aged between 4 and 12. They are all are registered on site at 10.00am each morning and stay on site until 3.30pm. During the day they will move from tent to tent in age groups to ensure their day is full of various activities.

All of our volunteers will attend a child safeguarding course and, once they reach the required age, will have an appropriate DBS check. We do not charge Children for attending a Lighthouse but rely on local fund raising and Parents Donations. It costs approximately £45.00 per Child per week to fund this event.

Many people describe Lighthouse as ‘the best week of the summer holidays!’

Revd Natasha Brady

Stoke Poges Church continues to take safeguarding very seriously. Our safeguarding policy was reviewed and updated and approved by the PCC at the April PCC meeting. It is on display in the St Andrew’s Centre and on St Giles’ noticeboard.

A few new people now have a DBS and several more have renewed theirs.  As a church, we are working towards having all our volunteers that require it, trained and certified, as advised by the Oxford Diocese Safeguarding Team, and have therefore introduced the new C0 & C1 safeguarding training.  We have one new C3 and Safer Recruitment certified volunteer.

Before moving to her new post, TJ completed a Safeguarding Audit and all those who need further training have been contacted.  Natasha will continue to monitor their progress as the Interim Safeguarding Officer. Anyone requiring a new DBS should continue to contact Margriet Wells, as she deals with this area of Safeguarding.

Our hope is that everyone will feel enabled and safe within our Church and when necessary confident to share any concerns that they have, knowing that we all have ears to hear and the heart of Jesus to act appropriately to all.

Key message from the Oxford Diocese:

  • The welfare of the child, young person and vulnerable adult is always paramount and takes precedence over all other considerations.
  • The Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser must be consulted whenever a safeguarding concern of any kind arises in your parish.
  • Safeguarding is part of our core faith and an integral feature of Christian life in our parish churches.

The next instalment of our Annual Report will be posted in a couple of days – so much to fit in before the APCM on 28th April!

Welcome, Neighbour

A good number of Stoke Pogeans visited the “small but perfectly formed” St Mary’s Wexham on Wednesday last week to celebrate the induction and licensing of Andrew Parry as their Priest-in-Charge. With glad hearts, we welcomed him as a neighbour, thankful that he is not going far and that God’s plan, which can often seem obscure or uncomfortable, in this case seems to fit like a glove.

We witnessed Andrew being presented with a Bible, a map of the parish and a walking staff (how did they know?!), all symbols of understanding, supporting and walking alongside his parishioners. Then the handing over of the keys to the church, installation in his seat, and the Ringing of the Bell!

Practice makes perfect 🙂

Bishop Alan gave us some food for thought in his address – encouraging Andrew and everyone else, in our attempts to build God’s kingdom, not by inviting people to our party to dance to our tune, but to meet people where they are and in whatever situations they face, as Jesus did. He likened effective evangelism to jazz – where people create something in connection and collaboration, without dictating in advance what it will look like or who will be included. Stop waiting for the orchestra to arrive and get on with some music!

After a lovely service, in which we followed Rod Cosh’s exhortation to “Sing up!” we enjoyed a fantastic buffet in the church hall and this amazing cake, made by one of the congregation.

This is a cake!

We wish Andrew every blessing in his new role and look forward to seeing him for guest appearances in Stoke Poges now and then or waving to him on his rainy walks around the villages.

Marvellous Mums

Whether your Mother’s Day involves breakfast in bed, dinner at the pub or the same old routine of exhorting your children to wash before they are fit for civilised company, it is a heartening date in the church calendar. It is more than half way through Lent, the clocks go forward (temporary pain for 6 months’ gain) and, everywhere, spring is showing itself.

As well as celebrating our mums and those who nurture us through life’s ups and downs, this celebration also remembers a time when people took the opportunity to visit their “home” church if they were away working.

So it is doubly fitting that we welcomed so many members of our uniformed groups “home” to St Giles’ with their mums and families to celebrate this day. Thank you to everyone who joined in and made it happen, both on the day and behind the scenes.

Carpet time: Paraclesis – Loving

This week our Paraclesis theme was “Loving”: starting from a decision to love those around us, especially those in need, even if at first we think we have nothing to offer them.

On the carpet, Natasha told us the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. Despite being exhausted and needing a bit of peace and quiet and having apparently nothing to offer the huge crowd, He was filled with compassion for them, sent the disciples to find what little food there was and multiplied it.

Tina passed on a Tearfund story of a woman who was filled with compassion for her struggling neighbourhood in Uganda and despite having nothing of her own to give, used a tree behind her house to start a project to grow and share fruit, seeds and saplings to support the community. In turn, this gave other communities ideas about what they could share and sell from their small resources. All starting from Love.

In our Lifegroups this week, we are being prompted with practical ways of supporting others through small gestures of kindness. As we try them out, we have discussed why we often feel held back from these acts of compassion: fear of rejection or something going wrong, getting too involved or people questioning our motives. But we’ve also noted how wonderful it is to be on the receiving end of such Love and that we know there are people very nearby for whom it might make all the difference. It might seem like nothing, but even a kind enquiry to someone sitting near you at church and remembering to ask about it next time you see them, can make someone feel included and cared about. Remember it’s not about “doing good” to earn God’s favour; by His grace, we are already loved; it’s about sharing His love with others.

This Sunday we will be “Journeying”. Join us and see where we end up!

Preparing for Lent

This week, looking for some Lenten inspiration, I found this post from Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds from Ash Wednesday 2010. I have re-posted it in its entirety. 

During my recent visit to Jerusalem I had a conversation with a young man on the desk of our guesthouse. We were talking about the diminishing numbers of Christians in the so-called ‘Holy’ Land when I referred to the ‘Church of the Holy Sepulchre’. He seemed puzzled until he realised I meant the ‘Church of the Resurrection’. The western churches focus on the cross/death and the eastern churches focus on the resurrection/new life.

Today is Ash Wednesday and there will be much focus on sin and misery and giving up and ‘death’ to things you enjoy. The fasting element of Lent has really given way in popular practice to trivia such as gaining added impetus to a narcissisticly-fed diet by giving up alcohol or foods that make you fat.

But all of this seems to miss the point. We focus on sin in order to move on to the forgiveness that can be received but never bought (unlike everything else in our society). Reminded of the sheer generosity of God’s freedom (‘Let there be’ – rather than ‘Close it down’), we re-engage with the world, free to live and love because we know we are all in it together.

I am reading Andrew Rumsey’s book Strangely Warmed and find myself challenged not to give up for the sake of giving up, but to give up for the sake of taking on. Rumsey makes the following observation:

The season of abstinence is … bookended by banquets, which is highly symbolic. For only the worldly can become godly. It is mortals who sport the ash-smudge of Lent and sinners that are summoned to repentance. Just as those who properly adore chocolate are the only ones who may truly, if grudgingly, let it go, you cannot die to the world when you have never really lived to it, for the simple reason that it is impossible to relinquish something you don’t possess.

He then goes on (provocatively) to observe:

Those who don’t love the world – and there are many Christians who appear not to – really needn’t worry about sacrificing it, for it is not theirs to give. They would do better to start at the beginning and receive the world on a plate.

It is here, surely, that Lent bites. Not in the trivial and self-regarding games we play with ourselves in the name of ‘fasting’, but in struggling between loving the world and all that is in it and not letting that love tear us from God and truth and light. World-haters can spend their Lent looking for extra reasons to hate the world (and themselves?) – after all, there’s plenty of resource material – and confirm themselves in their ‘bury my talent and await the return of the king’ passivism. God-lovers must be world-lovers who so love the world that giving up even a bit of it is painful.

World-hating is common. It is easier to condemn and moan (which is the cultural pool in which we swim) than to get stuck in and bring about change for the better. A quick scan of the front pages of our newspapers and magazines tells us that everything is bad, all people are suspect, no one can be trusted, everywhere is dangerous. There is little celebration of ‘resurrection’, but an overwhelming celebration of what is deadly and threatening.

Andrew Rumsey puts the self-denying call to Christian discipleship in its proper context, recognising that ‘giving up’ does not mean loving the world less:

…if we seek first the Kingdom of God, then, by their demotion, the other things added unto us gain their true status as gifts.

And there, it seems to me, lies the key to Lent. It gives us the space to be grasped again by the overwhelming generosity of world as gift, of life as gift, of time as gift, of gifts as gift. Lent should make us more generous in and to the world, gracious for the world and committed in and to the world.

Join us in Stoke Poges for an informal service of Ashing next Wednesday 6th March at 7.30pm in St Andrew’s Chapel. With guest preacher Helen Broadbent from St Paul’s Slough.

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