Annual Report & Finance Summary

Welcome to our Annual Report which is coming to you via the blog ready for our APCM. We report on activities between Jan-Dec 2021.

The meeting will follow the 11am Family Service and lunch at St Andrew’s on Sunday 22nd May, starting the meeting at approx. 1pm.

Children & Young People

Baby Steps – Revd Natasha

This group meets every Tuesday in term time.  At the beginning of the year our group was still meeting as a support group – in accordance with Government guidelines but as the year progressed we expanded our offer to local Mums, Carers and Grandparents. 

The format of stories and songs based around a short baby sized bible story continued to be appreciated and loved.  The group has its favourite songs, like ‘The Wiggle Song’ and ‘Lion’s Roar’ – both Christian worship songs for toddles.  We’ve even aired them on a Sunday at St Andrew’s to the delight of some of the children and grandparents who know them from this group.

The main joy of this group has been the way that we have found a new way to encourage and minister to the tiniest of our community in a meaningful way.  We were even able to offer a ‘Thanksgiving service’ during one of our sessions in the Spring.  Something that both parents appreciate and the group loved.  This sparked an interest in Christian Baptism and from that some babies have come to St Giles’ and St Andrew’s for their Christenings.  In a time where Church has needed to be creative in its outreach and kingdom building, this has been a positive thing for us at Stoke Poges Church.

During the warmer months, we made the most of the newly forming Eco-garden and could offer play time with toys!  As the veg grew the babies and toddlers Imageexplored the low borders helping to pick courgettes and peas and cress.  They even had a go at planting sunflowers, most of which grew, thank goodness.   Natasha’s chicken ‘Diana’ made a guest appearance in the summer and this helped to cement the week’s theme of God’s creation.

By the Autumn, confidence was on the rise and the needs of the group had evolved, therefore we were able to start with songs and stories in the chapel and then move into the main hall for playtime with toys, trikes and dressing up clothes.   The buzzy atmosphere of old was slowly returning. Numbers are not huge, but they are consistent.  Relationships are growing and the flow between this group and other church related activities is growing.

In December, we returned to having a Christmas Party.  The children were given a Christian centric present, had a table full of lunch time treats and we played, laughed and listened to carols.  It was fun.

Your continued prayers are needed as we work our way through 2022.  Our helpers are fabulous, as always, and I would like to thank them for all their help and compassion, for the families are truly thankful for this ministry and opportunity to meet in person.  As we continue though we will need more help.  Especially with setting up the toys, as this is currently a solo exercise for me.

So may I take this opportunity to give a heartfelt  –  THANK YOU  … to you all.  Keep praying, and if you want to help out … get in touch with me.  There is lots you can do!Heart

Natasha

KiC – Kids in Christ – Janet Cottrell

Junior Church for children aged 7-11 years

When the country went back into Lockdown in January 2021, “KiC in a box” continued with crafts being delivered directly to families for children of Junior school age.  It was fun watching the children complete the activities during our Family Zoom services. 

In April 2021, children and their families were asked to create random colourful “patterns” in any media.  Heather McDowell used these to compose a collage of the cross which was displayed at our Easter services

We returned to in-person sessions in May, starting with services in the Eco-garden where children enjoyed “Messy Church”, gradually moving back to services in St Andrews as Government restrictions were eased.  At the start of the new school term in September we restarted our regular KiC sessions and now meet on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month in the Chapel at St Andrews.  The theme for each session follows that of the main service and includes teaching and discussion around the bible passage with a craft and other fun activities when numbers allow.

After the Harvest morning service at St Giles in October, children from KiC helped to “dress” the marrows, which were then auctioned off at the Harvest supper that evening. 

Church families joined together at the Christmas eve services for a rendition of “A little bit of love” – a very popular new song written by Graham Kendrick during Lockdown.

7Up – Simon Edwards

7Up is a safe space for teenagers to connect and build relationships with each other and with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

Taking Hebrews 10: 24-25 to heart, we have continued to meet twice a month during term time, on Zoom and in the St. Andrew’s Coffee Shop, to spur one another on towards God’s love and good deeds.   This in itself is worth celebrating! 

Although sad to say farewell to a number of older members in 2021; Ruth, Oliver and Toby, we have been grateful for 2 younger members joining; Holli and Abigail. 

In the Spring and Summer terms we considered the differences between the early church seen in the book of Acts and the church today, and why these differences may exist.  We also explored Forgiveness, Holy Communion, our gifts, their source and how to use them.

Since the autumn term on the 2nd Sunday of each month in the St. Andrew’s coffee shop and on Zoom, Jamie and Lizzie have run 7Up ‘full fat’ sessions which look and feel like more ‘typical’ 7Up sessions; fun, food, fellowship and faith.  In these times together we have taken a sideways look at the Bible passage being unpacked in the main service, most often through a cunning challenge set by Jamie.

On the 4th Sunday of each month, since September, Hannah has led a 7Up ‘Bible Club’ on Zoom, supported by Simon on Zoom and by Jamie in the St. Andrew’s coffee shop.  In these sessions we are exploring the different types of book in the Old Testament and in the New Testament and some of their key theme:- origins, turning points, gospel accounts, wisdom literature, prophecy, poetry, and more. 

We have dug deeper into Bible passages using a consistent framework of questions.  This has helped our young people to consider ways of reading and discovering the Bible for themselves.  We have started to question things in a deeper way, opening up further discussion and it has allowed us to really think about the messages we get from the Bible.

We are a welcoming, adaptable bunch of young people and leaders.  We hope and pray more young people and leaders will choose to join in what the Lord is doing in 7Up in 2022.

Safeguarding – Revd Natasha

Stoke Poges Church continues to take safeguarding very seriously. Our safeguarding policy was reviewed and updated and approved by the PCC at the March 2022 PCC meeting. It is on display in the St Andrew’s Centre and on St Giles’ noticeboard.

Year on year safeguarding is refined and reviewed on a national scale and this inevitably leads to a trickle down of change.  This year the Oxford Diocese rolled out a new pathway of learning for safeguarding.  Now everyone who has a role that requires some training in this area have online courses to take, called the Basic level.  There are further levels to undertake for those who have some sort of leadership or trustee role within the life of the Church, most of which can be accessed via ‘virtual classes’.  This has been most helpful during the ongoing pandemic, so our congregation could start, or continue their training.  The highest levels of safeguarding training have a short essay-style reflection element, to ensure that what has been taught is embedded.  This more intentional learning means that time and energy are needed but the rewards of a safer and more aware volunteer team is paying dividends in our approach to mission. 

We must never become complacent with regard to our children and vulnerable adults’ care, for we are there to be a layer of protection and a place of safety.  Their trust must be kept, and good safeguarding helps with this. I hope as a church community you understand the vital nature of safeguarding. We must be a community that looks out for the vulnerable both children and adults, therefore if you are stepping into a new role within the life of the church, do not be surprised to learn that safeguarding training and checks are part of that safer recruitment process.

Our annual Safeguarding Audit showed we are reasonably robust. Due to the pandemic, there has been a lot less face to face mission but those that have been active are up to date with all that is needed and for some their ministries have evolved to become more pastoral so they have done more training.  Those who have taken a step back, or paused their volunteer work will be reviewed in 2022 and their training tailored to what they are doing then.

As a reminder, remember that DBS certificates only last 3 years, so if you know yours has run out please contact Natasha or Margriet Wells to have them renewed. The same applies for all safeguarding training.  We have a log, and will try to contact you promptly but your assistance in this would be appreciated.

Natasha continues 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 at all times 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.

Revd Natasha x

Getting Involved

Knit and Natter – Sarah Marzetti

We were unable to meet regularly from March 2020 to April 2021 due to Covid shutdowns and restrictions, so it was with joy that a few of us were able to meet up in the garden at St Andrews to share our makes and enjoy socialising again. We were projectless until the summer when we as a group, hit upon the idea of decorating the post box near the Threeways doctors surgery.

Our first efforts were anonymous, with only a handful of people having seen us put our creations on display. The villagers loved our handwork and posted pictures on the village facebook pages thanking the “Yarny Banksy’s” for cheering people up, so we decided to come clean.

We have so far done: Wildlife animals and bees (which was sadly stolen), The Owl and the Pussy Cat, Harvest festival, Remembrance with service men and poppies, Snowmen (One of which has remained in situ), a New Year baby and hearts and jellybabies for Valentine’s Day. More recently, we have had the current conflict in Ukraine in our thoughts as we made hearts in the colours of their national flag and sunflowers, which are their national flower; to this we added flowers for Mothering Sunday. Our latest post box toppers are themed around Easter and we have the Jubilee theme well underway.

We now take our own pictures and proudly publish these on Facebook using these as an advert for new members for our little group, recently welcoming 6 new ladies, who join us for woolly merriment, friendship and a cuppa. It doesn’t stop on a Wednesday morning, with our new WhatsApp chat, we share our makes and ideas outside of the meetings too.

We have been asked by the Parish Council to have a stall at the Jubilee Picnic where we will be selling some of our creations, with proceeds going to our favourite charity Alexander Devine Hospice.

St Andrew’s Worship Team – Heather McDowell

We continued to share Worship Leading and curation of the music for online services between Tina, Heather, Janet and Lindsey Mackie, who was able to resume in-person services with us in the Autumn. Without relying heavily on a couple of people for live music, we are limited to using videos and audio tracks for most services. Preparing and operating the technology also falls to just a couple of people every week and it would be great to be able to share it with a few more people on a rota. We do try to keep it as simple as possible to avoid hiccups and have parked the idea of streaming St Andrew’s services until we have more hands.

Stoke Poges Men’s Group – Nigel Lowe

During the past year, the pandemic has been a concern for the men’s group but has not deterred us from planning and running events.  Last May and July we were able to run two virtual events, a Curry Night and a “Bring your own Bacon” Men’s Breakfast.  In September, we finally returned to running “real” events again, our first one since the pandemic began. Many guys were still nervous about mixing with others, so although we did not have a big response, our visit to Ascot Brewery was a great success, with plenty of beer to sample and excellent food.  The year ended on a high with an excellent Men’s Dinner at the South Buckinghamshire Golf Club, where almost 40 guys enjoyed a lovely meal and an inspiring talk from Paul Cowley MBE.  

Sadly, due to a sudden increase in Covid-19 infections at the start of 2022, our first two events of the year had to be cancelled.  We are not though discouraged by this and will be going ahead with a full plan of events for the rest of this year.

Reapers – Simon McDowell

The beginning of the year was spent trying to repair old mowers and strimmers that had not had attention in 2020 with a variety of techniques – one mower now sports part of a washing machine to hold it together!  We had a couple of mowers that we could not repair, but thankfully these were replaced with two unwanted mowers from people in the community.  

Relaxation of Covid rules meant that we could offer teas and coffees again and the convivial nature of the reaping team returned along with some more of our regulars following the disruption of 2020. The new reapers who joined us last year have remained with us in 2021 and I am very grateful for help from all reapers, of all ages and abilities.

We still welcome more members to join us – please see the Friday email for details on when we meet or ask me to add you to our WhatsApp group.  We meet every 2-3 weeks between April and September with one or two working parties later in the year to help with leaf clearing and autumn jobs.   You don’t have to mow if that’s not your thing – there are the roses to tend to and the ivy on some of the walls too.

Flowers at St Giles’ – Jennifer Pickering

After the events of the past two years, it has been such a joy and pleasure to be able to return to decorating St Giles’ with floral displays.

We have a dedicated team who produce an arrangement by the altar on a rota through the year. For festivals such as Easter, Christmas and Harvest, the whole team meets to decorate the church.

Our church is open for visitors throughout the week and positive comments are often made in the visitors’ book about the peace and tranquility they feel in the church. I am sure the presence of the beautiful flowers adds to their experience.

May I put in a pleas for more people to join the the flower arrangers? You don’t need expertise, just a love of flowers. It is amazing how a block of floral foam can help to create a work of art!

St Andrew’s Ecogarden – Revd Natasha

In February 2021 three separate groups asked the Vicar if they could make use of the land adjacent to St Andrew’s … Natasha had always envisioned that this area would have a ‘pocket garden’ of some sort so, after a lot of thought and prayer, two leaders emerged – Karrie & Hannah – who were happy to start St Andrew’s Eco-Garden.

Throughout the spring a ‘Core Team’ was gathered – both from within the church and beyond.  This was to be a community project that had a Christian foundation to provide a space for us to worship, to be a place of peace and accessible for all generations and abilities and where local people and groups could grow things. So as we started out we held ‘work’ days – fed people – and gathered resources from around the village

By the summer the ‘grand plan’ had evolved and the sheer enormity of the project was quite daunting.  This was going to take a few years to create … but the journey and relationships we managed to develop were kingdom building.  The journey out of lockdown afforded us the opportunity to hold church services in the garden.  Despite the challenges of uneven ground and moving lecterns onto grass – it worked and brought St Andrew’s back together in a safe way. 

During the summer months, we were approached by the Duke of Edinburgh scheme who asked if they could help.  Of course, we said YES – and through the summer we helped some achieve their Bronze award and started others on their Gold Award.  They have been a blessing to us, enabling children’s ministry to go outside – in the form of ‘Family Events’. 

Karrie created a programme of hedgehog house building, sweet pea tee-pees and other such things.  Some were well attended, others not, but for our first year, we were very happy just to be there.

As the summer warmed up and people’s seed donations and plant offerings began to grow, the St Andrew’s Eco-Garden loved sharing the produce with local people.  Each Sunday they would bring in goodies for the congregation.  We sent much out to the lonely and vulnerable … who were very pleased to receive veg grown by local children for them. 

All who we spoke to were encouraged to come and look at the garden and join in as and when they were able.

A watering rota was created and alongside the Core Team some of the Baby Steps mums joined in, ensuring everything stayed alive through the summer holidays ready for picking in the Autumn.

In the Winter months, a local builder came and gave up his time to begin the hard task of laying a disability friendly patio.

All this planning, building and growing would not have been possible without the team’s hard work the Church & Parish Council’s support and local people joining in … so thank you – and may God’s Kingdom keep growing.

Behind the Scenes

Office & Communications  – Heather McDowell

Throughout the year the Office Team of Natasha, Debbie, Heather, Richard, and Ann met on a Monday morning for prayers; followed by a session ensuring that all our diaries were in accord. At the beginning of 2021 we met on Zoom, keeping up with ongoing changes to the Covid pandemic and how this related to the church providing a safe environment. Where the yellow line would be at St. Andrew’s and its virtual equivalent at St. Giles’; how many people could we allow at weddings and at funeral services?

As the year progressed, we developed a balance of home working, in-office hours and multiskilling to cover the occasional spanner in the works of someone going down with Covid. We even managed to redecorate the church office!

Between us we try to ensure that the doors are open (or locked) when they should be, that congregation, hirers, visitors and tradesmen are all well met, lines of communication are kept live and information produced in good time and with clarity.

Finances – John Wheatley

2021 proved to be a difficult year to manage our finances due to the ongoing effects of Covid.  Once again, however we maintained our budgeted commitments, which included:

  • Parish Share We maintained our committed Parish Share.  Our contribution to the Diocese largely covers clergy stipends and pensions and the training of ordinands.
  • Mission Giving We maintained that a minimum of 10% of all planned giving during the year would be mission giving and we will be donating to SHOC and NLT in line with last year. We once again committed additional funds to outreach for the village.
  • AV System We continued to work on improving our AV systems.to meet new styles of Worship.
  • Governance We maintained a minimum of 3 months operating costs in our bank account, thanks to the generosity of our Church members.  

By way of explanation on the income side, “Fees” include charges for weddings and funerals and “Tax” is what we recover from gift aid.

We are reliant on our income from rent and lettings, rent for the year fell due to a period of vacancy at one of the flats offsetting an improvement from revenue from Hall lettings, we expect this revenue to improve overall next year.

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.

In addition, each year we write down the initial cost of the St Andrews Church centre, this is shown in our restricted fund operating costs, not on the chart above, but this year the cost was £25,936 and is not a cash cost, but an accounting one.

Our General Fund was £2,923 in surplus, but additional costs in the restricted funds meant that we had an overall deficit or reduction in funds of £25,095.

Whilst the above is a general outline of our financial year, more details can be found in the “Report of the trustees and financial statements for the year ending 31 December 2021” available on our website here.

Churchwardens – Simon McDowell & John Wheatley

After the difficulties in coming to terms with the pandemic in 2020, 2021 was more of the same.  Unfortunately, for part of the year, we were unable to come together at all, and when we did reopen, it was on a socially distanced basis and many from our congregation were understandably nervous about coming back to church.

Our role as churchwardens is to assist Natasha to do her ministry in the parish, whilst we try to take care of the day-to-day activities.  We both have additional roles as PCC Secretary (Simon) and acting Treasurer (John) and we are particularly helped by Richard, our verger, who is a “can-do” source of knowledge and help on a daily basis. 

Our concerns in 2021 were partly the same as 2020, in maintaining a careful eye on risk, but a need to serve our community by opening when it was safe, but we began to look ahead, with the Eco Garden and the plan to build three new flats above the Coffee Shop, Hastings Room and office at St Andrew’s, thereby replacing the old roof at the same time.  We hope to have a decision in 2022.

As always, we are grateful to Natasha for her spiritual guidance and ever-strengthening links to other members of our community, as well as the PCC, the church office and other church members to help us do this smoothly and we give thanks for the help and support that we have received from the congregation during 2021.

PCC Secretary – Simon McDowell

Our PCC remained on a virtual basis for the start of 2021 as the restrictions continued to keep us apart.  We held five PCC meetings during the year, of which two were virtual and three together.  Sadly, our informal, longer meeting was shelved for a second year, but we hope to hold it in June 2022.   We consisted of five elected members, two elected representatives of the Deanery Synod, two churchwardens and our Vicar.  Average attendance at PCC meetings was 80%.

Our PCC has two active working committees:

  • the Property Committee, which is responsible to the PCC for the upkeep of the fabric of both church buildings.   It met three times, including one virtual meeting.  It consists of six PCC members and welcomes from time to time other church members who are experts in property matters and whose help is much appreciated; and
  • 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.  Although the Vicar and Churchwardens meet regularly, the Standing and Finance committee only met once during the year.

With the continued restrictions on opening the hall for hire and with the lower number of services for much of the year, the PCC continued to maintain its focus on supporting the needy and vulnerable in our parish as outreach.  It also supported the establishment of the St Andrew’s Eco Garden as an example of Mission to come to the church community.

The PCC meeting also considered the risks as we entered and emerged from lockdowns, the maintenance of the church buildings and their safe reopening later in the year.  

The reports of the other activities that took place during the year in our church community can be found elsewhere in this blog.  The PCC is very grateful to all the leaders and their helpers who give up their time to make these activities happen.

Also on the website, are a summary the annual accounts, which reflect the financial state of the Stoke Poges Church and there is a separate Treasurer’s report to describe what has happened financially.

Deanery Synod

There were 4 Meeting of Deanery Synod held during the year plus a special Treasurers Meeting (held at St Paul’s Church) in July to resolve our Parish Share formula.

Key activities undertaken at these meetings were

  1. Appointment of the Reverend Canon Janet Binns as Area Dean
  2. Ongoing efforts to agree on a Formula for Parish Share across all Churches in the Deanery with a range of between 80% to 120% of basic rate £60,000
  3. Fees for Weddings and funerals to be allocated back to Church of origin, however for 1 year, all fees to be retained by Deanery as part payment of Parish Share
  4. St Pauls’ Intercultural Hub: Plans are underway to affirm and build up St Paul’s Slough as the model church for intercultural mission and ministry in the Diocese of Oxford.

Following on from a year of discussions regarding Parish Share, it was felt that the first meeting of this year (held at St Andrew’s) was very much a more relaxed event with more Focus on the real requirements of the Deanery.

The meaning of LIFE

Ladies’ Life Group

After a difficult time for each of us over the lockdowns, we participated in the Archbishop’s Lent study via Zoom and welcomed two extra members for this. In the summer, we returned to meeting in person, firstly just sharing our daily battles, then trying out a study on Isaiah. We struggled to maintain concentration on studies, with energy to lead the group and generally with attendance, as family needs and other commitments encroached on our Wednesday evenings and so we have decided to “rest” the Ladies Life Group for the time being with the hope of resuming it when the appetite returns.

JTS Life Group

2021 was a break-out year for many of us, and for others we have learned to endure with patience, wisdom and grace our work, family and health challenges.   Through it all we have kept meeting together, (on Zoom) and we have all grown closer to God and to each other, by leaning not on our own understanding and trusting more in God’s unfailing love, mercy, protection and provision.  

On the back of the Alpha course, which finished in December, we invited others to join us in a LICC course – ‘Proverbs: Wisdom for the whole of life’. And indeed we enjoyed the fresh perspective and lively participation of three guest members for the six weeks of the course.  It was a great start, which set us up for the year.

We also explored the NT epistle, 2 Peter ‘lectio divina style’ and the OT book of Daniel using the CWR Cover to Cover resource ‘Daniel: Living Boldly for God’.  Our study of Daniel during a pandemic was a timely reminder that the Lord is always with us, even in the fiery furnace of great trials.  The Hillsong worship song, ‘Another In the Fire’ expresses this beautifully.  We also were encouraged and emboldened to speak truth to power in love on our frontlines. 

There is lots of laughter whenever we get together.  In the summer, we managed to safely physically gather, including some of our children.  It was a wonderful afternoon, a highlight of the year.

We share and pray each week; giving thanks to our Father in heaven for all his benefits and asking him for his help in our everyday lives.   We are no longer surprised by the Lord’s generosity in all areas – The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made.  

In the weeks leading up to COP26 in November we examined our own lives and the world, creation, and the mess we have made of it.   We studied what the Bible tells us is our role in creation care.  We asked ourselves what we can do individually and collectively to make a positive difference locally and globally, through our choices, actions, influence and prayers.  We were led through this process by the excellent Katharine Hayhoe in a series of videos and questions provided by Tearfund.  We recommend them to any group or individual who is seeking help in this area of Christian mission.

Links:

Proverbs: Wisdom for the Whole of Life | LICC

Cover to Cover Bible Study – Daniel: Living Boldly for God 9781853459863 | Eden Christianity and climate change  – Tearfund

Deborah and Matthew’s Life Group

Our hope as a Life Group is to deepen our faith and walk alongside each other in fellowship on a weekly basis.

Throughout 2021 we continued meeting via Zoom every week for prayer, fellowship and Bible study. With Covid restrictions continuing to limit the opportunity to meet others face to face, Life Group has proved an invaluable constant in retaining social contact and Christian fellowship within the Group.

Praise along with pastoral prayer (for each other, our communities and the world) are a very important facet of our weekly meetings. We give thanks to God for the prayers he has answered this year and the opportunity to walk alongside each other as we move through challenges and different seasons of our lives.

Over the year we completed the LICC “Worshipping the God of All in All Life” study of David’s Psalms, and during Lent we studied the Church of England Live Lent course ‘God’s Story Our Story’ which explored how we can live God’s story and share it with everyone we meet.

A highlight of the year for many of us was learning about how to engage with the important issue of Climate Change from a Christian perspective. We studied the excellent Tearfund ‘Christianity and Climate Change’ course featuring Katharine Hayhoe, the internationally renowned Christian climate scientist. Our course coincided with the COP 26 conference in Glasgow and enabled group members to learn how best to take small practical actions including understanding how to talk to others about climate change.

Despite this being another turbulent year due to Covid, we have been reminded once again of the blessings and benefits of meeting regularly as a Life Group in terms of fellowship, growth in our walk with God and answered prayer. God is good!

Vicar’s Report – Revd Natasha

Stoke Poges Church is a place where we strive to know God, follow Jesus, love others and invite all. 

After a very difficult 2020, at the start of 2021, we could have been forgiven for thinking – Oh NO! Here we go again.  For, once more, we entered a National Lockdown due to Covid – 19 and the Church had to think carefully about how it could serve.  To begin with, we had to go online.  St Giles’ was able to remain open for private prayer, and each day a dedicated group of volunteers deep cleaned it.  Thank you to all our stalwarts for keeping that going. It was a quiet oasis in a national time of trauma.

As the situation grew less dangerous, we began the process of re-introducing face to face services. For pastoral and safety reasons we chose to offer one service at St Giles’ in the morning and a 4pm Zoom service for St Andrew’s and housebound folk.  Our first in person service was Easter Sunday! I think it went well.  Sadly the chocolate eggs were retired for the year but we did put out an Easter Trail that used QR codes to tell the Easter Story; an outdoor activity that we hope was used and appreciated.

Online, we stretched ourselves with the technology, and had to come up with some ingenious ways of doing All Age services that had an intergenerational flavour to them, but numbers were consistent and good.  The chats at the end of the Zoom service were loved and offered us times of fellowship. 

#Lent Live on Facebook went well – with Nigel Lowe and I hosting it each week.  Using the Archbishop’s Lent book we had a short service of the word with a ‘moment’s thought’.  It was enjoyable to do, and well received, bringing back into the fold those who had moved away from Stoke Poges and others who had engaged with the church only occasionally before.

As a Community Mission project, we had started Baby Steps in the Autumn of 2020.  As it was considered a support group we were able to keep it open through lockdown.  The group really enjoyed meeting and spending time together.  The stories would sometimes get ignored as new developmental goals were cooed over by the Mum’s but, on the whole, the format of a short bible story, songs and other themed stories around the week’s main bible theme worked.  We were even able to hold a short Thanksgiving service for one baby.  All joined in enthusiastically, and others then booked baptisms for later in the year.

Our charitable links were further enhanced – thanks to Zoom – as the Nepal Leprosy Trust shared with us a link to a video of their current projects and needs.  Thank you Matthew Wetherall for arranging that for us, and giving the congregation a chance to engage more deeply with NLT.  Normally we would hold a cake sale and have a special Sunday for them but that was not possible and this was a good alternative that many responded to.

After a long, long wait, our project to make St Giles’ car parking safer was completed.  We were able to install CCTV in the small car park and at the foot of the driveway.  A bright light was fitted on an incredibly tall pole, that shines glaringly for 30 minutes if you park near it at night.  This has moved the drug dealers on and no car break-ins have been reported since it was all done.  Long may that remain.  The hope is that it will help folk feel safe using the facilities and therefore increase Church attendance.

With the ever changing landscape and restrictions, I found myself back to doorstep visits and pastoral phone calls.  A number of the initial pastoral calling team, established in 2020, were happy to continue with their calls, which allowed us to keep connections alive around the parish for our most isolated and vulnerable folk.  It also saw us revisiting the Store Cupboard, our Community venture, to meet the food and isolation issues of our local residents. Reflecting on what we had learnt the first time, we split the effort into two distinctive parts.  One was to offer ‘well being’ baskets of goodies to those still stuck inside – offering baked goods and luxury items in a beautifully wrapped basket along with magazines and a friendly face.  We sent out over a 100 easily.  The other part of the mission saw us collecting and then distributing basic necessities to families, who were now struggling financially due to repeated lockdowns and a reduction or cessation in pay, a task we kept up as a solo enterprise by the summer, so that families were fed and nurtured over the school summer break.

Back in May 2020, the Area Dean – Rod Cosh moved post and this left us with a difficult choice as an area.  Can we afford a replacement or do we ask one of our current serving clergy to take on the role?  After consultation with the Diocese it was agreed that an interim Area Dean role should be offered.  To ensure that it met the needs of all our Deanery, I was part of the Sub-Committee that wrote the profile and short listed the candidates.  I am happy to report that Revd Janet Binns was welcomed in the Autumn and so far has made a positive impact on our Deanery.

On 2nd May 2021, St Andrew’s was finally able to meet in person.  Using the EcoGarden, we held an All Age service and began trialling a new format, splitting the service into three sections  – Fun, Faith, Food – exploring the bible passage in word, action, deed and a communal meal.  It was easier to organise, took fewer volunteers and fitted the risk assessment requirements.  As the summer progressed, these outdoor services became a vibrant life-line to compliment our online activities.  People were slowly starting to come back to church and mutual respect for one another’s journey was evident in how we cared and related to one another.  Such a blessing to see families and friends able to worship and sing!

Of course as the summer months came around, so the wedding season reignited.  After a year of delays, most of our 2020 couples managed to hold their services.  Those who had opted for ‘Lockdown’ Weddings returned for their one year anniversary and a Wedding Blessing so more family and friends could share in their joy.  It was a busy time, and although confidence to mingle was low and seating plans still had some restrictions, all went off well.  The difficulties of the last year or so have meant that I was able to spend more time nurturing and witnessing Jesus to these couples, so please pray that the seeds sown begin to grow and we begin to see more of them staying part of our worshipping community moving forward.

This summer it was Thomas Gray’s 250th Anniversary of his death.  Jointly with the Stoke Poges Society, we put on an art exhibition that concentrated on images of the tomb or portraits of Gray.  The week long exhibit saw over 200 visitors who thoroughly enjoyed seeing art from the late Revd Cyril Harris, various works donated by Eton College, Pembroke College – Cambridge, Harvey Whittam, The Stoke Poges Memorial Gardens, The Gutteridge family, and the University of California. Added to that Stoke Poges School painted some wonderful portraits of Gray that were exhibited in the Hastings Chapel and Heather McDowell hosted a sketching afternoon.

Our local Parish Councillors contributed too, they came on the Saturday to serve refreshments and help guide people around the church.  It felt like a very unifying experience that celebrated a much-loved poet and gave locals an opportunity to engage with their village church. A good community endeavour, and such a privilege to be able to do it.

After missing the Horticultural Society Show in 2020, we were delighted to be invited back to BBQ again in 2021.  Wearing our church t-shirts and our shiny new aprons, we proudly displayed our Christian heart as we served burgers and hot dogs to hungry show goers.  It was hard work, but we sold out of goodies by late afternoon and only burnt a few sausages.  This has proved to be an excellent way for the Church to have a visible presence in the community and allow the God-centric conversations to happen naturally.  The organisers were very pleased with our efforts and have invited us to return in 2022.

As part of our ongoing mission to love God and Love People, we saw an opportunity to do good with what we had been given by the Mobbs Trust for the Christmas Lunch (which had by necessity been turned into a hamper deliver in 2020 and hence not used much of the money).  Instead, we had a trip to the seaside – entitled “Christmas” Seaside Outing.  Offering it to those who come to the Christmas lunch for seniors and by asking them to contribute towards the lunch, we were able to take about 20+ people to Worthing for the day.  I must thank Jane Wall for her fabulous organising – she made it a special day for those able to come, many of whom had not been anywhere for 16 months.

Autumn came around ever so quickly and with it the September Church BBQ, Harvest Service and Auction and our annual Thanksgiving Service in conjunction with the Memorial Gardens. All went very well.  We were able to open it up to a larger group and ticketed the services as needed. I must thank Simon McDowell for stepping into the breach for Harvest and the Thanksgiving services as I went down with Flu and was knocked off my feet just at the wrong time!    Jon Homan and Nigel Lowe did a splendid job of auctioning all the gifts at Harvest time … enabling us to make a much needed donation to SHOC.

It gave me great delight to welcome back the Gurkhas for a belated service of Remembrance in October.  Now there are more grandchildren of soldiers attending than the originals but their commitment to God and the regiment was palpable.  They filled the Hastings Chapel and enjoyed their time with us.

As Autumn made its way into Advent, we all hoped that the winter season would be kind to us. We made plans that were always ‘Plan B’ friendly, which meant that, as another strain of Covid began to take hold, we were able to keep our services going, our community engagements live and worship and evangelise as God had guided us to.

Carols on the Green returned and so did we – with a Pop up Nativity thoughtfully painted by Heather McDowell and erected next to the reindeer.  So many – 100’s in fact – of people engaged with it.  All positively and reverently.  Taking photos of themselves with the Holy family, and sneaking a peek at the baby Jesus (we had four – so we could keep swapping and cleaning them).  The team of volunteers cajoled many to take photos of the service times and encouraged them all to try one.  I think it worked!

Advent carols, Wassailing and the Christmas Eve services were well attended, considering the spiralling Covid cases.  We asked people to choose one service to attend and on the whole people did, meaning all were well attended but kept as safe as they could be. So much cleaning was done … and the one way systems helped with keeping folk far enough apart. The outdoor tea-hut at St Giles’ was a real help too.

As our second year with Covid drew to a close, it was clear that as a Church community we have learnt how to adapt, become resistant to change and trust in God for His plans to come to fruition.  Once again, all that we have done and will continue to do has to be first and foremost for His glory and the building of God’s Kingdom.  While we keep Loving God and Loving People the Lord seems to find ways for us to live out His purposes in and through us.  Our ability to relate to our context has grown because we are listening and responding to the every day situations that come our way.  For it is in these things that God can use us to further His Kingdom – by our witness AND grow us in our Faith. 

This year has tested us, once again, but I hope you can see, by all that has been shared, that nothing has diminished the light of Christ shining out to the world from Stoke Poges Church.  We have found and grown our abilities to ensure that God’s will is done … in person, online, by phone and through events in our community. 

Thank you for striving to live out the love that God has shown to us in Christ Jesus.

Rev Natasha Brady …. May 2022.

A Christmas round-up… in Spring!

Somewhat belatedly, as the daffodils are well and truly out, here’s a round up of the Christmas season at St Giles’ and St Andrew’s!

We kicked off Advent at the Village Carols with our new nativity photo booth, which was enjoyed by lots of villagers. If you missed it, you can be sure it will be back next year, with added props and dressing up options, covid permitting.

Knit & Natter decorated the big post box by the surgery and Baby Steps had a very cute nativity Christmas party.

The Senior Citizens Christmas Lunch was converted to a Hamper in 2020 so it made a welcome return to St Andrew’s this year, including a visit from Stoke Poges School choir with carols for everyone to join in.

At St Giles’, we celebrated “nearly Christmas” with our traditional carol service, followed by wassailing the following week. We made jingle sticks and jingled through the Memorial Gardens, our path lit by flaming lanterns. We sang carols on the bridge overlooking Stoke Park and then back to St Giles’ for mulled cider and mince pies and more outdoor carols.

Then it was Christmas Eve and we warmly welcomed a healthy number of regulars and visitors to our beautiful church, dressed in flowers and lights, full of anticipation of the coming of Jesus – the child that would change everything. The celebration continued the next morning, Christmas Day – a birthday party for everyone to enjoy.

Now we are knee deep in spring, our Lent sermon series started this week and the Life Groups are about to pick up the baton with an in-depth lent study. You’ll find our Lent and Easter services below and Mothering Sunday is just around the corner on 27th March.

Meanwhile our regular groups have been meeting: Knit & Natter are embarking on projects for Easter and The Queen’s Jubilee, Friday Coffee group is available for friendly local chat and Baby Steps returned last week. Wednesday and Sunday services are back to normal at both churches – if you haven’t seen us for a while, you are always welcome.

Further details can be found at www.stokepogeschurch.org or on the noticeboards at both churches.

Harvest time

As Harvest Festival rolled round again, things felt almost normal – our theme was “look back with thanks and forward with joy”

As if to emphasise that we should take nothing for granted, Natasha was taken ill last week so Simon McDowell led our Sunday service and in the evening, a whole team was required to stand in at the Harvest Supper.

The flower team once again came up with some stunning arrangements at St Giles’ and the tenacious gardeners among the congregation brought beautiful produce, including for the first time, veg from our Ecogarden. We broadened our harvest offerings this year from the usual tins of beans and chocolate biscuits to provide the specific things that our partner charity, Slough Homeless Our Concern (SHOC) requested. These were all gratefully received on Monday morning when we delivered direct to their centre in Ragstone Road, Slough.

We were delighted to welcome the Brownies and their families to Harvest Festival who did a great job of processing forward with their flag and collecting it at the end.

The Ecogarden marrows were not left naked – they were transformed by our junior church crew into furry, glittery creatures ready for their big moment at the auction.

The evening proceedings were led by Nigel Lowe, aided and abetted by Jon Homan auctioning the produce and the catering team. As well as the marrows and lots of other produce, the auction included a beautiful pumpkin from the Ecogarden and “four candles”, raising £434 in total. The monetary offering both in the plate and via the app this Sunday also went to SHOC. In addition to this, the church gives a proportion of its annual income to SHOC (and NLT) as explained at the APCM. As you can imagine, they have had many extra challenges over the last two years and our help has never been more essential.

Thank you all for your contributions.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Summer Round Up in Pictures

As we emerged, blinking, from our social hibernation, a few events and activities and the occasional sunny day have helped coax us back to life. Thank you to all the organisations and individuals who have provided these happy occasions. Here’s our church summer in pictures…

Outdoor church services and lots of activity in the Ecogarden (for more Ecogarden photos, visit the webpage www.stokepogeschurch.org/garden

Ladies Lifegroup end of term social

Mowers on parade – there’s been a lot of grass this year!

250th Anniversary of the death of Thomas Gray – we shared events with the Stoke Poges Society, who presented a cheque to the church towards the upkeep of Thomas Gray’s tomb, and with Stoke Poges Memorial Gardens

The Horticultural Society’s Annual Show, where the church ran the barbecue

Our first Baby Steps baptism: Maeve – more to come this term!

Senior Citizens’ day trip to Worthing

The wedding of Charlotte Wells & Rory Wood – we love a church family wedding 🙂

Our annual barbecue at St Giles’ on the first Sunday in September – the warmest weather for years

Knit and Natter secretly decorated the village postbox but when the first installation was stolen, they came back strong! More seasonal variations to follow.

Lots more events coming this term: Harvest on 3rd October, Remembrance on Thursday 11th & Sunday 14th November, more Ecogarden activities and a Rake off at St Giles’.

We would love to share more photos of church events. If you would like to send in your photos for a future blog post, please send them to heather@stokepogeschurch.org

Annual Report for activities in 2020

Welcome to our Annual Report which is coming you in one hit this year via the blog ready for our APCM. We report on activities between Jan-Dec 2020, some of which feels like a lifetime ago!

The meeting will follow a 10.30am Joint Family Service at St Andrew’s (no 9am at St Giles’ that day) and we will serve elevensies to tables and start the meeting at approx 11.30am.

Children & Young People

Tots’ Praise – Revd Natasha

This group met every Monday in term time and began the year with the usual buzzy atmosphere about it.  The format of the session had not changed, but the layout did in 2019 as we sectioned up the hall into ‘rooms’.  This enabled our youngest visitors a bit more safety from the older ones who loved to whizz around on trikes and ride on toys. Parents, carers and grandparents were welcomed and offered refreshments, as were the children. Near the end, ‘tidy up time’ is shouted and toys are put away and there is a time for nursery rhymes and musical instruments. Our team of volunteers remained constant and fabulous … and then, as we know March 16th 2020 arrived and this activity had to pause.

We managed to keep in touch with a couple of parents via WhatsApp but to be honest the rest just disappeared.  This was of great concern to us, as a church, as we’d formed some lovely friendships and begun some faith related conversations.

Baby Steps – Revd Natasha

By the end of the summer holidays the government guidance had changed so that we could look at offering a ‘support group’ for new parents and their babies.  So Baby Steps was born.

As numbers were limited and use of toys too we decided to make the main focus stories and songs.  The format worked well.  Mums and Babes arrived.  Natasha welcomed everyone, Jane Wall & Barbara Botcher supported her. Then using one simple Bible story as the theme for each week’s more stories and songs were sung . using lots of actions and instruments …  and at the end time was given to share news and chat.

It started small and grew quickly, so that by the end of the year it was at capacity.  Parents were happy with this new Christian support group and hopefully in 2021 it can expand.

Your prayers of last year – to enable us to be more confident in sharing the good news of Jesus has been answered, alleluia!  Although  we are working with a reduced team for now we are optimistic that by the autumn of 2021 we will be able to open this group to all pre- school ages and their carers.

So may I take this opportunity to give a heartfelt  –  THANK YOU  … to you all.  Keep praying, and if you want to help out from September 2021 … get in touch with me.  There is lots you can do!

Natasha x

KiC – Kids in Christ – Janet Cottrell

Holding KiC sessions in person has not been possible during the past year due to COVID restrictions.

Natasha started preparing “KiC bags” after Easter 2020, delivering them to the doorstep of KiC families so that the children had their own activities to complete during the online Podcasts.  Additional material for the upcoming week was provided through an activity sheet attached to the weekly service sheet.  An online “Virtual Sunday School” series was also trialled which included a simple craft to make from household materials.

When restrictions eased during the summer months and in-person Sunday services resumed for those who felt comfortable attending church, children were provided with “KiC in a box”; activities to complete whist sitting with their families.

In the autumn churches were forced to shut their doors again and KiC then merged into the family Zoom services where we could see each other face to face, albeit on a screen from home.  On Sunday 29th November we were all encouraged to build a real or virtual fire for Fire Sunday and toast marshmallows (as demonstrated by Natasha from her front garden) whilst learning about Moses and the Burning Bush.  The Wetherall family created a particularly impressive fire!

At Christmas the KiC children prepared nativity-themed artwork which was condensed to form a sleeve around a CD of Christmas carols to be included in each Afternoon Tea hamper that was delivered to the Senior Citizens who would normally have been guests at the Christmas lunch.  Several children also took part in a “reverse advent calendar” organised by the Nickson family.  KiC children donated an item of food for each day of advent and encouraged their friends to do so too.  The food was then donated to a local food bank in time for distribution at Christmas.

In January 2021 when the country went back into lockdown, “KiC in a box” continued with crafts being delivered directly to families.  It was fun watching the children complete the activities during our Family Zoom services.  Hopefully we will be back to in-person sessions soon.

7Up – Simon Edwards

In 7Up we provide a safe space for teenagers to connect and build relationships with each other and with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  For most of 2020 it was via a virtual safe space, using Zoom on 2nd and 4th Sundays.  In one word, 2020 was INTENSE!

Although meeting online was not ideal for most, there have been a number of positives too.  Meeting virtually enabled us to include young people outside our village.  We also had lots of fun with virtual games and quizzes, and we used the online space to engage in listening and visualisation exercises as part of our delving deeper into some of our young people’s concerns and big questions: – ‘How can I believe in God?’, ‘Life after death – what’s that all about?’, ‘How Can I Shine God?’, among others.  At the heart of our sessions has been listening to each other and to God, exploring and applying God’s word, the Bible, to our daily lives and prayer for each other and for our concerns.

Last summer we held a bar bq and said ‘adios’ to Joni and Lizzie as they headed off to uni.  We also said farewell to the Purcell family who are now happily settled in their new church family.  Tara stepped up to co-lead 7Up when Hannah left 3 years ago to start her role as Head of Science at an international school in Portugal and Ryan and Lauren had been active participants in KiC and 7Up.  So it was sad to say ‘au revoir’ to them all.

However, yet again we were reminded that our God is with us and knows his plans for us, plans to give us hope and a future.   Even before Tara left, thanks to Zoom, Hannah re-joined as a helper and leader.  As a teacher and head of faculty, Hannah has lived through the same challenges faced by our young people; uncertainty, adapted learning and assessment methods, social isolation, regular COVID testing, you name it.  Hannah walked alongside our 7Up members through a very tough year and encouraged us all with her empathy, compassion and prayerful words of wisdom.  Please pray for our young people and their leaders to draw even closer to

God as we, and that we’ll continue this amazing journey of faith with some new 7Up members. 

Safeguarding – Revd Natasha

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.

This year there was a change to who should undertake the Basic safeguarding course which meant all our sides-people and the choir were required to undertake the training.  Both ministries embraced this wholeheartedly and we had Rowena Griffiths come and deliver the training to us on behalf of the Oxford Diocese.  So we are fully compliant in all our ministries now, which is a wonderful achievement.

We, will continue with our safer recruitment policy, as stipulated by the Church of England and to ensure that we have capacity to do that two more people became accredited with the Leadership qualifications in safeguarding and recruitment to assist me when taking on new people wether they are paid or volunteers.  I hope as a church community you understand the vital nature of safeguarding. We must be a community that looks out for the vulnerable both children and adults, therefore if you are stepping into a new role within the life of the church, do not be surprised to learn that safeguarding training and checks are part of that recruitment process.

Our annual Safeguarding Audit showed a few holes but they are now plugged and all those who need to renew their training have been contacted.  For our certificates only last 3 years.

 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 at all times 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.

Natasha x

Getting Involved

St Andrew’s Worship Team – Heather McDowell

We had established a happy pattern of worship in early 2020 with a rota of live music from Lindsey Mackie, Heather, Tina, Janet and Matthew and using CD/MP3 tracks on other weeks.

We knew that we wanted to include music in our recorded services as we went into lockdown and we shared out “curating” each week’s music between, Janet, Heather, Tina and Natasha. However, it became apparent during the year that the music licencing rules were far more restrictive that we had realised and what had been a fun task for the first couple of months became frustrating and unsatisfying.

We are hugely grateful to Lindsey for sharing some videos and also St Nic’s Durham, who gave permission (via Debbie Langham’s daughter Chloe) to use their growing catalogue of Youtube videos. We purchased some videos which included permission to use in recordings and luckily a number of the audio tracks we already owned came with this permission. The Church of England also made an arrangement with St Martin in the Fields to release a set of Public Domain hymns for each week’s service and some seasonal ones, though these have only generally been suitable for Morning Prayer podcasts and also delivered quite late in the week.

For those wondering why we didn’t just produce our own worship videos, this would have required recording equipment, volunteer time and know-how that we just don’t have. We are lucky that we still have a few voices and a pianist, which we look forward to being able to use and hear again soon.

Stoke Poges Men’s Group – Nigel Lowe

The men’s group began the year with a Beer & Skittles Evening  at St. Andrew’s, but sadly, all the following events that we had planned for 2020 had to be postponed when the country went into lockdown.  Once we realised that the pandemic would continue throughout the year, we decided to start running virtual “Bring your own Bacon” Men’s Breakfasts. The first one was in July and we followed this with two more virtual breakfasts in September and November.  We had excellent speakers at each of these events and were delighted at how well the technology worked.

Unfortunately Lock-down has continued but at last there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel which means that our planned Brewery trip in September 2021 will be our first real live meeting!  Which seems like the ideal event to mark our return to normal service, as we can, raise a glass or two together in celebration!

Reapers – Simon McDowell

Reaping at St Giles in 2020 had additional challenges as most of our ‘normal’ reaping group had to shield or isolate for most of the summer.   It also meant that I took over leading the group from Mike Wright, who has done a sterling job over many years leading the team and indeed, has been part of the team for half a century!

An appeal went out to the younger members of our congregation and friends, who came out to help on a more infrequent basis than we’d normally achieve.   Sadly, the normal teas, coffees and doughnuts were not able to be offered, but we managed to bring our own flasks and have a brief, distanced, outside chat after we finished.  Our other big struggle was our elderly mower fleet breaking down a little too often and no repair shops being open.

Thanks to those temporary helpers, we managed to keep the churchyard looking ‘not too shabby’ and in good enough shape for us to return to reaping as a full team in 2021.  I’m delighted to say that just about all our temporary helpers have augmented the team on a permanent basis.

Thank you to all the Reapers, both those who were able to help out in 2020 and those who supported us in spirit.

We still welcome more members to join us – please see the website for details on when we meet or ask me to add you to our WhatsApp group.  We meet every 2-3 weeks between April and September with then one or two working parties later in the year to help with leaf clearing and autumn jobs. 

Flowers at St Giles’ – Jennifer Pickering

At the beginning of 2020, because of the Covid situation, the decision was made to suspend supplying floral displays in the church. We have a loyal group of flower arrangers whose talents are enjoyed by all who visit our church. However, the health and safety of the group was paramount.

I am sure I speak for all the members when I say how much I missed arranging the flowers during this time.

As Harvest Festival approached, it was decided that it was safe to decorate the church for this special time of the year. All the members of the group provided arrangements and the church looked beautiful.

We have continued to provide flowers on a regular basis and now also for the weddings restarting in 2021.

I would like to express my grateful thanks to everyone who helps with the flowers. We are always looking for new volunteers. If you are keen to help, please let the church office know.

Bell Ringers – Judith Mackay

The bells were rung for services and practices as usual up to March 15th 2020. As lockdown approached, we knew that it was no longer safe to meet in the bell tower and so we lowered the bells with heavy hearts, not knowing when we might ring again. From March 23rd, the first lockdown and its subsequent restrictions meant that we were unable to meet to ring at all. Anne Frank tolled a single, half muffled bell on Remembrance Sunday but the bells were otherwise silent from March through December 2020. Tower maintenance continued through this period to ensure that bells could be safely rung once the restrictions were lifted.

Behind the Scenes

Office & Communications  – Heather McDowell

Office life in 2020 was transferred to home working as far as possible for lockdown. Our Monday staff meetings moved to Zoom, the phone was redirected to Debbie’s mobile and just about everything except for printing and distribution of hard copies of service sheets was carried out from our home computers.

Knowing how much some people were going to miss the social contact through the church and word of mouth notices about events, we became part of the “ringing around” team and sent out regular updates to those without computers, either hand delivered or posted. Printed service sheets were sent out for special services to enable those without the technology to join in.

Signage, QR codes, track & trace sheets and constant updates of restrictions, arranging ticketing, social distancing and cancelling events (especially in late autumn) were all essential elements of getting back to church safely as lockdown ebbed and flowed.

Taking our services online was a big change in our weekly schedule. As well as Zoom services, which not everyone could access, and which provided challenges with audio and video quality for music, we asked everyone on the rota to send in recordings of them leading the service, readings, intercessions and sermons and used existing knowledge and tech to knit this together with the music choices into audio podcasts. These alternated between a St Andrew’s style Family Service and St Giles’ style Morning Prayer. Meanwhile, Natasha grasped the nettle of making videos to ensure we could receive Holy Communion in a visual form and that the All Age Services were accessible and interesting to as many people as possible. We have continued these as we returned to face to face church and hope to add live streaming later in 2021.

Having left our Facebook page fairly dormant for the last few years, Natasha and Heather went on a Social Media course in early March 2020 to make better use of this (plus Instagram) to reach current members of the church and the wider community with up to date notices, reminders and encouragement – an extra window into our world. We started using an app called Canva, free to charities, which has really brightened up all sorts of things from service sheets to our website.

Richard notes: My main contribution as part of the Office Team is to ensure that my diary is in accord with all services happening in the church (mainly St. Giles’) covering Baptisms, Weddings, Funerals and Interments. 

I liaise with Debbie regarding queries raised by the congregation and other parties world wide regarding the St. Giles’ graveyard.

Finances – John Wheatley

In 2020, it became apparent by March that we would have to manage our finances very carefully during the year. We decided however at that time to maintain as near as possible our budgeted commitments, which included:

  • Parish Share We increased our Parish Share by 3%.  Our contribution to the Diocese largely covers clergy stipends and pensions and the training of ordinands.
  • Mission Giving We maintained that a minimum of 10% of all planned giving during the year would be mission giving and we will be donating to SHOC and NLT in line with last year. We also committed additional funds to outreach for the village via the Village Store Cupboard scheme.
  • AV System We improved our AV systems.to meet new styles of Worship.
  • Governance We maintained a minimum of 3 months operating costs in our bank account, thanks to the generosity of our Church members, despite a massive shortfall in Hall Lettings.

Our restricted funds, e.g. for the upkeep of the buildings and churchyard, are in a healthy state and our ability to meet our improvement plans at both Churches remains viable.

The charts below show the income and expenditure for 2020 on the General Fund. 


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.

We are reliant on our income from rent and lettings, as expected Lettings for the year fell considerably, we expect this to continue for next year.

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.

In addition, each year we write down the initial cost of The St Andrews Church centre, this is shown in our restricted fund operating costs, not on the chart above, but this year the cost was £23,977.

Our General Fund surplus was £17,746 (2019: £28,156) and our overall surplus for the general and restricted funds was £7,232 (2019: £325), largely as the pandemic stopped us from doing works that would normally be paid for by restricted funds (e.g. on buildings).

Whist the above is a general outline of our financial year, more details can be found in the “Report of the trustees and financial statements for the year ending 31 December 2020” available on our website here.

Churchwardens – Simon McDowell & John Wheatley

No church services, no building works, so surely 2020 was easy for the churchwardens?

Sadly, no.

We had to consider how to best support our congregation and the whole village through the pandemic, whilst being uncertain about when or whether we could open for services and sometimes having to cancel activities at very short notice – Easter and our Wassailing at Christmas being the two largest examples.  

Pastorally, Natasha has been a rock for the village as a whole and we are just the pebbles supporting her in place.   We have tried to get her great ideas to fruition and gently tell her to rest when she fell ill at the beginning of the pandemic. 

As churchwardens, we are responsible for the running of the church and we also have the roles as PCC Secretary (Simon) and acting Treasurer (John).   We are ably helped by the PCC, the church office and other church members to help us do this smoothly and we give thanks for the help and support that we have received from the congregation during 2020.

PCC Secretary – Simon McDowell

Our PCC moved to a virtual basis for part of 2020 as either precautions or restrictions kept us apart.  We held five PCC meetings during the year, of which two were virtual and three together.  Sadly, our informal, longer meeting was shelved for the year.   We consisted of five elected members, two elected representatives of the Deanery Synod, two churchwardens and our Vicar.  Average attendance at PCC meetings was 80%.

Our PCC has two active working committees:

  • the Property Committee, which is responsible to the PCC for the upkeep of the fabric of both church buildings.   It met twice and consists of PCC members plus church members who are experts in property matters and whose help is much appreciated; and
  • 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.  Although the Vicar and Churchwardens meet regularly, the Standing and Finance committee only met once during the year.

Due to the restrictions and the lower number of services and hall hires, the PCC’s focus during 2020 was on supporting the needy and vulnerable in our parish as outreach, rather than expanding our Mission to come to church.  The PCC enthusiastically supported the Village Store Cupboard and members, along with other volunteers, helped to contact the lonely, deliver care packages and ensure that our church buildings were safe when they were allowed limited re-opening.

The reports of the other activities that took place during the year in our church community can be found elsewhere in this blog.  The PCC is very grateful to all the leaders and their helpers who give up their time to make these activities happen.

Also on the website, are a summary the annual accounts, which reflect the financial state of the Stoke Poges Church and there is a separate Treasurer’s report to describe what has happened financially.

Prayer Ministry

During 2020 our church ministry teams had little opportunity to pray for others face to face. Our solution was to share prayers for our church family by email and set up a team together with the office staff to ensure that all prayer requests were shared and prayed over during this critical time. Thank you to all who helped and responded during this time and we are happy to continue in this format for those in need.

Deanery Synod

We met as Synod four times during the year, three times by Zoom and once in person. Key projects discussed were: methods of moving church online, safeguarding, Social Hubs, creating a Deanery Mission Action Plan and covid compliance.

In addition, a large proportion of this year’s Synod meetings focused around replacing our Area Dean by creating a Deanery Profile and looking at new ways of financing our Deanery. This was led by Robin Grayson who sadly also retired at the end of the year.

The meaning of LIFE

Ladies’ Life Group

Despite moving to Zoom for most of the year and two of our members moving to another church in the summer, we managed to continue to support each other by hook or by crook. We had a few false starts at the beginning of the year with bible studies – sometimes we just can’t hit on one that speaks to us! And by the end of the homeschooling, family separation and bereavements of the first lockdown we could barely string a sentence together, let alone study anything.

However, two books that really stood out were “How to walk into church” by Tony Payne, which in God’s great timing asked us to be bold and not selfish as we redoubled our efforts to make life group on Zoom and gathered our confidence to return to the church buildings last autumn. We coined the phrase “the ministry of turning up” as, although many of us do make contributions or receive a great deal from worship services or the act of sharing our week in life group, some weeks we just so exhausted or down, that we don’t feel we have anything to offer; or that we are not getting anything out of coming. We need to remember that just by turning up, we are creating the opportunity to be fed, restored or perhaps be a source of encouragement to someone else.

The second study which we saw through to the end was “God is closer than you think” by John Ortberg, for which we extended an invitation to any other ladies in the church who wanted to be more connected, albeit via Zoom, to a church community they hadn’t seen face to face for a while. We had two extra participants to add their perspective and this was a welcome change.

JTS Life Group

Our frontlines have been tough places to inhabit for the last year, let alone be shining witnesses of Christ. So coming together weekly around God, albeit virtually, to share life and get refreshed in the Spirit has been essential for us.  We were all impacted by reading during the first lockdown, ‘How To Walk Into Church’ by Tony Payne.  In response, we have been more intentional in turning up and being present; finishing dinner having just got in from work and joining in, sitting in front of a crackling log fire in a comfy chair and joining in, feeling so shattered and stressed – having to lie down and still joining in.  And the rewards have been amazing; peace, positive mental health, boldness, and many other blessings.

In the autumn term we stepped out in faith and hosted an online Alpha course, over Zoom.  Although we had to change our planned Holy Spirit Away Day to a Holy Spirit evening, it didn’t matter, as the Holy Spirit gently led us through the whole course.  We were humbled and moved by the honesty and openness of participants in our 11 sessions together.  New friendships were formed and old ones re-ignited.  It was a special season.

Please pray for us to receive God’s healing, grace, inspiration and wisdom for continuing to support each other while making space for and welcoming new members, within the context of COVID and meeting in homes or virtually. 

Deborah and Matthew’s Life Group

Our hope as a Life Group is to deepen our faith and walk alongside each other in fellowship.

Throughout 2020 we continued meeting on a weekly basis for prayer, fellowship and bible study, transitioning to the new normal of Zoom meetings at the end of March 2020. With covid restrictions severely limiting opportunities to meet others physically at work, church or other settings, Life Group has proved an invaluable constant in retaining social contact and fellowship within the Group.

Moving to Zoom has also blessed the Life Group with having one of our previous members be able to re-join us from Portugal and another frequently home-bound member attend more regularly from Stoke Poges!

Over the year we completed Rosemary Green’s ‘Listening to God’ ten session adventure in purposefully setting out to listen to God; studied Acts; used the Going Deeper service sheet notes to explore the summer term’s Sunday morning service series in more depth; and worked through John Stott’s bible studies on Jesus Christ (Teacher, Servant & Saviour).

Although we were unable to physically attend the Wildfires festival as a church group over the May Bank holiday, one of the Group’s highlights of the year was watching Wildfires online from our own living rooms whilst in parallel sharing edifying comments live via our WhatsApp group.

Despite this being a turbulent year, we have been reminded more than ever of the blessings and benefits of meeting regularly as a Life Group in terms of fellowship and answered prayer.

Vicar’s Report

Stoke Poges Church is a place where we strive to know God, follow Jesus, love others and invite all.  Little did we realise as we joyously began 2020 how much we would be tested to do just that.  And do so in many untried and ingenious ways, but that is … as the saying goes … just how the cookie crumbles.

January 2020 saw us buoyant after a successful Christmas season, our congregations were beginning to grow and a second Alpha course was being discussed.  Community relationships were improving and after a positive response to our stewardship Sunday in the autumn of 2019 we had the funds to offer the workshops, family ministry and expand our outreach to the isolated and the lonely as planned. Then as we all know the news of Covid-19 began to spread fast and the number of cases across the globe was spiralling.  Nobody had a clue as to what was happening, how it would impact us locally, and when it would all end.

Sadly with the first lockdown announced on Monday 16th March 2020 Stoke Poges church had to close its doors and think fast.  With the support of the PCC, the office and the congregation we managed to quickly convert ‘in person services’ into podcasts.  I must give a massive thank you to both Heather and Debbie for stepping up and taking on many tasks that our shielded volunteers could not undertake.  They did so with no notice and without complaint.

We quickly became adept at risk assessments, podcasting, video editing and change management.  The first lockdown was brutal and very hard work for all of us.  And I want to say, you really did love one another and the village immensely.

As the year progressed our plans for mission and ministry still needed to happen and they did, but not in the ways that we had envisaged so eagerly the year before.  Easter had to be online, but the vicar shaped easter bunny managed to make it to many parishioners doorstep with a treat.  Mothering Sunday posies did not go to waste, they too were similarly deposited.

To cope with the sheer volume of pastoral concerns I instigated a team of Pastoral Callers, whose aim was to keep in touch and ensure no one was left alone and without a friendly voice to listen to.   Eleven of you helped and formed many new friendships … God bless you for that kind and prayer fuelled ministry, sustaining it for many months until those under our care needed you no longer.  I believe some are still benefitting from it, and that support, in a time of crisis enabled me to focus on the wider needs of the church, and maintain weekly services. 

Ann Sibley was concerned for those who could not get to the shops and those facing hardship in our community.  From that seed of an idea … the Stoke Poges Store Cupboard grew.  Each successive lockdown it opened and in partnership with the Good Neighbour Scheme, the Parish Council and our Pharmacy … many, many villagers benefitted.  As a church we organised, hosted and ran around shopping and cajoling folk into giving.  Our reward for these endeavours was the many Christ centric conversations that we were given the opportunity to have. Often with people we did not and may never have had the chance to get to know in normal times.  At a time when the nation was in despair we were on the frontline offering hope, conversation and food.  I pray we did Jesus proud. By the end of the year deep friendships and a warmer attitude towards the Christian faith and its proponents was evident.  The elderly, families and isolated people were served and served well.  Again thank you all. You pulled together, changed tack and focused on being God’s hands and feet in a time of great need.  Sharing the love of God with all.

Our hope had been to offer workshops and mini ‘Lighthouses’ to our young families, building on the marvellous summer club that we help at and support.  This was not possible, but what we did do was bring it to the families in their homes.  By late spring we were able to deliver to all our known and some ‘new to us’ children across the parish a weekly KiC pack.  Each week families had activities and bible stories/prayers and later on a quality Sunday School video to do.  These packs enabled me to visit all our church families and some fringe families every week.  Here I caught up with them, shared the the ups and downs of their week and took away prayer needs to share as needed. By the summer our families were exhausted by home schooling, and yet there was still more of it to come!

In person School ministry had to take a break, as Stoke Poges School, the Teikyo School and Caldicott school were either closed or not able to let me in.  We corresponded, and I was able to continue my Governor role within Stoke Poges School.  We offered support, car parking and lots of cake to our village school teachers to help them cope with the challenges they faced.  The store cupboard enabled some families to keep going as the financial implications of repeated lockdowns started to effect the children more. They knew the extended help came directly from the church and that even when the ‘Store Cupboard’ closed we did not, we still gave and helped through the summer holidays and between lock downs as needed. What a witness in generosity.

The Harvest Festival was stripped back and made Covid safe, but that did not stop us celebrating and giving what we could.  We have formed great connections with the new Deanery Hub, based in Britwell and we continue to support SHOC.  We were able to give all that was donated to them both. Which is good news in deed.  Through out the year, as we were able we gave to other charities as the needs arose and we had goods that they needed.  This included items for the Iver Scouts, and the Women’s refuge in Slough.

Our Remembrance Sunday service was tweaked to fit in with Covid-19 guidelines, but we were able to do it, which I was thankful for.  We managed – with the help of congregation families – to have representatives of most of the uniformed groups.  Wreaths were laid for all organisations and I did a solitary service on the green which was video’d and shared on our website and social media.

Christmas was different, that was for sure.  With increased health and safety concerns we had to cancel some of our activities and others were given that Covid twist … and reinvented. Services were ticketed and concerts postponed, but we managed to serve 130 Christmas Tea hampers to our Senior Citizens, with thanks to a plethora of volunteers who made, packed and distributed them all.  Our choir took on the role of readers for the Christmas Choir concert and we were blessed with music from St Martin in the Fields’ choir for our Carols and Lessons.  A recording of which went to all the seniors and is on the website.

As the year drew to a close, we were thankful that a remnant of us were able to gather and celebrate the birth of Christ.  Sadly the second wave of Covid was brewing, but we kept safe, went online and readied ourselves for the next chapter – 2021.

May I, at this point, take the opportunity to say thank you to everyone in the parish? During the mid part of 2020 I needed to compassionate leave … after a series of illnesses and family bereavements I needed three weeks to concentrate on my immediate family and their needs.  You were very gracious and kind to us all.  Your prayers and support at that time were felt and appreciated by us all. 

Thank you for striving to live out the love that God has shown to us in Christ Jesus.

Rev Natasha Brady …. June 2021.

To revisit more photos from 2020, look back through the blog posts which journal our church life.

Have photos to share? Email them to heather@stokepogeschurch.org