Lent: Facing the Cross

Our installation (with a nod to Antony Gormley’s “Field”)

But first, let’s catch up with Lent 2020 in Stoke Poges so far…

Last Monday week, our Tots’ Praise families decorated pancakes to acknowledge our preparation for Lent.

Then on Ash Wednesday, we joined our neighbours at the newly refurbished St Paul’s in Slough for an evening service. Natasha led the service with the St Paul’s team, Helen Broadbent and Nadeem Azam, who shared his testimony as part of his address.

It was heartening to see that our neighbours are thriving both in number and in their faith in their community. I think it is a brave move to mobilise hearts and wallets to rejuvenate a large building so boldly and with such diverse tastes across the congregation, but they have stepped out in faith to make the building fit the needs of the people (who really are the church).

It was this faith and enthusiasm that we heard about in the first of our sermon series on the early church last Sunday. No buildings (or sound system 🙂 ), just people, galvanised by what they saw and heard and filled with the Holy Spirit so that they became a community united by Jesus and acted in His name.

A little entertainment whilst we listened – making playdough figures to stand/sit/lie at the foot of the cross as a symbol of our community and where we are in relation to the cross.

Where are you?

Are you in the thick of it or standing on the fringes;

clinging on at the foot of the cross or lying prostrate in awe;

or absent? Come home – you will be welcomed with joy.

Consider the Lilies: A blog for Lent

Revd Clare Hayns, Chaplain at our patron church of Christ Church, Oxford, introduces her Lent blog and we repost her first post: Hagar – The Woman Who Is Seen (with apologies to Clare for losing some of her formatting!). Do visit Clare’s blog to follow throughout Lent https://clarehayns.wordpress.com/ Clare writes:

Each day of Lent I’m going to post about a different woman from the Old Testament and on Saturdays we have some wonderful guest posts written by some fabulous women…

They should take about 5 mins to read, and each will end with a short prayer. I’ll send them at 6.30am each day. You might find it helpful to find a regular time of day that suits you to read them, perhaps in the mornings and some people like to have a particular place, such as a favourite chair.

We’ll begin [on Ash Wednesday] but I thought I’d start with a little introduction.

I began this blog last summer as a challenge for myself to a) form a writing habit, b) find out for myself more about the women of the bible, and c) learn how to use WordPress (which took a while!).

A bit about me. I’m ordained as a C of E Priest and currently work as College Chaplain and Welfare Coordinator at Christ Church, an Oxford College. I came to faith in my early 20’s having grown up in rural Bucks and my childhood was more ‘pony club’ than ‘church youth club’. I’ve often felt that my knowledge of the Old Testament was a bit scrappy, and so when I began this blog most of the women were a mystery to me.

There is an assumption that women are largely ignored in the biblical narrative, and that when they are written about they are marginal characters to the main story, or are only allowed to be either mother, whore or seductress. This is certainly the case for some of the women we’ll look at over Lent, and there are some tragic stories that we won’t gloss over and ignore. But there are also many, many women who are central to the narrative, complex in character, and who use the power they have for good, and sometimes for evil.

When I began the blog I intended to use New Testament women as well, but I found there were so many fantastic women in the Hebrew scriptures and so I decided to stay there, with two exceptions from the Apocrypha.

I hope you enjoy reading about these wonderful women as much as I have enjoyed writing these blogs. Also, if you enjoy them, please do pass the link on to your friends!

Every blessing,

Clare

A prayer for our journey

Let us make our way together, Lord; wherever you go I must go: and through whatever you pass, there too I will pass.
Teresa of Avila, 1515-1582

Hagar: The Woman Who Is Seen

Genesis 16 and 21

Hagar by ©Micah Hayns

Welcome to the first post of my Lent 2020 blog. Each day I will post about a different woman from the Hebrew Scriptures, and each post will end with a guide for personal prayer. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them!

We begin with Hagar.

Hagar was the very first person to dare to give God a name. She wasn’t a person of any authority or particular merit, she wasn’t a prophet or a priestess: she was an Egyptian slave girl owned by Abram’s wife, Sarai.

Sarai hadn’t been able to have children and so had hatched the kind of plan that we might recognise from the Handmaid’s Tale: she would have a child with Abram via the means of her slave, Hagar. Abram willingly went along with the plan and Hagar, clearly having no choice in the matter, became pregnant. The two women began to hate each other but Sarai of course, had the upper hand and Abram gave his wife authority to do as she pleased. Sarai’s anger deepened as time went on and she became violent and eventually the pregnant Hagar, fearful for the safety of her unborn child, fled to into the wilderness.  

It was as she was hiding near a well that Hagar heard the voice of an angel:

Hagar, slave-girl of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?’

Genesis 16.7

She was promised her son would be a ‘wild donkey of a man’, and told to return.

Hagar was so overwhelmed by having been seen and heard, perhaps for the first time in her life, that she gave the Lord a name,

You are El-roi”; (God who Sees), for she said, “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?”

Genesis 16.13
The Dismissal of Hagar by Giuseppe Nicola Nasini, between 1657 and 1736, (image from Wikimedia Commons)

She bravely returns to Sarai, gives birth to Ishmael, and brings him up in Sarai’s household until Sarah (given a new name) had herself produced a child of her own, Isaac. Now with a son of her own Sarah didn’t want them around anymore and they were once again banished.

Ishmael was an adult by this time (around 15 years old). The banished pair wandered in the desert until their food and water had dried up and all hope of survival had gone. In the first description of a death ritual in scripture, Hagar put her child under a bush, sat at a distance and waited for him to die.

Their tears were heard by the angel of God who, like the angel that appeared to Mary centuries later, said to them: ‘do not be afraid’, a well of water appeared and they survived.

Hagar became a Grandmother to many, and Ishmael’s descendants, the Ishmaelites, populated the land and grew powerful.

Hagar, enslaved, abused and mistreated, was seen and heard by God.

THE SITUATION TODAY

Sadly slavery isn’t in the past and although it’s hard to find accurate statistics it is estimated that over 40 million people are held against their will and that 71% of overall victims of modern day slavery are believed to be women – this is nearly 30million people! https://www.antislavery.org/slavery-today/modern-slavery/

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, 
there is freedom.
2 Corinthians 3.17

PRAYER

Loving God, who sees and hears all those who cry out in need, bring comfort and freedom to all your children, to those who are kept against their will, those who live in fear of violence, and those who are forced to run away to protect their family, in the name of El-Roi, The God Who Sees.
Amen

Rounding up Christmas

Welcome to our round up of part 2 of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany… in pictures!

Leaf Raking 14th December

What do you do when you are preparing for a birthday party? You tidy up! A few (very welcome) extra hands joined our regular Reapers to rake up the leaves at St Giles’ ready for our Christmas services. Followed by doughnuts of course!

Wassailing 22nd December

Making our Lanterns
Singing on the Repton Bridge – could they hear us at Stoke Park?
A convivial atmosphere – mince pies, mulled cider and a few more carols

Christmas Eve: Family Carols by Candlelight

Epiphany All Age Service 5th January

Our greatest gift to Jesus is to let his light shine through our actions

Love God. Love People.

Advent 2019 – the story so far

Make Way!

We had an exciting start to our Advent season on the first of the month, with a mixed up Nativity scene and quite a lot of baubles. The angels had their work cut out to spread the Good News amongst this mess!

First, we lit the first candle of the advent wreath, which has a candle at each corner for the four Sundays in Advent and one in the middle which we light on Christmas Day.

Then, to inspire our season of preparation it was the return of the High Stools. We welcomed Barbara, Annabelle and Natasha to tell their stories of what Christmas has meant to them over the years and the things that make Christmas special in their family. You can listen to their stories and our regular sermons on the website.

Finally, with the help of the young people, we hung the baubles and angels on the tree, sorted out who’s who in the Nativity and said prayers for everyone preparing for Christmas, wherever they are and whatever their circumstances will be this year.

Half way already?

So now here we are half-way through Advent; are we any more ready for Christmas than we were at the start?

With our Carol Service completed and the Senior Citizens’ Lunch eaten and washed up, we’d like to say a big Thank You to everyone who lent a hand to create these events, including Ann Frank and the Stoke Poges School Choir who came to visit our Senior Citizens’ lunch.

If you need some more encouragement to get you through the next two weeks, we have plenty of opportunities for you to join in:

Still to come before the Big Day…

Watch out around the village for our angels, created by the Knit and Natter crew, who hold a Christmas invitation for whoever finds them. Their little tag leads to our Christmas Events page so that people can find out about our Christmas services and Wassailing at the Memorial Gardens.

What is Wassailing?

Rather than the “singing to the orchard” variety of Wassailing, we will be enjoying the “caroling and wishing each other good health” mode which is sometimes practiced after Christmas as a Twelfth Night, or New Year celebration. Wrap up warm and come and make your own paper or jam jar lantern to light your path through the Memorial Gardens to Repton Bridge (facing Stoke Park). After a few carols on the bridge, we will make our way to the cosy atmosphere of St Giles’ where warm treats and a few more carols await.

And finally…

We love to welcome everyone to St Giles’ on Christmas Eve. It sometimes feels like the whole village has come to hear the News. From tiny tots at the 3.30 service dressed as the cutest sheep, the kids that we eyeball carefully when we give them a candle at 5.30 and to those who have decided that it’s not Christmas until they have been to Midnight Communion (at 11.30pm) or Christmas Day (10am). One way or another, they have all made sure that Jesus has room at their party.

So what’s your plan for Christmas? Eat, drink and be merry in celebration or quiet contemplation of the Coming of the King? Or a little of each…

For more details of all of our events and services pick up a leaflet at church or visit our website.

Remembrance 2019

Our preparations for Remembrance had started many weeks prior, with the creation of a multitude of poppies, which were then installed on the railings of Bells Hill.

We opened our Remembrance weekend with 24 hours of Prayer for Peace in the chapel at St Andrew’s. Families, individuals and a small gang of 7Up signed up for an hour’s slot to keep a vigil for many areas of the world and our own neighbourhood suffering from violence, oppression, division and distrust.

The activities were based around Isaiah 2:1-5 and started with the Mountain of the Lord, where prayers for peaceful agreement and action on climate change then branched out into many topics…

On another table, there was a puzzle of the United Kingdom and scales representing prayers for unity, equality and justice in our own land.

A (toy) knife was placed amongst information about the many projects around the world turning “swords into ploughshares” in creative and heartfelt works of art and functional designs.

As our prayer vigil came to an end, the Team, led by Natasha, pulled off a logistical feat on Remembrance Sunday, gathering uniformed groups and many people from the village at St Andrew’s at 10am, walking to the statue and flagpole on Bells Hill for an Act of Remembrance and then parading flags and pushchairs through gates and fields to St Giles’ for our Service of Remembrance, including 2 minutes silence on the dot of 11am. Phew!

St Giles’ served as it always does, as a reminder of faithful service to Christ of many people over the centuries and on this weekend, in honour of those who have given and those who continue to risk their lives in pursuit of peace.

We will remember them

Harvest – a time to give thanks

Harvest in my mind always heralds the real arrival of autumn. There’s a different smell in the air as the trees start to turn and I almost feel I am facing a different direction in the church year, turning away from the glory of Easter and summer and looking towards the anticipation of (dare I say it) Christmas.

In our school-centred life we are full of new beginnings again – new pencil cases, new activities and new responsibilities. But it’s also time to take stock and give thanks for all that the year has produced so far and look forward to what we can do with those gifts…

At our traditional Harvest Festival service, people brought offerings of food and collection money but also less traditional things such as toothpaste and a kettle! These items were targeted at specific groups – Slough Homeless Our Concern (SHOC), DASH and Tearfund.

As well as non-perishable food, people entering temporary housing often need basic items such as clothing, bedding and household items (hence the kettle), so these will go to SHOC.

DASH is a local charity supporting people who have had to leave their homes in a hurry with virtually no possessions or money due to domestic violence and abuse. A basic kit of toiletries is a small token of dignity at such a traumatic time so these items will be much appreciated.

Lastly, our cash collection which was extra to our church envelopes will go to Tearfund, whose recent campaign shows how a little help to get someone a few tools or skills goes a long way to their self sufficiency and contribution to their community economy. Tearfund (and we) trust God to take what we have given and multiply it, just as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed so many people.

Junior Church was held in the Hastings Chapel with extra helpers and included some smaller members of the Girl Guide movement, who weren’t camping in the pouring rain that weekend! They produced some beautiful hedgehogs and pumpkins to mark the season.

Another Thank You

At the end of the service, we said a huge thank you (though we are not calling it goodbye) to Kate Holliday who has served as Church Administrator for almost 20 years and has now set up her own gardening business. We prayed for Kate as she puts both feet into this new venture – that it will blossom and grow – and we are sure that it will still be as much of a mission field for her as the office.

This week, we welcome Debbie Langham as she takes over from Kate in the office, but we’ll find out more about Debbie in a future post…

Care International Sponsored Cycle across Vietnam and Cambodia

After months of planning, Margriet and Charlotte Wells have embarked on this 450km ride and are several days in to the 10 day trip already. They are raising amoney and awareness for Care International, which the Wells family and the Coffee Shop have been supporting for some time.

CARE International works around the globe to save lives, defeat poverty and achieve social justice. We put women and girls in the centre because we know that we cannot overcome poverty until all people have equal rights and opportunities. To find out more about the charity, visit their website. https://www.careinternational.org.uk/

Margriet and Charlotte have been sending regular photos of their progress – below are a few of their orientation day and first few days of the ride.

How can you help?

Firstly, please pray for stamina and safety during the ride – they have another week to go! Secondly, if you are able, please sponsor them, by visiting their Just Giving page.

We look forward to welcoming them home and hearing all about their trip at our next all age service.